The Heretic’s Daughter

The Heretic’s Daughter: A NovelKathleen Kent has a personal stake in telling the story of Martha Carrier, who was executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials: she is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier. The Heretic’s Daughter is a story of the witch trials told through the point of view of eleven-year-old Sarah Carrier, Martha’s daughter, who herself was one of the youngest among the accused. In fact, the real Sarah Carrier was younger than Kent’s Sarah by about five years!

Sarah describes contention against her family and the climate of Andover, Billerica, and surrounding environs prior to the witch trials. She doesn’t understand her mother’s ways, and they seem to be at odds with each other all the time. Then whispers of witchcraft start finding their way to Sarah’s ears, and before long the entire Carrier family is embroiled in the trials.

Martha Carrier
I took this picture of Martha Carrier's memorial on our trip to Salem. Click for larger version.

The Heretic’s Daughter is beautifully written and poignant. However, it’s also slow to start. The first half of the book moved slowly for me, but after the witch trials begin, the book finds its stride and moves quickly. I read the second half in one sitting. I did enjoy Kent’s portrayal of the Carrier family’s contentiousness, which does much to explain why their neighbors turn on them—and in fact, it was often contentious men and women who were accused. It’s also refreshing to read a book that seeks to portray the accused realistically instead of glorifying them as saints. It is mostly well-researched and rings true with the exception one glaring mistake—Giles Corey, one of the most famous figures in the trials because of his resistance and his major role in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, is called Miles Corey in this book. Not only is that a strange mistake given the attention to detail Kent otherwise displays, but it’s astonishing that an an editor didn’t catch the error. However, setting that issue aside, the book itself is more accurate than Miller’s play, and I found it much more enjoyable to read, too.

I’m glad I persevered with this book through the slow beginning—which did have some beautiful passages, good description, and it laid essential groundwork—the second half of the book was worth the investment. Readers might also be interested in Maud Newton’s interview with Kent.

Rating: ★★★★☆

R.I.P. Challenge V

This book is my second book for the R.I.P. Challenge, which means I have officially finished at the level to which I committed; however, I am going to read Dracula, My Love and Wuthering Bites in the hope that I can read four books and move up a level in the challenge.

Persuasion Audio Book

Persuasion (Complete Classics)After a great deal of consideration, I have decided Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. I had to read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion twice before I came to that conclusion. I haven’t been able to finish Mansfield Park yet—it’s on my list for the Everything Austen Challenge—but I didn’t really like Emma as much as the others. I think what clinched it for me was Juliet Stevenson’s reading of the novel in the Naxos audio book. She’s simply perfect; there’s no other way to put it.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Persuasion, it is the story of Anne Eliot, daughter of the baronet Sir Walter Eliot of Kellynch, who had the misfortune to have three daughters and must pass his estate to a cousin who has little to do with the family. Anne is the under-appreciated, sensible daughter in the family. She is now 27, and her prospects of marriage look dim now that she has “lost her bloom.” Her older sister is snooty and vain, like their father, and her younger sister is a silly hypochondriac. Their mother has been dead for some time, but a friend of hers, Lady Russell, has taken on that sort of role, and Anne looks to her for guidance and support—certainly not more so that eight years earlier when Lady Russell persuaded her to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, who seemed at that time unlikely to produce a fortune adequate to deserve the daughter of a baronet. But Anne has pined for Wentworth ever since, and their paths cross once again. Anne has no reason to hope they will have a second chance, especially after Captain Wentworth seems to have an eye for Anne’s sister Mary’s sister-in-law Louisa Musgrove. Can he be persuaded that Anne made a mistake before and to give her a second chance?

Juliet Stevenson’s characterization of the silly Mary Musgrove and the pompous Sir Walter Eliot were hilarious. I loved the line from Admiral Croft, after noting he removed several mirrors from his dressing room at Kellynch, about Anne’s father being a “dressy sort of man” to have had so many mirrors. Where Juliet Stevenson really shone, however, was in evoking feeling in parts of the novel that previously haven’t really struck me in the same way. She read with a tremble, as though fighting back tears, Captain Harville’s line to Anne, “Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!” I don’t think I’ve been moved to tears by Captain Harville before. And forget about Captain Wentworth’s letter. I was driving on I-285, sitting on the edge my seat, my hand over my mouth, and it was impossible not to feel the same way as Anne Eliot as she read those words. And then, “Such a letter was not soon to be recovered from.” Well, I pretty much laughed out loud. Of course it wasn’t.

Rating: ★★★★★

I listened to this book for the Everything Austen Challenge.

Everything Austen Challenge

Full disclosure: I won this book in a contest at Austenprose.

Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Mockingjay is the third and final book in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I can’t talk about this book without spoiling it for folks who aren’t finished with it yet, so please read on after the jump if you are finished. If not, come back later so we can talk about it.

Continue reading “Mockingjay”

Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)This review might be a bit spoilery if you haven’t read the first book in this series because it’s difficult to talk about events in this book without revealing the end of the first.

Suzanne Collins’s second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, picks up the story of Katniss Everdeen after she and fellow District 12 resident have become popular winners of the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta must tour the districts, where they are greeted with signs of unrest—and Katniss seems to have become an unwitting rallying point for rebels. President Snow, loathsome leader of Panem, blames these new problems on Katniss’s defiance of the Capitol at the Games when she threatened to kill herself rather than kill Peeta. For the 75th Hunger Games, the 3rd Quarter Quell, President Snow has something special in mind. The pool of competitors will be drawn from each district’s former winners. And Katniss is the only female winner from District 12. She will have to go back into the arena, and this time, she will be facing her most dangerous competitors: people who have managed through shrewdness and strength to win the Hunger Games in the past. How can she hope to survive her second turn in the arena? And if she can’t, how can she at least protect Peeta?

I had heard some readers say this book was not as good as the first, but I have to admit I didn’t see it. Others had complained that the first half was somewhat slow, but I managed to turn the pages as quickly as I had with The Hunger Games. It was intriguing to me to see how Katniss handled being a victor, seeing her life change. I also found the changes in her district interesting. Katniss is not the kind of girl to sit idly by and do nothing if anyone she cares about is being hurt. Because the real news about what is going on in Panem is kept from the districts, it’s only by accident—seeing a news program meant for District 12’s mayor and running into some escapees from District 8 in the woods while she is hunting—that Katniss realizes her act of defiance in the Hunger Games has turned her into a symbol for rebellion. On her district tour, she witnesses some of the unrest for herself. Seeing Katniss compete in the arena this time, with new threats devised by the Gamemakers, had me turning the pages well past 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. One of my students said in class on Friday that the end of this volume of the trilogy was “epic,” and I would agree. So much happens so fast at the end, and as we readers are following events from Katniss’s confused perspective, it’s difficult to figure out what is going on. I was also right about some speculation I had while reading The Hunger Games, but it’s a pretty spoilery if you haven’t read the first book or even the second.

I told my dad the other day that I had just read the new Harry Potter after I’d finished The Hunger Games. I really don’t think these books will reach that level of popularity, and maybe won’t reach even the level of the Twilight series, which is a shame because despite their darkness, I think they’re better. What I meant was I had found a new book that had me turning the pages in the exact same way as the Harry Potter series. Virtually everyone I know is reading these books or has just finished them.

Suzanne Collins is on a twelve-city book tour to promote Mockingjay, but she isn’t venturing into the South. Unfortunately, she has strained her hand and will not be signing books on her tour. I have wondered a couple of times as I read what Collins makes of the books’ popularity. I purchased my copy of Mockingjay at the Little Shop of Stories yesterday while we were at the Decatur Book Festival. Now I just have to resist reading it for a little while as I try to get to work on my portfolio for graduate school.

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I borrowed this book from my friend Catherine.

Charity Girl

Charity GirlI read Georgette Heyer’s Regency novel Charity Girl as part of Austenprose‘s month-long celebration of Georgette Heyer. It was the first Heyer novel I’ve read. My review of Charity Girl can be found here at Austenprose. I was honored to be asked to be a part of the celebration, and I was certainly game to try a new author that so many of my wonderful blog friends have enjoyed. Unfortunately, I don’t think Georgette Heyer is for me. I had a lot of difficulty understanding her Regency slang, which I understand is well-researched and authentic. Still, Jane Austen, who wrote during the actual Regency, managed to make her books timeless and easy for even modern readers to understand.

In addition, I really felt the plot was very thin and driven mainly by dialogue. It was easy to guess how the novel might end only a few pages in, and the characters were not very interesting to me. I’m not sure if I’d give Heyer another try or not. Romance isn’t really my thing, though I have read and enjoyed a few romance novels before.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Hunger Games

The Hunger GamesSixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 in the aftermath of some indeterminate disaster that has leveled North America, leaving the country of Panem to rise from the ashes. Katniss lives in District 12, an impoverished area dedicated to the production of coal. After her father died, Katniss became the head of the family and learned to hunt in order to keep starvation at bay, for the Capitol is still punishing the districts for a rebellion over 70 years prior to the book’s beginning, and one of their key weapons is starvation. Each year, the twelve remaining districts (District 13 has been destroyed) must provide a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as tributes to compete in the Hunger Games, yet another device the Capitol uses to keep the districts in line. The Hunger Games gather 24 tributes to fight to the death and for their survival in an arena for the entertainment of the Capitol residents. Tributes’ names are drawn from lots, and Katniss becomes an unwitting contender in the Games. She’ll have to decide if she has what it takes to do what is necessary to survive the Hunger Games and win.

I am fan of dystopian fiction. Some of my favorite books are dystopian novels. Does that mean I’m a horrible person who likes to watch others’ misery? Or is it because it’s often the kind of reading that really makes you think? I’d like to think it’s the latter, but reading The Hunger Games made me wonder. It’s the ultimate in reality shows—a fight to the death. We would like to think we would never watch something like that, but maybe we would. Think about the kinds of things we already do watch on reality shows. And this show bears a striking resemblance to shows currently on TV, minus the death perhaps. What author Suzanne Collins does rather convincingly is take a scenario that seems unrealistic and not only make you believe it, but also help you understand we’re not as far away from it as we’d like to think. The book is a real page-turner, and it will probably suck you in by the end of the first chapter. I picked it up because virtually everyone I know was abuzz about the third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, which was just released this week. I decided I had to see what the fuss was about, and I totally get it. Collins’s spare style authentically captures Katniss’s voice while still managing to provide descriptive details that make the story alive and realistic. In fact, her writing style reminds me of my daughter Sarah’s. I have three children, one of whom is the exact age of Katniss, so it was difficult reading for me as a mom and as a teacher of teenagers in the age group who competed in the games, but if you think Lord of the Flies, it’s not so hard to understand. Why would the Capitol pick children? Because it hurts more. Because they can. Of course, the most disturbing thing about the Capitol residents, which you realize by the end of the book, is that they are us.

Rating: ★★★★★

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my friend Catherine.

Katherine Howe and Me

Re-Reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Katherine Howe and MeAfter my trip to Salem in July, I have been reading books set there, and I just finished a re-read of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I found the book as enjoyable the second time as I did the first. I’d really like to read some more books set in Salem, but aside from The House of Seven Gables, I don’t have any on hand. I decided to go forward with the Everything Austen Challenge and read Syrie James’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I’m looking forward to reading her newest book, Dracula, My Love. Anyone reading that one?

My students seemed interested to hear about my trip to Salem. Many of them had read The Crucible last year, and they remembered the characters. I told them I had seen Judge Hathorne’s grave and all the memorials for each of the people who were executed. I think I’ll have a lot of fun teaching The Crucible this year.

I think I’ll try to start both The House of Seven Gables and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen tonight.

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell To ArmsWe were having some trouble with our Internet connection this morning. Since it looked like it was going to be a long-standing issue, perhaps even stretching into the beginning of the week (quelle horreur!), I decided to try to finish A Farewell to Arms. I am teaching it for the first time starting next week, and I wanted to be ready. I have not read a lot of Hemingway’s novels. I have never read The Old Man and the Sea or For Whom the Bell Tolls, but I have read and loved The Sun Also Rises. I have read and loved many of his short stories.

If you haven’t read A Farewell to Arms, parts of this review are really spoilery. I had the end spoiled for me long ago, and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book one whit, but if your mileage varies on that score, then consider yourself forewarned.

Continue reading “A Farewell to Arms”

The Lace Reader: A Re-Read

The Lace Reader: A NovelI first read Brunonia Barry’s debut novel The Lace Reader right before it was published as an advanced reader copy. You can read my review here. I decided to re-read the novel after my trip to Salem. I think Barry’s Map of True Places captures the character of Salem perhaps more clearly than Barry’s first novel, but I think that The Map of True Places is also more about Salem than The Lace Reader. It’s strange, but this time reading, I did see some elements of a feminine hero’s journey that I didn’t pick up on before. Before I go on, I should warn you that I won’t divulge the big reveal at the end of the book, but the remainder of this review might be a bit spoilery.

Katherine Howe, writer of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, has said that historically dogs have been considered witches’ familiars in greater numbers than cats, who have the association with witchcraft today. She gave her Connie a little dog named Arlo in her book. I wondered as I read about all the dogs on Yellow Dog Island, who seemed to be able to know what Towner wanted and would listen to her, especially in one crucial scene in the end. Did Barry intend to hearken back to the idea of dogs as familiars, or was it a coincidental choice? I myself would consider Towner, May, and Eva to be witches in a sense, though they don’t explicitly embrace that notion themselves in the same way that Ann Chase does.

One of the elements Joseph Campbell describes as an aspect of many hero’s journeys is the rebirth in the forest or the cave. For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest to face Voldemort, fully believing he will die. Instead, the Horcrux inside him is destroyed, and he is, in a sense, reborn. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck fakes his own death to escape from Pap. He emerges from the cave on the island a new person, so to speak. I saw a similar rebirth in The Lace Reader. Toward the end, when Towner is trying to rescue Angela from Cal’s followers, the two women travel through a secret doorway in Eva’s basement that leads to a tunnel. Because the tide is in, the water partially fills the tunnel, and the women will have to swim in order to escape because Cal’s followers have set fire to Eva’s house behind them. Towner takes Angela by the hair and instructs her to go limp so that she can help both of them swim to the end of the tunnel. They emerge in Eva’s boathouse at the other end. In a way, this seemed to me to be a feminization of the emergence from the cave in that the water surrounded the women. It actually made me think it might be a metaphor for the birth canal. After that moment, both women are in a sense reborn. I wondered if that metaphor had occurred to Barry, if she had been aiming for it. By the way, I subscribe to the belief that just because a writer didn’t intentionally mean to create a symbol or metaphor, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Reading is a creative act, and we bring our thoughts and experiences to reading. If we see a symbol there, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s there. Tolkien is famous, for example, for hating allegory. Yet The Lord of the Rings, and especially The Silmarillion can be read as biblical allegory. I actually like Jasper Fforde’s explanation: he says a book only belongs to an author as long as no one else has read it. After that, it belongs to the reader, too, and the creative act of reading allows for readers to interpret books in ways that authors might not have considered. And they’re right, too.

The Lace Reader is more intriguing on a re-read because knowing the big reveal at the end enabled me to read the book with a different eye. I caught many more of Barry’s hints regarding what might be going on in Towner’s psyche than I did when I read it the first time. Unreliable narrators are difficult because I think as readers we are trained to trust the person telling the story, and some people don’t like this book because they feel betrayed by the narrator. However, Barry has not betrayed anyone. It would take a more astute reader than I to pick up on all the clues on a first read, but she does plant clues, and in the end, the big reveal makes sense given what the reader knows about Towner and how other characters react to her. Re-reading revealed much more starkly to me the ways in which Barry takes pains not to cheat the reader, but I think some of the negative comments I’ve seen about this book centered around not feeling prepared for that ending, and on a re-read, I didn’t think it is a fair criticism. I admit to being surprised by the ending the first time, but it isn’t completely out of the blue, and it makes sense in the story. And as I said in my last review, readers would do well to take Towner at her word in the first few sentences. She is telling the truth, there.

I think Barry is an interesting writer. She has a great knack for evoking a place, turning that place into a character in its own right. Her secondary characters like Eva, Ann Chase, who appears in both of her novels, and Melville, Finch, and Jessina in The Map of True Places are well-drawn and fun to read. In all, I think The Map of True Places is a stronger book, and I think those who didn’t enjoy The Lace Reader precisely for the reasons I discussed will like it better, but I thoroughly enjoyed both books. I thought this interview, in which Barry examines the novel herself with a critical eye, was illuminating.

Both times I have read this book, I’ve finished wanting know how to make lace. I am looking forward to whatever Brunonia Barry writes next. I find her writing inspiring in that I would like to be able to write about place and create such interesting characters in the same way that she does.

My rating is still the same.

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I received this book originally as an advanced reader copy, and the second copy, the one I re-read, as part of a prize package from William Morrow and Destination Salem. I like the paperback cover better than the hardcover version.

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver's TravelsJonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels is as excellent a satire today as when it was published in 1726. Lemuel Gulliver is a surgeon with the soul of an explorer. Gulliver’s Travels purports to be the tale of his voyages, including descriptions of the strange peoples and sites he encounters. Most readers are familiar with his iconic adventures in Lilliput, a land populated by beings six inches tall, where Gulliver towers over the inhabitants like a giant. Gulliver is initially mistrusted and even held captive in Lilliput until he enters into the service of the king. Over time, Gulliver learns that Lilliput is at war with neighboring country Blefuscu over which end of the egg it is most proper to break—the little or the big. When Gulliver refuses to help Lilliput fight her enemy Blefuscu, he is charged with treason. He manages to escape and is rescued by a ship and returns home.

It’s not long before he’s at sea again and winds up in the land of Brobdingnag, a land populated by giants. Gulliver now finds himself in a land where he is of Lilliputian size in comparison to the inhabitants. He is cared for by a Brobdingnagian girl and exhibited as a curiosity. This time, his leave-taking is accidental as an eagle snatches the traveling box in which he’s being carried and drops it into the sea, where he is once again rescued.

On his third voyage, Gulliver visits several more interesting countries, including Japan, which I found curious as it’s the only “real” country described in the novel. The flying island of Laputa, with its focus on mathematics and music, was really interesting to me, especially in light of their impracticality. It reminded me a little bit of Donald in Mathmagic Land. You remember seeing it in school?

The final voyage, which Gulliver undertakes after swearing off exploring for good, takes Gulliver to the land of the Houyhnhnms, who are horse-like creatures. Gulliver comes to admire the Houyhnhnms more than people. The people he encounters in the land are course, uncivilized Yahoos. In this final voyage, Gulliver learns to appreciate the Houyhnhnms over his own kind, which he afterward refers to as Yahoos.

I think Lemuel Gulliver is a huge jerk. He abandons his family. His wife was pregnant when he left on his last voyage. When he returns, he rejects his family and prefers to spend time with a pair of horses he has procured. He passes judgment on the people he encounters. I found the Houyhnhnms to be haughty and proud and certainly couldn’t understand Gulliver’s adoration of them. Perhaps it is Swift’s way of asking the reader to think about why they look up to anyone. As usual, Swift’s satire is razor-sharp. I admit some of the book surprised me. Gulliver talks quite a lot about his bodily functions, and I admit I didn’t expect that out of a book written during that time, but I suppose it makes sense given that this is not the prim Victorian period. The book had some enjoyable moments. I liked the parts set in Brobdingnag and Laputa the best. I’m glad I read the book despite finding its protagonist to be hard to sympathize with, but I think a book about Gulliver’s wife would have been interesting, too. I would have kicked his sorry tail out the door, and good riddance. I think one of the chief ironies of the book is that Gulliver criticizes so many of the societies, ultimately idolizing the Houyhnhnms (undeservedly, in my opinion) and despising his own race, without seeing that he is one of the least likable, least worthy, and most fallible of them all. Ultimately, I just like to read about protagonists I can care about more. I found myself hoping Gulliver would suffer harm. A good frying pan over his head and kick in the ass administered by his wife when he showed up after the Houyhnhnms kicked him out would have redeemed the book nicely for me.

I read this novel via DailyLit.

Rating: ★★★½☆