A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionThe trouble with posthumous publication is that you never know for sure if the book is the final result of the author’s intention because he or she wasn’t around during the final stages of editing. A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway’s posthumous memoir of his early writing life and first marriage to Hadley Richardson in Paris in the 1920’s. Originally edited by his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, it was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death. In 1979, Hemingway’s papers were opened to the public in the JFK Library and Boston, and critics began to question whether A Moveable Feast as the author intended it had been the version that was published.

I read Paula McLain’s wonderful novel [amazon asin=1844086674&text=The Paris Wife] last year, and I had determined at that time that I needed to read Hemingway’s memoir, which was McLain’s inspiration for her novel about the Hemingways as told from Hadley’s point of view. Hemingway begins his memoir after he and Hadley have already moved to Paris. He quickly befriends the other expatriate writers and artists in France, including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach (owner of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore), Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, among others. The book is really more of a series of vignettes rather than a straight narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, but it does provide an interesting insight into the expatriate writer’s life in the 1920’s, as well as some interesting insight into the other writers he encounters.

The writer who comes off the best in Hemingway’s memoir is Ezra Pound. Hemingway describes Pound as the most generous writer he has ever known, which is interesting because Pound’s reputation now has probably sustained the most damage after his support of Mussolini and Hitler, his World War II criticism of America and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his ultimate mental breakdown. One has the sense that Hemingway was attempting to rescue Pound’s reputation and point out that he was a good and generous man to young Hemingway, whatever his politics later became.

Scott Fitzgerald comes off much worse. Hemingway’s Fitzgerald is drunk, tedious, insecure, and silly. Hemingway doesn’t share much about Fitzgerald that casts him in a positive light, and curiously missing from the narrative is how Fitzgerald helped Hemingway edit [amazon asin=0743297334&text=The Sun Also Rises] to make it much better book. He sharply criticizes Zelda for interfering with Scott’s ability to produce work, which is a criticism I feel is probably warranted. I do think Hemingway was probably telling the truth (mainly, as Huck would say) about Fitzgerald, but only half of the truth.

Hadley, Bumby, and Ernest Hemingway

The two standout characters in the memoir, at least to me, are Hemingway’s wife Hadley and their son Bumby (Jack Hemingway). One can’t read The Paris Wife without being angry at Hemingway for leaving Hadley for Pauline Pfeiffer, especially when Hadley loved Hemingway so much. However, in reading this memoir, I understood him a little better. He felt genuine remorse for what he had done to Hadley, and he accepted the blame, leaving some of the blame also to Pauline: “For the girl to deceive her friend was a terrible thing but it was my fault and blindness that this did not repel me” (219). Hadley, he explains, married again to “a much finer man than I ever was or ever could be” and Hemingway knew she was happy and ascribed none of the blame for their breakup to Hadley, even describing her as the heroine of A Moveable Feast and saying with confidence that Hadley wouldn’t mind the fictionalization of their time in Paris. What makes me sad is that Hadley died in 1979, so she perhaps never read the lengthy apology to her in this memoir as Mary Welsh cut it when she edited the book for publication. I think it might have made a difference to Hadley to know how Hemingway felt about what happened. He did truly love her, and one has the sense after reading A Moveable Feast that whatever happened in his love life after they divorced, he never really stopped loving Hadley.

Bumby comes across as good-natured and precocious, and I wondered if he were truly like that as a child or if Hemingway was ascribing those qualities to him as a proud father. The vignette added in this edition in which Bumby orders a beer at a café and somewhat scandalizes Scott Fitzgerald in so doing is funny and poignant. Bumby makes rather astute observations about Fitzgerald, self-control, and prostitutes that are far beyond his years to the point of being difficult to believe.

One has the sense that Hemingway chose to focus his memoir on this time in Paris because, despite the fact that he had yet to establish himself as the famous writer and persona he would later become, it was the happiest time in his life.

I haven’t read the edition edited by Mary Welsh, so all I really have to compare this memoir to is Paula McLain’s novel and the Wikipedia entry about the memoir with a list of the changes. This edition was edited by Hemingway’s grandson Seán Hemingway, son of Hemingway’s third son Gregory, with a foreword by Patrick Hemingway, Hemingway’s second and only surviving son. Seán Hemingway describes his restored edition as the original manuscript as the author intended it to be published and criticizes Mary Welsh’s editing as “changes that I strongly doubt would have been attempted by the editor had she required the author’s approval” (4) and even goes so far as to say that the “extensive edits Mary Hemingway made to this text seem to have served her own personal relationship with the writer as his fourth and final wife, rather than the interests of the book or of the author” (9), particularly with regard to his account of his breakup with Hadley and remarriage to Pauline. Seán Hemingway closes his introduction by saying,

For my grandfather, who was just starting out in those early years, Paris was simply the best place to work in the world, and it remained for him the city that he loved most. While you will not find goatherds piping their flocks through the streets of Paris anymore, if you visit the places on the Left Bank that Ernest Hemingway wrote about, or the Ritz Bar or Luxembourg Gardens, as I did with my wife recently, you can get a sense of how it must have been. You do not have to go to Paris to do this though; simply read A Moveable Feast, and it will take you there. (13)

Rating: ★★★★★


The House of Velvet and Glass, Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and GlassKatherine Howe’s debut novel, [amazon asin=B003WUYROK&text=The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane], concerned a setting near her home in Marblehead and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Howe returns once again to Massachusetts of an earlier era, this time pre-WWI Boston. Sibyl Allston, daughter of a wealthy Salem sailor and a society gal, has lost her mother and younger sister in the sinking of Titanic. Her mother introduced her to the spiritualist gatherings at the home of the medium Mrs. Dee, and Sibyl continues to go in a desperate attempt to contact her mother and sister from beyond the grave. Discouraged by her inability to connect, she accepts a scrying glass from Mrs. Dee, and at first, she finds her attempts to use it unsuccessful, too. Her brother, sent home from Harvard in disgrace after he is caught in flagrante delicto with an actress in his rooms, brings his flamboyant girlfriend Dovie home, where she and Sibyl become unlikely friends. Dovie takes Sibyl to an opium den, where Sibyl is able to use her scrying glass for the first time. At first, she sees snatches of images she doesn’t understand, but once she realizes what she is able to see, Sibyl becomes desperate to know if what she sees in the scrying glass can be changed. The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to her seventeen-year-old father’s sailing voyage to Shanghai and friendship with a young Chinese scholar and her mother and sister’s voyage on Titanic.

This book took me a while to get into, but about halfway into the book, the pace started picking up. Throughout, the descriptions are gorgeous, and I admired Howe’s ability to capture the early twentieth century well on many occasions. I liked the characters, and the setting was intriguing. The book has interesting things to say about all the what-ifs we wonder about in life, and also what our legacies might be if different choices are made. The old Calvinist thinking of early Massachusetts settlers is a surprising theme of the novel, as well. How much of our lives do we really have control over, and if we try to change events, can we really? Or is so much of what happens to us determined by Fate or God, or whatever you want to call the force of Predestination, that things will happen certain ways whether we try to intervene or not? The book does make one think about one’s place in the grand scheme of things.

Downton Abbey fans might like this book set in the same era in America. I think readers who enjoyed Howe’s first book will like this second one as well, though it is different from the first. Historical fiction fans who enjoy WWI-era novels will like it, too. Be patient with the first half, especially with the flashbacks that might not seem as if they are connected to the main narrative, as you will be rewarded once the book begins to coalesce during the second half. Enjoyable read!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Insurgent, Veronica Roth

Tris Prior lives in a dystopian future Chicago divided by factions: Dauntless, who value bravery; Abnegation, who value selflessness; Erudite, who value education and intellect; Amity, who value love and friendship; and Candor, who value truth. Like other citizens in Chicago, Tris takes an aptitude test at the age of sixteen that will determine which faction she has an aptitude for. Tris’s test reveals that she is a rare individual with an equal aptitude for three factions: she is Divergent. The Divergent are considered dangerous and untrustworthy, and Tris is told to hide her test results at all costs.

Veronica Roth’s novel [amazon_link id=”0062024043″ target=”_blank” ]Insurgent[/amazon_link] is the second in a planned trilogy, the first of which, Divergent, tells the story of Tris’s decision to choose Dauntless and her initiation into her faction. I would not recommend trying to read Insurgent without reading Divergent first. Roth wastes no time catching up readers who didn’t pick up the first book and dives into the story, instead. In fact, even though I read Divergent just a few months ago, I frequently found myself trying to remember who various minor characters were and how they fit into the story. You may want to stop reading now if you haven’t read the first novel. Continue reading “Insurgent, Veronica Roth”

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

The Complete PersepolisThe first time I ever heard anything about the country of Iran was when I was in second grade. Americans had been taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran. We wrote letters to the hostages, and I remembered very clearly that a boy in my class wrote in his letter, “I hope you don’t get shot.” Miss Johnson, my teacher, made him change it because, she said, while she was sure they would appreciate his hoping they wouldn’t get shot, he shouldn’t remind them of the possibility in a letter. They were already scared enough. I remembered thinking that these people must be crazy to kidnap people they didn’t know for no reason I could understand. I think a lot of Americans came to view Iranians as crazy fundamentalists, and it was easy to lump the entire country together under that label. [amazon_link id=”0375714839″ target=”_blank” ]Persepolis[/amazon_link] is a memoir by Marjane Satrapi, who experienced what it was like to live in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She paints a different image of Iran and Iranians than many Americans my age and younger grew up seeing. She describes what it was like to feel hopeful when the Shah was deposed, only to find the revolution was not what she and her family expected, and in many ways, their lives were worse. Satrapi suddenly had to wear a veil to school. Satrapi was outspoken and frequently courted trouble. When she was fourteen, her parents sent her to school in Austria. She came back to Iran at the age of eighteen confused about who she was: she didn’t feel completely Iranian because her beliefs were out of step with those of her more traditional friends, but she didn’t feel Western, either.

The version I read contains the complete graphic novel, spanning Satrapi’s life from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s. I liked the artwork. It was simple but effective, and I found Satrapi’s story so captivating that I read the novel in a matter of hours (although it is true that graphic novels are quicker to read). I have not read many graphic novels. In fact, this is only my second, the other being [amazon_link id=”0394747232″ target=”_blank” ]Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History[/amazon_link]. I didn’t like Maus all that much, and I have never been much of a comic book reader, so I think I told myself I didn’t like graphic novels. This graphic novel was excellent, though. I found Satrapi’s description of life in Iran and her parents interesting. I think growing up when I did, it was easy to see the people of Iran as “the enemy” and to forget they are not terribly different from us, and what this book does brilliantly is expose that prejudice to the reader. Reading this memoir, I do not have the sense it was written for an Iranian audience. It feels more like it was meant to educate Westerners, and it certainly changed my perspective. We have our own religious extremists here in America, but the difference is that our government allows dissent, and we’re not yet living in the Republic of Gilead.* I enjoyed the fact that the memoir was an unflinchingly honest examination of Satrapi’s coming of age, but also not without quite a fair amount of humor, even the face of difficult circumstances and devastating events. Ultimately, Satrapi’s memoir is the story of how she discovered who she is and what she wanted. I would recommend it to anyone who thinks they don’t like graphic novels. Anyone who already enjoys graphic novels will love this book.

*A reference to the government established by the Religious Right in Margaret Atwood’s novel [amazon_link id=”B003JFJHTS” target=”_blank” ]The Handmaid’s Tale[/amazon_link].

Rating: ★★★★★

I read this novel to fulfill the Graphic Novels and Manga category of the Mixing it Up Challenge.

Dragonfly in Amber (audio), Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander)In my quest to read (or reread, as in this case) the entire Outlander series this year, I joined the Outlander Series Reading Challenge and have already completed the first book in the series, [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. I thought I might enjoy listening to the books this time, and Davina Porter, the narrator, does indeed do a fabulous job reading the books. She has different voices for the different characters, and she is expressive and interesting to listen to.

[amazon_link id=”0385335970″ target=”_blank” ]Dragonfly in Amber[/amazon_link] is the second book in the seven-book (as of today’s date) series. It begins in 1968, when Claire Randall and her daughter Brianna visit Scotland. Claire enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, adopted son of her late husband Frank’s friend Reverend Wakefield, to find out what happened to the men under the command of Jamie Fraser at the Battle of Culloden. Claire inexplicably disappeared through a cleft in the stone circle known as Craigh na Dun during a second honeymoon with her husband Frank in 1946 and wound up 200 years in the past. Before slipping back through the stones on the eve of the Battle of Culloden, Claire built a life for herself in the past as Jamie Fraser’s wife. Knowing the Highland clans will be destroyed after Culloden, Claire and Jamie work as double agents, trying to prevent the disaster. They find themselves caught up in intrigues at the French court of Louis XV before returning to Scotland.

I find this second book to be interesting for its development of Claire and Jamie’s relationship. They endure the horrible loss of their daughter Faith, an event which nearly destroys their marriage, as well as danger and privation as they find themselves swept up in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion. I join those readers who don’t enjoy the part of this novel in which Jamie and Claire live in France as much as the rest, but I found that during this reread, I actually enjoyed the frame part of the story that takes place in 1968, which I didn’t like much the first time I read the novel. I think the idea that Claire would ever return to Frank and leave Jamie just bothered me too much at the time. I found I liked the older Claire: she aged well. She’s still sexy in her 40’s, and she also became a medical doctor at a time when that profession did not include many women. I also found I liked Brianna better this time. I didn’t like her much the first time I read her, and I wonder if Davina Porter’s characterization of her contributed to my change of heart. Diana Gabaldon has said before that she had a hard time creating Brianna. I was not a huge fan of Roger Wakefield’s the first time, either, but I liked him better this time.

I noticed on this rereading, as I did with Outlander, that Gabaldon includes a lot of subplot and detail that develops characters, but doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward. Considering the length of the books, I think she could cut some of this detail without harming the character development, and I find the further I read into the series, the less patience I have for it. I may not mind so much once I start reading the books that I have never read before, but as I have reread the first two books, I’ve been annoyed by the extra details.

Still, Diana Gabaldon has a gift for creating characters and setting, and the end of the book, even on a reread, was unputdownable.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)If you have visited recently, you may recall I’m rereading the Harry Potter series on e-book after receiving the wonderful digital gift of the entire series, British versions. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets does not have as many differences from the American version. Once again, upon reading it, I was struck with how much of the foundation for the rest of the series is laid in Chamber of Secrets.

First, the nasty prejudice against Muggle-borns is first brought to light when Malfoy calls Hermione a “mudblood,” and she and Harry learn what it means from Ron and Hagrid. I never liked the fact that the movies put too many other characters’ lines in Hermione’s mouth, but always thought one of the most egregious violations was when Hermione herself explains to Harry what a mudblood is rather than Ron. After all, as much as she reads, she was still brought up in the Muggle world, just as Harry was, whereas Ron has only grown up among wizards. The reader doesn’t learn how deeply this prejudice against Muggle-born wizards runs until Chamber of Secrets. The only inkling the reader has that it’s a problem in [amazon_link id=”0747573603″ target=”_blank” ]Philosopher’s Stone[/amazon_link] is an offhand remark Draco Malfoy makes in Madam Malkin’s while he and Harry are being fitted for robes, and he is the only character in the book (if memory serves) who exhibits the prejudice. In Chamber of Secrets, we learn Tom Riddle/Voldemort shared the prejudice to the point that he set a monster on Muggle-borns when he was at school, killing Moaning Myrtle, and we also learn that not only do quite a few modern Slytherins share this prejudice, but also that the founder of the house, Salazar Slytherin, left Hogwarts and destroyed his friendship with Godric Gryffindor over the issue. The pervasiveness of the prejudice is really uncovered for the first time in Chamber of Secrets.

Another important issue in the books, starting with [amazon_link id=”0439785960″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince[/amazon_link], is the destruction of Voldemort’s horcruxes. We don’t find out what horcruxes are until Dumbledore explains them to Harry in Half-Blood Prince, but a reread of Chamber of Secrets reveals that Dumbledore definitely suspected Harry himself was a horcrux as early as Chamber of Secrets. Harry says, “Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Dumbledore replies, “It certainly seems so,” and explains that he didn’t think Voldemort meant to do it. Of course, Harry often hears a nasty little voice in his head, and he somehow intuits how to destroy the diary horcrux without knowing how he knows. His ability to speak Parseltongue probably stems from the horcrux inside him, and I have often wondered if he retained the ability after Voldemort destroyed that horcux, or if he lost it. It seems likely he lost it, but who knows?

We are also introduced to house elves and their peculiar enslavement and magic in Chamber of Secrets. House elves become a huge issue later on when Barty Crouch uses his to hide a horrible secret and winds up setting a Death Eater loose to help Voldemort rise again and subsequently loses his life. We also see how Kreacher’s mistreatment at the hands of Sirius Black costs Sirius his life, and how Harry is able to turn Kreacher’s feelings around through kindness. Hermione, of course, takes up the cause of house elves in [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Goblet of Fire[/amazon_link].

We also learn for the first time about Polyjuice Potion, which allows witches or wizards to disguise themselves as other people. Rowling was so careful to insert the incident when Harry, Ron, and Hermione brew Polyjuice Potion so they can quiz Malfoy about his involvement with opening the Chamber of Secrets, and given that they don’t really learn much useful information, it seems a sort of throwaway plot line, but it does enable them to become acquainted with Moaning Myrtle, and later on, when Barty Crouch, Jr., uses it to disguise himself as Mad-Eye Moody, we don’t suspect it until the end-of-the-novel reveal, when we learn how Rowling has hoodwinked us yet again while laying the clues out for all to see. Of course, it’s also used in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link] when Harry is transported to the Burrow. I suppose the only thing that prevents Polyjuice Potion from wreaking utter chaos in the Magical World is that 1) Polyjuice Potion is difficult to brew, and presumably not every witch and wizard is up to it; and 2) the ingredients are hard to come by—even Barty Crouch, Jr., is forced to pilfer them from Snape’s stores in order to get them.

This book also contains a character Rowling insists is based on a real person—Gilderoy Lockhart. The real person must have been truly awful for Rowling to exact such revenge upon him/her in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart.  What a truly amazing character. So much fun to read and so much fun to hate. I love how Ron is really the first person to have the true measure of Lockhart. When someone points out to Ron all the amazing things Lockhart has done, he mutters under his breath, “He says he’s done.” Ron is the first character to insinuate Lockhart lied about his accomplishments. Even smart Hermione doesn’t see through Lockhart. We also learn for the first time that the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher job is hard to keep filled in this book as well. The DADA teachers seem to be the Red Shirts of the Harry Potter universe. Hagrid tells the trio that Lockhart was the only man willing to take the job and that people seemed to feel the job was cursed.

All of that said, this book is not necessarily my favorite in the series, but I always forget how much I like it until I reread it. It’s quite funny in some places, and it’s really important in terms of laying the cornerstone for the focus of the series. When I read the series first, only the first four books had been released, and rereading this time is bringing back a little of the memory of all the speculating and waiting to find out if I was right. I really wish I could tell J. K. Rowling how much these books mean to me.

Rating: ★★★★★

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneA friend of mine gave me the wonderful gift of all of the Harry Potter books in e-book format. I just reread the first on my Kindle, and I must say that visiting Harry Potter’s wizarding world feels as comfortable as curling up under a warm blanket, snug against the cold. I realized on this reading that I have much of the book memorized at this point, but this was the first time I read the British version, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. My friend managed to get the British versions of the books for me, and after reading just this one, I much prefer the British versions. I have always thought the American title for this book was foolish dumbing-down for Americans, as though Americans couldn’t be expected to be familiar with the Philosopher’s Stone. I remember being confused when I first read it, thinking that the Sorcerer’s Stone sounded a lot like the Philosopher’s Stone, and wondering why Rowling didn’t use that term, only to find out she did, but that her American editors changed it. Grrr.

Aside from the fact that the British version is better, it’s a joy to return to this world that Rowling crafts  so fully and so beautifully again and look around. Her books are always just as good as I remembered them. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are always as wonderful and winsome as they were the first time. I think Rowling has something of Dickens’s gift for crafting characters. The first time I read the books, I was struck by Rowling’s wordplay, too, and I still enjoy it when I reread.

There are not many books that I reread frequently, but the Harry Potter books certainly are, and I find something new to enjoy and marvel at each time. This time, for instance, I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after having experienced that book on Pottermore. I had the extra information about wandlore, Quirrell’s house at Hogwarts, and McGonagall’s history in mind as I read. I won’t share that information, as it is spoilery, and if you didn’t manage to get into the Beta version of Pottermore, you might wish to explore it on your own and discover the information as you navigate the site. Besides, if you want the spoilers, you can find them elsewhere online. Reading the book made me want to hop on Pottermore and reread some of those sections on the site. I remember how unexpectedly moved I felt when I got my wand, and how happy I was to be sorted in Ravenclaw (I always knew I was a Ravenclaw).

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book on my Kindle, too. I often highlight and annotate more in my Kindle books, as I don’t necessarily share them with other family members (and we certainly share Harry Potter books), and I also don’t feel like I’m defacing books. I have a peculiar aversion to writing in books. It does not bother me to write in textbooks or professional reading; in fact, I mark those books up quite a lot. I don’t like annotating fiction, though. What I should say is I don’t like annotating print fiction. I annotate e-books quite a lot. Reading this book on my Kindle gave me license to highlight all my favorite parts and take notes on connections I made. I enjoyed reading the book in this way. Perhaps if I didn’t have a hangup about writing in my print books, reading e-books wouldn’t feel that different to me, but I am finding that I actually prefer e-books lately because I feel I can write in them.

Of course, I finish this book as the book world is buzzing about J. K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, set for release in September. The readers will, of course, just be outraged that it’s not Harry Potter, but I think Rowling is right to go for something completely different. It will be expensive: nearly $35 for hardback and $20 for the e-book (Amazon has it for pre-order in hardback at $21.00). I’ve never paid so much for an e-book, and I can’t see myself rushing out to buy the book at those prices.

The Guardian also recently ran a lovely piece on rereading: “The Pleasures of Rereading” by Tom Lamont.

Rating: ★★★★★

The American Heiress, Daisy Goodwin

[amazon_image id=”0312658664″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The American Heiress: A Novel[/amazon_image]With Downton Abbey on hiatus, I’ve been going through withdrawal, and Daisy Goodwin’s novel [amazon_link id=”0312658664″ target=”_blank” ]The American Heiress[/amazon_link] was like methadone. The American Heiress is the story of Cora Cash, daughter of a wealthy American flour company magnate. Cora is spoiled and rich; in the beginning of the novel, she compares herself to Emma Woodhouse. She is used to having her way. Her mother, ambitious and conniving, wants to see her daughter land a titled husband. Fate throws Cora quite literally in the path of Ivo Maltravers, Duke of Wareham. After a whirlwind courtship, Cora becomes the Duchess of Wareham, but she learns that accepting this title will mean she might have to give up more than she realized and live in a strange country with a man she barely knows.

The similarities between this novel and Downton Abbey are a little uncanny. Cora, like the character Cora on Downton Abbey, is a rich American heiress who marries a titled aristocrat from an old family in the UK. This novel takes place during the Gilded Age and is therefore set slightly before the events of Downton Abbey begin. I enjoyed Cora’s mother-in-law, the Double Duchess—so-called because she married the Duke of Buckingham after the death of her husband, the former Duke of Wareham. It may be that Goodwin was thinking of Louisa Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who was also known as the Double Duchess because she married both the Duke of Manchester and the Duke of Devonshire and lived during the right period (though she may have been a bit older than Goodwin’s Double Duchess). Cora’s own story calls to mind the real story of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo Vanderbilt was, of course, a rich American heiress like Cora. Consuelo’s real mother-in-law was none other than the Double Duchess, Louisa Cavendish, herself. If you are a fan of this period in history and like costume drama, you would probably like this novel. It was an engaging, quick read. I did not find Cora particularly likable because she was quite spoiled and melodramatic. It was hard to feel sorry for her for too long. However, despite a lack of sympathetic characters, I found the plot of the story held my interest. If I had cared about the characters a little more, I might have been somewhat disappointed in the ending, but I found that the ending was realistic, and I’m not sure I would have liked a different ending.

Some time ago, I asked readers if they wanted me to cast books, and this book is the first book I’ve had a chance to cast.

Carey Mulligan

I could see Carey Mulligan as Cora Cash. She has the chestnut hair color and a certain naivete that could carry the part.

Kerry Washington

I like Kerry Washington as Bertha, Cora’s maid.

Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy should play Ivo Maltravers, Duke of Wareham. The book refers often to Ivo’s straight Roman nose and dark “gypsy” looks.

Robert Sean Leonard

Robert Sean Leonard (slightly younger version) as Teddy Van Der Leyden, Cora’s childhood sweetheart. I don’t know why other than he looks like a Teddy Van Der Leyden.

Christina Cole

Christina Cole has the sort of slithery, catlike quality that Charlotte Beauchamp needs. Charlotte is a snake in the grass, y’all. And this gal would be perfect in the role.

Samantha Bond

Samantha Bond was the only person I really cast in my head as I was reading. She is exactly how I imagined the Double Duchess. She would be so perfect!

Interesting side note (if you are still reading): The American Heiress is called My Last Duchess in UK. This title is, of course, an allusion to the Robert Browning poem. I like it, but after reading the novel, I’m not sure it’s very descriptive of events in the book. I’m sure the title was changed because 1) the publisher thought Americans wouldn’t get the reference and/or 2) the publisher thought Americans would like “American” in the title. Whatever.

Rating: ★★★★☆


Outlander (audio), Diana Gabaldon

OutlanderI took advantage of the time I had during a recent car trip to finish Diana Gabaldon’s novel [amazon_link id=”1419381016″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] for the third time (but for the first time as an audio book). I have reviewed the book previously. I am a big fan of Gabaldon’s, and the first time I read the series, which at that time only included four books, I couldn’t wait for the fifth book. When it did finally come out, I didn’t get through much of it before I set it aside, so I’m hoping participating in the Outlander Challenge will help me finish the series.

For those not in the know, Outlander is the story of Claire, a nurse during World War II, who travels to the Scottish Highlands for a second honeymoon with her husband Frank and finds herself mysteriously transported about 200 years in the past, where she is almost immediately confronted by her husband’s ancestor, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, an English officer garrisoned in Scotland. She is rescued from the clutches of Black Jack by members of the Clan MacKenzie, who take her to their stronghold, Castle Leoch. Claire finds herself drawn to Jamie, a young man in the MacKenzie party. She establishes herself as a healer in the castle and though she never stops trying to figure out how to return to Frank, she begins to build a life for herself in the past. Later, she is forced to marry Jamie in order to protect herself from Black Jack and the English army, and it is after that event that her adventures truly begin.

One of the things I noticed for the first time on this reading is the long scenes that in another book might simply have been cut. Gabaldon tends to write scenes and stitch them together later rather than write in a linear fashion. I know this because I have heard her speak about her writing process. It has benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits is that readers feel they have intimate connections to the characters through vignettes that develop the characters into fully fleshed people. Gabaldon is gifted with description. No reader should have any trouble picturing her scenes. However, one of the drawbacks, and it’s something I really only noticed on this read, is that some scenes feel superfluous and don’t really develop the plot so much as the characters. I am huge fan of characters and will enjoy a book with good character development over a book with weaker characters and a fast, tight plot, but on this read, I really noticed the fact that much of the writing was unnecessary. Given the length of the book, that is kind of a problem. And the books only progressively get longer. I may not mind as much with the rest of the series because I have only read the next three books once, and I have never read the final three. I might find I enjoy the ride a little more when the plot is not quite as familiar, and truthfully, I don’t think most readers would have a problem with the superfluous scenes given how engaging a writer Gabaldon is.

Davina Porter is a superb reader, and listening to the books will give readers a whole new appreciation for Gabaldon’s Scots.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m counting this book as my romance novel for the Mixing it Up Challenge.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey

[amazon_image id=”0062064223″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Flight of Gemma Hardy: A Novel[/amazon_image]Margot Livesey’s novel [amazon_link id=”0062064223″ target=”_blank” ]The Flight of Gemma Hardy[/amazon_link] is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s [amazon_link id=”B004CFA9Y6″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]. 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