TLC Book Tour: The Tell-Tale Heart, Jill Dawson

The Tell-Tale HeartJill Dawson’s novel The Tell-Tale Heart begins with an unusual premise: Patrick, a fifty-year-old history professor, undergoes a heart transplant. He begins to notice subtle changes in his personality. He discovers his heart donor was a teenage boy named Drew Beamish, and he finds himself becoming curious about Drew.

Patrick discovers Drew was a local boy with a long family history in the Cambridgeshire Fens close to the hospital in Papworth Everard where Patrick’s transplant occurs.

Patrick’s story is woven together with that of Drew and of Drew’s ancestors, who were involved in the Littleport labor riot of 1816.

The heart has always been the symbolic seat of human emotion, and when Patrick finds himself changing after his transplant, unsettled with his previous self and wondering about his link to Drew and his family, he begins to wonder if the heart’s role is more than symbolic.

Patrick is a womanizer and a bit of jerk, but given his reflective nature and the changes in his personality, it’s easy for the reader to like him. His new heart not only gives him a second chance at life but also allows him to rethink his old ways. Even Patrick seems not to like the old Patrick very much (perhaps old Patrick didn’t like old Patrick either).

Drew, on the other hand, inherited a rebellious streak from the Beamishes, who first make waves in Littleport when they are involved in labor riots. Drew himself discovers his family’s history and becomes fascinated not only by their story but by history itself—and his history teacher. A young boy with much intellectual promise, much like his ancestors, Drew has also inherited a constant heart from another of his ancestors as well.

I enjoyed this story. The historical aspect was intriguing and was told in the novel much as it actually happened. Papworth Hospital, the setting for Patrick’s transplant, is a heart and lung hospital known for performing some of the first beating-heart transplants, just as described in the novel. Interspersing Drew’s story along with that of his ancestors underscored the circular nature of time, and Patrick finds himself connected to the Cambridgeshire Fens in ways he can’t explain after the transplant.
QuoteI have felt this kind of connection myself to places near where I later discovered my ancestors lived 200 years earlier. Patrick’s desire to simplify, reflect, and reconnect made sense to me. I found myself much more drawn to his story than to Drew’s, but that may be because I’m closer to Patrick’s age and stage of life than I am to Drew’s. I found the flashback to Drew’s ancestors interesting, but it also felt a little disconnected from the rest of the book. It establishes some rather important aspects of Drew’s personality, but I wonder how it might have been integrated more tightly with Patrick and Drew’s stories.

The Tell-Tale Heart is an interesting read that will make you wonder about the power of the human heart.

Jill DawsonJill Dawson’s website | Twitter

tlc logoRating: ★★★★☆

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Sunday Post #7: Forest and Fen

Sunday PostI finished up two books this week, but I am waiting to review both of them. The first is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which I had never read before, but had decided to read way back when I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (review). It was during that year that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. I liked it, though not as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, but I wanted to watch a movie version of it so I could review both the play and the movie version together. Unfortunately, Netflix is being extremely slow about sending it along.

The other book I finished just today is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am reviewing this book as part of a TLC Book Tour this coming Friday. The book has an interesting premise regarding the after-effects of a heart transplant, and it did get me thinking quite a bit, but more on that this Friday.

Both books allowed me to explore two counties in the Reading England Challenge. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It was in Shakespeare’s own home county of Warwickshire. Sadly, I discovered, not much of it remains aside from a few very old trees. The Tell-Tale Heart is set in some smaller towns around Cambridge in the Fens in Cambridgeshire. Both books relied a great deal on setting in the stories to the extent that moving them might change the story quite a bit, especially in The Tell-Tale Heart.

I am still reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I will probably take up a new paperback today since Marie Antoinette is on the Kindle and Trigger Warning is an audio book. Some weeks ago, I was feeling in the mood for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born. He left when my mother was, I think, about six months pregnant with me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there. I have several students from Vietnam. Last year, one of my Vietnamese students used to have really interesting conversations with me about the differences between our countries.

I am still waiting for The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan and I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira to arrive in the mail, though I’m really looking forward to reading those books. I did order them from third-party sellers, so shipping is not the quick Prime shipping I’m used to from Amazon. I think I have decided to read Hilary Mantel’s massive French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety as well. I am not sure when I’ll get to that one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ll likely get that on the Kindle so I don’t have to try to hold it up.

In case you missed it, I posted my review for Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. I haven’t written any other reviews this week, nor have I started other books.

Given how much snow we’ve had, I suppose it’s logical that I have been able to do so much reading. I think I’ve read more so far this year than I can remember reading in the same time period… ever. Also, my kitchen scale broke, which is a necessity for soapmaking, so I wasn’t able to make soap this weekend either. It’s sad because I have a few wholesale orders and a custom request as well as some spring soaps I want to make up. It will have to wait!

In other bookish news, I have a book club! I am an idiot and somehow missed the memo about the book we were supposed to read until it was too late for me to finish before the meeting, but I did go, and we did talk about the book, and it was wonderful. For the record, the book I was supposed to read (which is on my list, though I didn’t get to it this time) was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. We are reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for next time, so I should be in good shape for that meeting at least.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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TLC Book Tour: The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore

The Serpent of VeniceWhat do you get if you take a generous helping each of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Othello, a dash of King Lear, and a big splash of Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” and put it in a blender with Monty Python? I’m not sure, but I think it would look a lot like Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice.

The Serpent of Venice is the continuing story of King Lear’s fool, Pocket, first introduced in Moore’s book Fool. Lured to Venice by Montressor Brabantio, Iago, and Antonio, Pocket is chained and walled up inside Brabantio’s dungeon. A mysterious creature rescues Pocket, who seeks his revenge against the trio with the help of Othello, Shylock, and Jessica and the mysterious creature, the Serpent of Venice herself.

I found the mashup of Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays to be interesting. A little stitching, and it all comes together nicely, though the tragedy of Othello is sacrificed in this comedic novel. Moore explains in his Afterword that he shifted the time settings of the two Shakespeare plays, which are more contemporary to Shakespeare’s own time, to the thirteenth century and adjusted some of the finer points (Othello is fighting the Genoans rather than the Turks). A famous Venetian of the 13th century makes an appearance late in the book. As Moore explains:

I chose Merchant and Othello, obviously, because they are set in Venice. Early on, as I dissected them to see what parts I could stitch back together to make the abomination that became The Serpent of Venice, I started noting that the characters in each of the plays perform similar functions, and although I didn’t research it, I suspect the parts were written for the same actors.

I admit the Shakespearean scholar in me wants to take that project on. It would be interesting to uncover—I’m sure someone’s done it already. For the record, The Merchant of Venice is dated from around 1596-1597, while the earliest mention of Othello is 1604. Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s famous clown, departed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company in 1599 and thus his successor Robert Armin likely played the Fool or Clown in Othello and also in King Lear, though Kempe probably did play Lancelot Gobbo in Merchant. Richard Burbage certainly played Othello, and this epitaph suggests he played Shylock. More research is beyond the scope of the resources I have at hand.

Nevertheless, the entire Afterword reveals the depth of research Moore did in order to bring 13th century Venice alive, as well as combine the three major works of literature that comprise this tale. Further, it’s intriguing that the two Shakespearean plays, aside from being set in Venice, are also the two major plays that include marginalized characters such as Shylock and Othello.

In fact, I quite enjoyed the characters in this novel, particularly the protagonist Pocket and Jessica. Pocket is smart and resourceful, but he’s no one to mess with either. For that matter, the same could be said of Jessica. Where the book particularly shines is in its witty dialogue. The book’s Chorus is a lot of fun. Witness this exchange, a flashback to events preceding the book’s main narrative, when Othello saves Pocket’s life:

CHORUS: And thus was friendship formed. Two outsiders, outside a palace in the night, found fellowship in their troubles, and there one’s problems became the other’s purpose.

“Who is that?” asked the fool.

“I don’t know him,” said the Moor. “Is he following us?”

“No, he’s just yammering on about the bloody obvious to no one. A nutter, no doubt.”

“I cannot carry him, too,” said Othello. (28-29)

The reviews on this one are a little mixed, and I gather it’s mainly folks who don’t appreciate the humor who give the book low ratings. I laughed often as I read. Moore has a gift for humor, or at least I think he’s funny, though I should think folks who find it sacrilegious to tamper with Shakespeare and don’t even like it when his plays have modern settings should probably not read this book. I think having read Shakespeare will help the reader appreciate the humor and allusions in this book. This book is probably not right for everyone, but I loved it.

For the record, I think Shakespeare himself would have loved it, too. Edgar Allan Poe? Famously a strange guy. I’m not sure what he would have thought. Of course, I also think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the best King Arthur movie ever made (and I’m not even kidding about that—it’s closest to the Welsh stories that are the origin for Arthurian legend).

Possibly as good a test as any to determine whether this book is right for you is this bit of dialogue between Pocket, shielding himself behind the identity of Lancelot Gobbo, and Shylock:

He wheeled on me, stopped, and assumed the posture of one about to lecture. I had seen it before. Everywhere. “Since the time we were first chosen, Lancelot, suffering has been the lot of our people, but still, we must take our lessons from the prophets. And what do we learn from the story of Moses confronting the pharaoh? When Moses did call down the ten plagues upon the Egyptians? What do we learn from this, young Lancelot?”

“As plagues go, frogs are not so bad?” I was raised in a nunnery. I know Testaments Old and New.

“No, what we learn is, do not fuck with Moses!” (79)

If you think that’s funny (I laughed out loud), then you’re probably game for the rest of the book. If you were offended, this is not the book for you. For my part, I’m running right out to read Moore’s other books.

Christopher MooreChristopher Moore’s website | Facebook | Twitter

Rating: ★★★★★

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Sunday Post #2: Lazy Reading Week

Sunday PostI did not do a whole lot of reading this week. My students’ semester 1 grades were due, and I was stressed out (which means I probably should have read), so I wound up wasting a lot of time playing games on my iDevices, noodling around the the Internet, and listening to the Runaways (and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts). I am super excited that Joan Jett is being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (about time!). I have always thought she just oozed cool. I remember watching her music videos when I was a kid—her dark hair and makeup and her black clothes. I didn’t consciously model my teenage look on her, but now that I look back, I can tell I was definitely dressing and making up my face a bit like a tamer version of Joan Jett. I am also excited to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Green Day, the Smiths, and Nine Inch Nails being inducted. It makes me feel old, though, because all of these groups were music I listened to in high school, and they shouldn’t be old enough to be inducted. I don’t feel that old. Actually, Green Day came after high school for me. And don’t remind me Nirvana was inducted last year.

In other book news, I will be participating in some TLC Book Tours soon, and these two books arrived in my mail this week.

The Tell-Tale Heart and the Serpent of VeniceI actually have never read Christopher Moore before, but a work colleague has and said he’s funny. I hope I can still follow along in The Serpent of Venice without having read Fool first. I admit I wanted to read it after hearing comparisons to Monty Python and reading that it’s a mashup of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Who could resist that?

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of spirits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

As an English teacher who has long taught “The Cask of Amontillado,” I have often wondered, and engaged students in wondering as well, what the thousand injuries of Fortunato were. I hope I remember enough of The Merchant of Venice to follow along.

I thought the premise of The Tell-Tale Heart looked interesting:

After years of excessive drink and sex, Patrick has suffered a massive heart attack. Although he’s only fifty, he’s got just months to live. But a tragic accident involving a teenager and a motorcycle gives the university professor a second chance. He receives the boy’s heart in a transplant, and by this miracle of science, two strangers are forever linked.

Though Patrick’s body accepts his new heart, his old life seems to reject him. Bored by the things that once enticed him, he begins to look for meaning in his experience. Discovering that his donor was a local boy named Drew Beamish, he becomes intensely curious about Drew’s life and the influences that shaped him—from the eighteenth-century ancestor involved in a labor riot to the bleak beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in which he was raised. Patrick longs to know the story of this heart that is now his own.

It’s not my usual fare, but the aspect of the blurb that piqued my curiosity was Patrick’s quest to learn more about the boy and even his family history.

In addition to these two books, here is the shortlist of books I want to read next:

 
 

 I have actually had The Lotus Eaters for a while—I seem to recall receiving it from PaperBackSwap. I heard about All the Bright Places from Shelf Awareness. I heard about We Were Liars at a recent English teachers’ conference. I was actually able to hear E. Lockhart and David Levithan speak at that conference (Jacqueline Woodson, too!). Men Explain Things To Me may have been another Shelf Awareness find, but I can’t recall. I do clearly remember reading a review or a blurb or something. I was raised in a different time, and I’ve only recently realized some of the ways in which my voice has been silenced. I know that sounds pretty crazy to some people, but conditioning and simply being used to things really affects awareness. And acceptance, too, I think.

Before I dive into all of these books, however, I need to finish The Traitor’s Wife aka The Wolves of Andover. I’m about halfway done with that one.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior: A NovelBarbara Kingsolver’s latest novel Flight Behavior opens as Dellarobia Turnbow, unhappily married at the age of 17 after a pregnancy scare, is on her way to meet up with a telephone repairman with the express purpose of cheating on her husband. Before she reaches her destination, she is confronted with the arresting sight of trees aflame with monarch butterflies. Spooked by the vision, which she considers a sign, she returns to her mother-in-law’s house to pick up her children and go back home.

Others in her small town view the strange butterflies as a sign of God’s providence. The butterflies’ appearance sparks a national news story. Monarch butterflies are, of course, native to Mexico and unheard of in the small town of Feathertown, Tennessee. What could be driving them to Appalachia? Scientists visiting the town set up a lab in the Turnbows’ barn, pulling Dellarobia further into their work. The scientists discover that the monarchs’ appearance is the result of global warming, but the populace of Feathertown doesn’t believe it. Over the course of the novel, Dellarobia’s life in Feathertown is reflected in the butterflies’ existence. Dellarobia wonders, “Why did the one rare, spectacular thing in her life have to be a sickness of nature?”

Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. She has a way with words that is frankly gorgeous. I marvel at her writing. However, I had trouble getting into this book. I didn’t find myself too interested in Dellarobia. I think Barbara Kingsolver has a gift for character development, and I could clearly see Dellarobia as a real person. I didn’t relate to her in the same way I have other characters she has created. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books, and The Bean Trees is another I enjoyed quite a lot. I also appreciate Kingsolver’s purposeful use of symbolism and metaphor to convey much larger ideas (brilliantly executed in The Poisonwood Bible). This book starts kind of slowly, but the beautiful writing and description should keep readers going in spite of the slow start.

Rating: ★★★★½

Learn more about Barbara Kingsolver at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

TLC Tour HostBarbara’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 6th: A Reader of Fictions

Wednesday, November 7th: Dolce Bellezza

Thursday, November 8th: The Blog of Lit Wits

Monday, November 12th: Caribousmom

Tuesday, November 13th: Bookish Habits

Wednesday, November 14th: 50 Books Project

Thursday, November 15th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, November 26th: Book Snob

Tuesday, November 27th: What She Read … – joint review

Wednesday, November 28th: Becca’s Byline

Thursday, November 29th: A Patchwork of Books

Wednesday, December 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, December 6th: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

Tuesday, December 11th: Man of La Book

Wednesday, December 12th: Tina’s Books Reviews

Thursday, December 13th: Seaside Book Corner

Monday, December 17th: 50 Books Project

Friday, December 21st: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

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The Cutting Season, Attica Locke

The Cutting SeasonAttica Locke’s novel The Cutting Season is the story of Caren Gray, who manages the plantation Belle Vie on the shores of the Mississippi River, south of Baton Rouge, for its current owners, the Clancey family. Caren’s family and Clanceys have been entwined since the Civil War, when Caren’s ancestor Jason worked on the grounds of the plantation, cutting sugar cane, as the Clanceys’ ancestor William Tynan acted as overseer of the property. When the plantation’s owners left the plantation, it was seized by the federal government. William Tynan acquired the plantation in 1872. Jason went missing, and his ultimate fate remains a mystery. At the opening of the novel, Caren and the rest of the Belle Vie staff are preparing for another busy day at the plantation when Caren discovers the body of a young woman on the plantation grounds, near the old slave cabins. The woman turns out to be Inés Avalo, an undocumented field worker for Groveland Corporation, a large agriculture corporation that owns the fields of sugar cane that border the plantation. Caren finds herself inextricably involved in the resulting investigation, and the ghosts of the plantation’s past come back to haunt the present.

This novel is an interesting exploration of several issues: the legacy of slavery and injustice, the consequences of the growth of big agriculture, the tension between preserving history versus the economical needs of society. Caren Gray is a likable heroine, and the story moves at a good pace. The descriptions are vivid, and the atmosphere pure Southern gothic (in the best way). While the mystery alone was good, and I really wanted to keep turning pages to find out what would happen and whodunnit, I admit my favorite part of the novel was the historical aspect. I really wished that Caren had been more curious about her family history and the history of the plantation. She didn’t seem interested until looking into the past might help her understand present events. I don’t think I could have lived in a place like Belle Vie, particularly knowing my family had also lived there for generations, without being more curious. I’m not sure I found all of Caren’s connections plausible—her daughter’s father works in the Obama administration—but it did make an interesting statement about the arc of race relations in our country since the Civil War. Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the state of Louisiana also makes a small but important impression on the events in the novel.

I was interested to discover that Locke was inspired to create Belle Vie after attending an interracial wedding at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. The idea of such a marriage in that location provoked an emotional conflict in the author, who told NPR, “I felt this tear inside—there’s no way to not feel the beauty of it because it is so stunning. But it also kind of made my stomach turn, because of what it represented.”

Rating: ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Because of the general mystery and gothic elements, I’m counting this book toward the R.I.P. Challenge (even though it wasn’t on my original list of challenge books) and as the modern fiction selection for the Mixing it Up Challenge. I said I would make soap inspired by each book I read for the R.I.P. Challenge, so look for my Vanilla Sugar soap (including pics) inspired by the sugar cane fields around Belle Vie some time this weekend. It won’t be ready for at least four weeks after it’s made. Biography below courtesy of TLC Book Tours.

About Attica Locke

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke’s first novel, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize in the UK in 2010. It was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Strand Magazine Critics Award. Black Water Rising was also a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Attica Locke has spent many years working as a screenwriter, penning movie and television scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, and Dreamworks.  She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and is a graduate of Northwestern University.

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Most recently, she wrote the introduction for the UK publication of Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. Her second book, The Cutting Season, was published by HarperCollins / and Dennis Lehane in September 2012.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Attica’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 18th: A Bookworm’s World

Wednesday, September 19th: Books and Movies

Thursday, September 20th: A Patchwork of Books

Monday, September 24th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, September 25th: Helen’s Book Blog

Wednesday, September 26th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, October 2nd: Drey’s Library

Wednesday, October 10th: The Blog of Lit Wits

Thursday, October 11th: Book Him Danno!

Friday, October 12th: The House of Crime and Mystery

Thursday, October 25th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

TBD: Stephanie’s Written Word

TBD: In the Next Room

TBD: Psychotic State

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The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist: A NovelYou belong to the earth, and the earth is hard.

I read Amanda Coplin‘s The Orchardist as part of its TLC Book Tour.

Set at the turn of the twentieth century in Washington State, when the west was still a bit untamed, forbidding, and isolated from the rest of the country, The Orchardist is a novel about human connections and the interwoven nature of humanity. The orchardist of the title is William Talmadge, who lost his sister when she mysteriously disappeared and whose disappearance still haunts him. Alone in his orchards, Talmadge is a solitary man with few companions until one day two bedraggled and pregnant teenage girls show up in his orchard. Talmadge leaves food for the girls and tries to care for them. They are mistrustful of him and keep their distance. Talmadge discovers someone is looking for the girls, and after he makes a visit to the man’s house and discovers what might have prompted the girls to flee, he resolves to protect them in whatever way he can, but he quickly discovers through yet a new tragedy, that it is not in his power to protect, and he has to reconcile his feelings about this fresh new tragedy with the tragedies of his past.

I have an interesting connection to this book in that my own ancestors were apple orchardists for several generations in the twentieth century. In fact, my father is the first generation of his family not to be an orchardist. My own family lived in the Yakima Valley, which is south of the area of Washington where Coplin’s novel is set. Coplin is a Washington native, and I found the setting she described familiar. I have never actually visited Washington State myself, but I have heard it described by my father and step-grandmother. My step-grandmother frequently mentioned canning ‘cots (apricots) in her letters, and my father described the ladders in apple orchards that workers climbed. Coplin’s descriptions are lush—they place the reader in the scene and reminded me a little bit of Louise Erdrich’s novel The Plague of Doves in the connection of the characters to the land and the interwoven community connected through tragedy. Coplin doesn’t use quotation marks when characters speak, which strikes me as an interesting technique in that it takes the characters out of the story a little bit. I didn’t notice the technique books that read more like journals or memoirs, but in fiction, I have to admit I’m not much of a fan; lack of quotation marks is one reason I don’t enjoy reading Cormac McCarthy’s books. However, I should say that I didn’t actually find the technique irritating in Coplin’s book, and I usually do. The Orchardist is an intriguing read and reminded me in parts of Ethan Frome, but I think that is because Talmadge reminded me of Ethan Frome. The two books are not that similar in plot or structure otherwise. Book clubs might find this selection an interesting novel to discuss.

TLC Book Tour for The Orchardist:

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey’s novel The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Like Jane, Gemma is taken in by her uncle and his family after the deaths of her parents, and once her uncle also passes away, she is abused and neglected by her aunt, who ships her off to a boarding school as a “working girl,” where she pays for her tuition and board through menial labor for the school and is treated like a second-class citizen. When the school closes, Gemma must shift for herself, so she answers an ad for an au pair position in the Orkneys. She moves into Blackbird Hall and quickly subdues her wild charge, Nell. Hugh Sinclair, Nell’s uncle and guardian, returns to Blackbird Hall and soon finds himself entranced by Gemma.

While the story closely follows the plot of Jane Eyre, Livesey has added details that make the story Gemma’s own. Gemma, born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and Icelandic father, wonders about her Icelandic family and yearns to travel to Iceland to see if she can uncover her past. The story is set mostly in Scotland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gemma has opportunities that Jane couldn’t have imagined; for instance, Gemma is able to sit for exams and go to college.

The danger in writing updated versions of classic novels is that they will seem too derivative to be their own story, but I didn’t find this to be the case with The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Because I had read Jane Eyre, I could guess the general directions in which various plot points would turn, but Livesey threw in enough unique details and changes that I felt the novel was much more of an homage to Jane Eyre than an imitation. Another challenge Livesey successfully navigates is making the story of Jane’s sad childhood and subsequent removal to Thornfield Hall believable in the twentieth century. Not only does Livesey answer this challenge, but in my opinion, she tempers a bit of the horrific improbability present in Jane Eyre. I know, I know—Charlotte experienced some of the horrible events she describes in Jane Eyre at the Clergy Daughters’ School. Tragedy ran rampant through the Brontë family, and I don’t mean to make light of it. However, it reminds me that sometimes true stories sound over the top when rendered in fiction. Young Jane’s early experiences, the goodness of Helen Burns, the evil of Aunt Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst—all these rang slightly too awful to believe when I read them, which isn’t to say I didn’t love Jane Eyre. Gemma’s experiences, while uniquely horrible in their way, read as more realistic, and Helen’s counterpart Miriam is a more believable and less “Mary Sue” type of character (and yes, I know that Charlotte based Helen on her sister Maria, and that Charlotte claims Maria really was that good).

I liked Gemma. She is smart and spunky, particularly as a child. The supporting cast are all enjoyable, too, particularly Gemma’s charges Nell and Robin. I loved the Rivers sisters’ counterparts Hannah and Pauline. St. John Rivers’s counterpart Archie was more likable than St. John himself. The relocation to Scotland and Iceland made for an intriguing setting that rendered events in the story more believable, I think, than they might have been had Livesey set her novel in England. I do think fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy this book, but I think it stands on its own as a fine novel without its connection to its literary ancestor.

Rating: ★★★★½

You can find Margot Livesey online at her website, her Facebook page, and her Twitter account.

I read this novel for the TLC Book Tour. You can visit the other stops below on the dates listed to read other reviews of this novel.

*Also reading Jane Eyre

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Adam & Eve, Sena Jeter Naslund

Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel Adam & Eve takes place in the near future, from 2017-2021. Protagonist Lucy Bergmann, recently widowed, finds herself in possession of information that will rock the foundations of the three Abrahamic religions: 1) we are not alone in the universe; and 2) Genesis may not have happened the way it’s recorded. A secret organization called Perpetuity is determined to prevent this information from being released; meanwhile, Lucy herself goes missing in a modern-day Eden when her plane crash lands, and where Lucy meets a naked man who calls himself Adam. Adam is a former soldier and may be mentally disturbed.

Where to start. I didn’t like this book, especially the last third. I never empathized with any of the characters. The story starts with the death of Lucy’s husband, which reminded me of nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote’s misadventures in Looney Tunes. If you read the book, you will see why. Lucy seemed to be the most incurious person I could imagine. If my husband left behind a top secret flash drive with all his research and dropped the bombshell that he had discovered extraterrestrial life, then died, I would look at every single file on the flash drive to see what there was. But not Lucy. She just wears it around her neck like some kind of talisman. In fact, I can’t recall she ever used a computer at all with the exception of when other people used one around her to show her something. And even then! Even then! She showed no further curiosity, even when this other bombshell is possibly dropped (because Lucy is not curious enough to verify whether it is true or not), she does not look at the flash drive again. Lucy is the most developed character, and that is saying something when she comes across as flat on the page.

The last third of the book was difficult to follow. I am a fairly close reader, but I found myself confused and wondering if I had missed something. The threat of Perpetuity never seemed all that real, and I couldn’t bring myself to be afraid that a group like that would really be all that concerned about Lucy’s news, even if it did exist. The rewritten Genesis, when the reader finally gets to read it, is just kind of boring, and the reader never really gets a good look at Lucy’s flash drive because, as I said, she is not curious. She drove me nuts with how incurious she was. It was ridiculously easy for other characters to hide things from her or to trick her.

What makes me sad about this book is that Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel Ahab’s Wife is absolutely brilliant. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I fear that readers who read this book might never move on to discover Ahab’s Wife because they are put off by this book, which tries to be an allegory but winds up just being kind of a confusing mess. This book might do better if it were marketed as science fiction instead of literary fiction, but even so, I’m afraid it didn’t hold together for me. If you have not read any Naslund, please do not let this review dissuade you from trying her because she is brilliant! Just not in this case. Read my review of Ahab’s Wife and give it a try, but skip this one. To be fair, all of the other tour members seemed to like the book better than I did, so your mileage may vary, but do read the reviews on Goodreads and go into this one with your eyes open.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in my first book tour. Full disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

You can visit other stops in the tour for Adam & Eve.

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