Misery, Stephen King

[amazon_image id=”0451169522″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Misery[/amazon_image]You’ve probably seen the film based on Stephen King’s novel [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link], even if you haven’t read the book, so you probably know the story: writer Paul Sheldon is kidnapped after nearly dying in a car accident and tortured by insane former nurse Annie Wilkes, who is his number one fan. Incredulous that Paul has written a novel she considers crass, she forces him to burn it and write Misery, the romance-novel heroine he killed off in his last book Misery’s Child, back into being in Misery’s Return. Paul undergoes the worst sorts of physical and psychological terror as he writes what ironically is certainly the best Misery novel he’s written.

I saw the movie when it came out, and having read the book now, about twenty years later, it seems as if the movie adhered fairly closely to the plot of the book. Kathy Bates was brilliant as Annie, and having seen the movie first, of course I pictured her in the role as I read. Annie Wilkes may be completely insane, but putting on my writer glasses, I can see she was a gift of a character for King. She is possibly the most frightening villain I’ve read precisely because of the realness of her character. On the one hand, she’s a completely psychotic serial killer who first murdered almost an entire family at the age of eleven; on the other hand, she can’t stand cursing, lying, or smoking. She uses lame expletives like “cockadoodie brat” and admonishes Paul for wanting a cigarette even as she contemplates murdering him. My husband says he thinks King is wary of people who don’t curse, that somehow, those people are a little unhinged.

One of the things King says in [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing[/amazon_link] is that folks ask him why he writes the kinds of stories he writes, and his response is that he doesn’t have a choice. You have to wonder what kind of a place a novel like Misery came from. I always kind of enjoy books about writers. My NaNoWriMo novel is such a book. I’m not sure why, but that sort of window into the creative process is always interesting to me. I like to see fictional writers flying away on their keyboards, sweating through writer’s block, and triumphantly finishing a novel. It’s kind of weird to read books about writing, I guess, and now that you pin me down, I’m hard pressed to name another book like this that I’ve read.

One reason I read this novel (finally) was that King mentioned both the book and the character Annie Wilkes (and he clearly thought Annie was more interesting than Paul Sheldon) several times in On Writing, and I was struck with the desire to see what it was all about. It is fairly gruesome, but I think most people picking up a Stephen King book know what they’re in for without needing to be warned. The book is quick-paced and starts off right in the middle of the action. It’s a great on-the-edge-of-your-seat read.

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I obtained this book from PaperBackSwap.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

[amazon_image id=”0385534639″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Night Circus[/amazon_image]Erin Morgenstern’s novel [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link] has generated a great deal of buzz, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s not precisely like anything I’ve read before. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are rival magicians, entered into a competition by their teachers, Celia’s father Hector (also known as Prospero) and the mysterious Mr. Alexander H.—. No one, including the reader, really knows what the competition is about or what the stakes are until the end of the novel, but the venue for the competition is a magical black-and-white circus, filled with memorable characters and enchantments. The storyline is not chronological, but is instead told in a series of vignettes, out of order and from different points of view.

The imagery in the novel is vivid. Everything from the scent of caramel and taste of apple cider and chocolate popcorn to the vivid black-and-white striped tents and the colorful swatches of red in the Murray twins’ hair and the rêveurs‘ hallmark clothing is vividly described. The book is absolutely gorgeous with description, and it is in this area that Morgenstern excels. The sights, sounds, and smells of the circus pop right off the page. The book itself is a visual treat, from the gorgeous black, white, and red cover to the stripes on the end papers and even the fonts.

On the other hand, the plot was plodding in some areas, and the choice to tell the story out of order came off as gimmicky and confusing for me. In the end, the story did not satisfy nearly as much as the description and imagery. Some readers will enjoy the book in spite of this flaw (and, in fact, it has 4.17 stars on Goodreads after over 5,000 ratings as of this writing, and those readers are a notoriously picky lot). In many ways, it’s a beautiful book, and it’s gorgeously vivid. The story just didn’t hang together in the end. I found myself having no trouble putting the book down for days at a time, even during a month when I had a lot of time off work (to read!) because of school holidays. That’s always a danger sign to me. As beautiful as the imagery was, I never managed to become invested in the story’s plot.

Obviously, I am in the minority, and the book is receiving rave reviews, so please try it out and see what you think. If you can manage to snag one, Starbucks was giving out extended samples as their first book Pick of the Week, and perhaps you could try it on the Kindle and see if it will work for you. I can easily see Tim Burton doing something fantastic with it in film (and I believe film rights have been purchased, though who will direct, I haven’t heard). Johnny Depp would be an excellent Mr. Alexander H.— or Prospero or even Chandresh Lefèvre. A set designer and costumer will have  field day creating the images Morgenstern describes.

I really wanted to like this book because I have heard that it began life as a NaNoWriMo novel, which is always exciting for me to hear about since I would like to turn one of my own NaNoWriMo novels into a smashing success (so wouldn’t we all). Ultimately, however, I needed to have more investment in the storyline and characters than in the vivid descriptions, and the descriptions are the only thing that really kept me reading until the end. I kept waiting for another appearance of Herr Thiessen’s wonderful clock or the chocolate popcorn, and that, in the end, is just not enough.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sharyn McCrumb with Tom Dula's fiddle

The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Sharyn McCrumb

[amazon_image id=”0312558171″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel[/amazon_image]Sharyn McCrumb’s latest ballad novel, [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link], concerns perhaps the most famous of the Appalachian murder ballads, the story of how Tom Dooley, or Tom Dula as he was really known, came to be hanged for the murder of Laura Foster. Tom Dula was a ne’er-do-well Civil War veteran who was involved with Ann Foster Melton, a married woman and Laura Foster’s cousin. According to the legend, Tom led Laura to believe they were eloping, but murdered her and buried her in a shallow grave on a ridge instead. The motives for the murder have varied from Tom’s blaming Laura for giving him syphilis to avoiding marrying her because she was pregnant. However, many have doubted whether or not Tom Dula really did kill Laura Foster, particularly because he wrote a confession on the eve of his execution asserting that he alone was responsible for Laura’s death, presumably to exonerate Ann Melton, who had been arrested shortly after Tom himself and was charged in Laura’s death as well. McCrumb saw parallels between the story of Tom Dula, Ann Melton, and Laura Foster and Emily Brontë’s [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link]. When I read of this connection on McCrumb’s website, I was even more excited to read The Ballad of Tom DooleyWuthering Heights is my favorite book. And McCrumb did not disappoint me on this account.

McCrumb chooses as her two narrators Zebulon Baird Vance, who served North Carolina as governor and senator and came from the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina himself. Following the Civil War, he was unable to hold a public office for a time and practiced law until this restriction was lifted for Confederate veterans. He was appointed to defend Tom Dula and Ann Melton pro bono. He serves as the stand-in for Mr. Lockwood, the outsider who more or less frames the beginning and end of the story, although unlike Brontë’s Lockwood, he narrates some sections in the middle of the novel. McCrumb’s Nelly Dean is Pauline Foster, a cousin of Ann Melton and Laura Foster’s, who comes to Wilkes County to be treated by a doctor for her syphilis and spreads discord. McCrumb paints her as a sociopath (Nelly isn’t that bad, though I always wonder how much she is telling the truth about Catherine and Heathcliff). Pauline narrates the bulk of the story. Her motive for causing so much destruction seems to stem from envy of Ann and a sense that she has somehow been mistreated by Ann.

Ann Melton and Tom Dula serve as McCrumb’s Catherine and Heathcliff, but no Cathy Linton, Linton Heathcliff, or Hareton Earnshaw redeem the families and set things to rights in the next generation. Ann Melton is just as narcissistic and unlikeable as Catherine Earnshaw, though Tom Dula does not come off nearly as badly as Heathcliff. McCrumb even rewrites some passages from Wuthering Heights into her novel, including the famous “I am Heathcliff” speech:

“We’re just the same, Tom and me. we come from the same place, and we’re made of the same clay. And maybe the devil spit in it before God made us, but at least we belong together, him and me.”

“It seems hard lines on your husband, you feeling like that.”

“I love them both, Pauline, but not in the same way. My love for James is like that field out there that he spends half his time plowing and sowing and weeding, and all. It will change. The crops die in the winter, or dry up in a summer drought, or the soil gives out, so that you must let it lie fallow for a time and let the weeds take it. It comes and goes, that field. But Tom … Tom is like that green mountain you can see rising there in the west, holding up the sky. It never changes. It will be the same forever.” (55-56)

This story appealed to me in the same way as Wuthering Heights appeals to me: I can’t understand it. I usually have to like the characters in a book, or I can’t really enjoy the book much. This book, however, offers no one to really root for, not even Laura Foster herself, no one to care for, and no one to sympathize with, just like Wuthering Heights. Even the setting in western North Carolina calls to mind the moors of Yorkshire in the way that both are wild places untamed by men. The cover is just gorgeous. It’s a composite of a design commissioned by the publishers and a real photograph of the area where Laura Foster died taken by McCrumb herself. McCrumb’s novel is a fine achievement built upon solid research and historical basis that still manages to read like literary fiction. The gothic elements of the murder and connection to Wuthering Heights made it a perfect read for the R.I.P. Challenge.

Sharyn McCrumb with Tom Dula's fiddle
Sharyn McCrumb with Tom Dula's fiddle

Read more about this novel at McCrumb’s website.

If you have Spotify, you can listen to the Kingston Trio’s famous rendition of “Tom Dooley.”

Rating: ★★★★★

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

[amazon_image id=”1400031702″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Secret History[/amazon_image]Critic A. O. Scott has called Donna Tartt’s novel [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link] “a murder mystery in reverse.” In the first few pages of the novel, narrated by Richard Papen, a student in a small group of classics majors taught by charismatic and myterious Julian Morrow and which includes cold, enigmatic Henry Winter, twins Charles and Camilla Macaulay, foppish (he wears a pince-nez, I kid you not) Francis Abernathy, and Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, the reader learns that the group has evidently conspired to murder Bunny and make it look like an accident. What the reader does not know is why. Richard slowly reveals the motive for the murder, as well as the ways in which it reverberates among the members of the group.

After recounting the murder, Richard tells the story more or less chronologically. At the beginning, he transfers to Hampden College in Vermont seemingly to get as far away from his parents in Plano, California, as he can. He becomes intrigued by the classics students, and having studied Greek previously, seeks entry into their exclusive courses. Julian initially denies Richard, and Richard becomes somewhat obsessed with the classics students. One day, he helps some of them with a Greek grammar question, and he is offered a place in their exclusive course of study. Initially, he is somewhat of an outsider in the group, who go on cliquish excursions to Francis’s house in the country and are oddly close-lipped around Richard. Over time, Richard is allowed into the group’s circle of friendship and he discovers a horrible secret about a wild night in the woods near Francis’s country house.

The Secret History is an intriguing thriller. Knowing from the outset that the group will murder one of their friends did nothing to diminish the mystery: quite the reverse, in fact. Initially, the group seem like such logical intellects and scholars that one can hardly imagine what will lead to Bunny’s murder, but as the book progresses, even events that seem outlandish on the surface are rendered in such a plausible way, that the reader hardly questions. (Of course a bunch of highly intelligent classics majors, seeking to get closer to the ancient Greeks they study, would stage a bacchanal. That’s perfectly logical!) Tartt offers an interesting character study into what prompts a murder and how it affects each member of the group differently. The Secret History is as much a character study as anything else, and I think the reader will be surprised by the ending (which did not go where I thought it would, for sure).

Tartt has a gift for description, choosing for her narrator a man who describes his own fatal flaw early in the novel:

Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs. (7)

And Richard describes everything he sees with this rapt beauty, from the run-down room with the hole in the roof in a house owned by an aging hippie where he spends his winter (and nearly dies of pneumonia) to Bunny’s descent into the ravine, windmilling and grasping for something, anything, to prevent his fall. Richard struggles to see things as they really are and renders events as he seems to wish they had occurred. He even admits this flaw near the end, as he tells the reader how he would have liked to have described an event—his description would have rendered it more romantic.

Jenny has a great review of this book (in fact, it was her review that put the book on my radar). She says,

[A]s a classics geek, I love it that this book makes Latin students seem super dangerous and dark and edgy. This is not necessarily the typical portrayal of Latin students, but it appeals to me: Watch out for us classics people. We are loose cannons and might push you off a cliff if you cross us. Or we might not. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW.

Point taken, Jenny. I’m not sure I’ll be able to turn my back on a classics major ever again. Awesome read, Jenny. Thanks for for recommending it.

Rating: ★★★★★

This Sunday review shared as part of the Sunday Salon.

The Sunday Salon

Full disclosure: I obtained this book from PaperBackSwap.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

[amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image]Ransom Riggs’s novel [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] is part bildungsroman, part gothic fairy tale. Its hero, Jacob Portman, is a teenager living in Florida. He is close to his grandfather, Abe Portman, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Abe tells crazy stories about an orphanage in Wales where he grew up, and he shows Jacob the most fantastic photos of the children who lived there—a girl who could fly, a boy who had bees living inside him, and an invisible boy. As Jacob grows up, he stops believing his grandfather’s fantastic stories until he witnesses a terrible attack on his grandfather that makes him question everything. Jacob’s family believes he is unable to cope with the stress of losing his grandfather, and Jacob begins therapy with Dr. Golan. Finally, Jacob decides he must travel to Wales and see the orphanage where his grandfather grew up in order to come to terms with his grandfather’s death. When he arrives, he discovers his grandfather’s wild stories just might be true.

This book was a delight from start to finish. It has moments of laugh-out-loud humor and hair-raising terror. I really liked the way Riggs managed to describe the reason for everything from sideshow “freaks” to cannibalistic serial killers to the Tunguska Event. After reading this book, you’ll look at mysteries in a new way. Most reviewers who read this book remark on the way Riggs manages to seamlessly weave bizarre photographs into his narrative, but it’s true. I would not read this one the Kindle. You will not enjoy the full effect of the photographs in that way. Jacob is a likeable hero; in fact, I liked all of the characters in this book. I also enjoyed the time-travel aspect. A word of warning: the book is ripe for a sequel, and if you pick it up, who knows how long you’ll have to wait until the next installment (and I hope there will be one!). This novel is one of the most unusual, fun, and absorbing novels I read this year. Perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge!

Rating: ★★★★★

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, Sharyn McCrumb

[amazon_image id=”0451403703″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Onyx)[/amazon_image]Sharyn McCrumb’s second ballad novel, [amazon_link id=”0451403703″ target=”_blank” ]The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter[/amazon_link], traces the threads of several interconnected stories. The novel begins as Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and Deputy Joe LeDonne are investigating the apparent murder-suicide of the Underhill family. High school students Mark and Maggie Underhill arrived home from play rehearsal to discover their older brother Josh apparently murdered the family and then killed himself. Sheriff Arrowood calls Laura Bruce, wife of the church pastor (who is serving as a chaplain in the Gulf War at the time), who agrees to be the young Underhills’ guardian. Meanwhile, Tavy Annis, an elderly man who has lived all his life near the Little Dove River, discovers he has incurable cancer, most likely caused by pollutants deposited in the river by an upriver North Carolina paper plant. He and his friend Taw McBryde attempt to draw attention to the polluted river, but are frustrated at every turn as no one seems to want to help. Meanwhile, Laura Bruce discovers she is pregnant and anticipates the arrival of her baby while feeling lonely without her husband. Nora Bonesteel, Dark Hollow’s resident witch (for lack of a better term) is seeing disturbing images. Spencer Arrowood mourns the end of his favorite artist Naomi Judd’s career as she retires because of a hepatitis diagnosis.

If it seems that everywhere you turn in this novel, you find death, disease, and destruction, then that’s about right. Compared with the other two McCrumb novels I have read, it is darker and more gothic. Over the course of three McCrumb books in a row, I’ve learned to trust Joe LeDonne’s instincts, and when he thinks something smells fishy about the Underhill murders, I thought he was right. Their true story was quite tragic. This is also the first time I cried reading a McCrumb book. Describing why I cried might be spoilery, but suffice it to say that I think any mother would. I kept turning the pages at the same rate as I had the previous two McCrumb books I read, but I think the various threads were not as tightly woven together as in the other two books. The characters were connected by one thing or another, but in some cases, only tangentially. I enjoyed the novel, as I enjoyed the other two. It’s so exciting when you discover a new author to love, especially one as prolific as Sharyn McCrumb.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: I received this book via PaperBackSwap.

The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley

[amazon_image id=”B0058M62OS” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Winter Sea[/amazon_image]Susanna Kearsley’s novel [amazon_link id=”B0058M62OS” target=”_blank” ]The Winter Sea[/amazon_link] is the story of writer Carolyn McClelland, who relocates to Cruden Bay in Scotland in order to get the feel of the location for the novel she is currently writing about the 1708 Jacobite uprising—one of the lesser known skirmishes of the Jacobite Rebellion. Carrie takes a cottage in the village near Slains Castle and becomes friendly with a local family, Jimmy Keith and his two sons Stuart and Graham.  After her agent suggests she try telling her story from the point of view of a female character, since Carrie can’t seem to find a male character’s voice, Carrie decides on a whim to write one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson McClelland, into the story. Suddenly she is writing faster than she’s ever written before, and when she discovers that many of the things she’s writing actually happened, even though she hadn’t consulted history books before she wrote, she begins to wonder if she is remembering her ancestor’s life. Meanwhile, both Keith brothers begin to show an interest in more than Carrie’s writing, but Carrie finds herself drawn to the one with eyes like the winter sea and begins modeling her hero, John Moray, after Graham, a history lecturer at the university in Aberdeen.

One of the reasons I liked this book was the genealogy thread that ran through it. Genealogy happens to be one of my own interests, and I can always sympathize with characters who find it interesting, too. Carrie’s discoveries about the lives of her ancestors fascinate her father, who is able to trace the family tree back one more generation due to Carrie’s insights as she writes. I expected to find myself more interested in Carrie’s novel, the part of the book that takes place in the past, because I have an absolute fascination for Scottish history. However, I found myself more drawn to the characters in the present—Jimmy, Graham, Stuart, Carrie’s agent Jane, and even Carrie herself. This book covers a topic that I myself have wondered about: is it even possible that memories can be passed down genetically? It seems far-fetched, but it works well in this novel. It’s a fun idea, anyway, and a nice alternative to some of the other paranormal tropes that have gained traction in recent years.

Kearsley is able to capture the past vividly in the sections of Carrie’s novel intertwined with the present-day story. She has included a historical note, and explained her painstaking attention to historical events as much as possible. I was surprised to discover that few of her characters were invented. It can sometimes be hard to make real historical people do what you want them to do when you’re writing about them, which is why, I think, that some writers of historical fiction prefer to use fictional characters.

The ending of the novel satisfies both the requirements of history and the requirements of historical romance. It’s a solid novel, and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Scotland or genealogy.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Two other reviews I found:

Although I’ve finished the Historical Fiction Challenge, this book (or the half of it that Carrie writes) counts. For the Take a Chance Challenge, it counts for the Challenge 6: Book Seer Pick, because Book Seer directed me to it after I read [amazon_link id=”055338483X” target=”_blank” ]Garden Spells[/amazon_link] by Sarah Addison Allen. Scottish castles on the coast during winter? So Gothic.

More Than You Know, Beth Gutcheon

[amazon_image id=”B000BLNPIW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]More Than You Know: A Novel[/amazon_image]Beth Gutcheon’s novel [amazon_link id=”B000BLNPIW” target=”_blank” ]More Than You Know[/amazon_link] is the parallel story of Hannah Gray, reflecting on her first love in Dundee, Maine, and Claris Osgood Haskell. Hannah fell in love with wild boy Conary Crocker, but it’s clear something didn’t work out as she begins her narrative sadly reflecting on how she married Ralph, whom describes as “a good man and I loved him, but he wasn’t the great love of my life, and he knew it, thought we never spoke of it” (8). Hannah is reading over a diary she kept as a teenager during the time when she met and fell in love with Conary. As a teenager, Hannah developed an interest in the Haskell family on Beal Island. One day, Danial Haskell was murdered with an ax, and though his daughter Sallie was tried twice for the crime—one ended in mistrial and the other in acquittal—she was never found guilty, and no one was imprisoned for the crime, though some suspicion also fell on the Haskells’ boarder Mercy Chatto.

The Haskells’ story is told in third person, while Hannah herself narrates her own story. The two stories intertwine as both Conary and Hannah see a ghost associated with the Haskells both on the island and in the schoolhouse the Gray family is living in. The schoolhouse originally stood on Beal Island, but was moved over to the town of Dundee. The island is uninhabited when Hannah begins her story.

The Maine setting is beautifully evoked, and the Haskell ax murder was clearly influenced by the Lizzie Borden story—many of the elements of the two stories are similar. I found the characters hard to sympathize with, and I felt more like I was hearing gossip about a local family I barely knew than being let into the lives of people I cared about. I expected the two storylines to mesh more tightly by the end of the novel, but I never felt they did, and Hannah never resolved her curiosity about the murder (though the reader does learn what happened). The one connection I did make was to wonder if Gutcheon showed us the end of the “what-if” story. If Conary and Hannah had been able to marry, would they have been happy together? Or would they have ended up more or less like Claris and Danial Haskell? In the end, it felt incomplete, as though some connection I was supposed to make had been withheld from me as it had been from Hannah. It’s a pity because it started out strong, and I thought I would like it in the end, but I found it left me feeling kind of hollow. But other people clearly liked it, and if you’re thinking about reading it, please read their reviews.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Reading Challenge Progress


I just took stock of the reading challenges I’ve taken on this year. I am participating in so many challenges, that I was finding it difficult to keep up with them. Luckily, I found a plugin called ProgPress that allows me to create and customize progress meters. Check them out in the sidebar over to the right (RSS feed readers will have to click over to my site).

I’m not doing badly.

First, I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I read 40 last year. So far, I’ve read 27, which puts me slightly ahead of my pace. That’s a good thing because school starts for me again in a few weeks, and I will need to be a little bit ahead.

I can say I’ve completed the Steampunk Challenge, the GLBT Challenge, and the Once Upon a Time Challenge, as I really only had to read one book to complete these challenges. All of them were low-commitment “just try it and see if you like it” challenges, at least at the level I committed to.

I need to finish one more book to complete the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, but I am not doing well with the YA Historical Fiction Challenge. I guess I don’t read as much YA historical fiction as I thought I did. I don’t think I’ll finish that one, and I’m not going to worry about it if I don’t make much progress there.

I haven’t made much progress on my own challenge—just one book of six. Ditto the Shakespeare Challenge. On the other hand, I’m making steady progress with the Take a Chance Challenge and the Gothic Reading Challenge. I should be able to make good progress on the Gothic Reading Challenge in September and October, when I can combine it with the R.I.P. Challenge.

I haven’t started either the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge or the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge, yet. Still plan to complete those.

Did you participate in any challenges? How are you doing?

photo credit: Bogdan Suditu

The Winter Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

[amazon_image id=”1401307469″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Winter Rose[/amazon_image]Jennifer Donnelly’s novel [amazon_link id=”1401307469″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Rose[/amazon_link], the second in her “Rose” trilogy, is a sprawling story, but I’ll do my best to summarize it. Most of the story focuses on India Selwyn Jones, sister to Maud Selwyn Jones, a minor character introduced in [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link]. Oddly enough, without divulging spoilers, people who ought to have remembered Maud and made some connections, didn’t. India is a doctor with dreams of opening a free clinic for women and children in Whitechapel. She begins working for an established doctor, but it becomes clear to her that she cannot work for him long due to his antiquated methods of practicing medicine that India knows have harmed and even killed his patients. Meanwhile, she becomes entangled with notorious gangster Sid Malone, who unbeknownst to most of the cast, is the brother of tea magnate Fiona Finnegan Bristow. Fiona is desperate to make contact with Sid, whose real name is Charlie Finnegan, and convince him to leave his life of crime. India is engaged to be married to MP Freddie Lytton—a bigger cad probably never drew breath. Freddie is only interested in India’s large inheritance. India and Sid fall in love, but they are kept apart through Freddie’s machinations. A large subplot of the novel involves the Finnegans’ youngest brother, Seamie, and his friend Willa Alden, who travel to Africa, where the book’s long dénoument takes place, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Willa suffers a horrible accident, and her budding romance with Seamie is left unresolved (because it is the focus of [amazon_link id=”1401301045″ target=”_blank” ]The Wild Rose[/amazon_link]).


There is a lot going on in this book. I did enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as The Tea Rose. I think it was because I didn’t like India as a heroine a whole lot. I couldn’t figure out Sid’s attraction to her. One thing I do need to single out for praise is Donnelly’s description of the Moskowitz family. I have worked at a Jewish high school for seven years, and in that time, I have come to learn much about Jewish culture and tradition. Usually authors who are not Jewish have difficulty capturing it, but Donnelly did a fine job. Ultimately, the book is just too big. Donnelly clearly did her research, and she showed all of it. As a result, the story is unwieldy. Some plotline inconsistencies were bothersome, too, but as they are a bit spoilery, I won’t mention them here. Suffice it to say that even Donnelly seemed to lose the thread of her story at times. One thing Donnelly does well is create villains with whom the reader can also empathize. She did it in [amazon_link id=”B004SYA7PM” target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] with Max R. Peters, and she even managed to explain Jack the Ripper’s behavior (a little bit, anyway) in The Tea Rose. Freddie Lytton is no different, but he is more sympathetic than Donnelly’s other villains. While I couldn’t help but hate him, Donnelly was also careful to show how people like Freddie are made, not born, and how they might still, deep inside, hate themselves for what they do. In all, I still enjoyed the book very much and look forward to seeing if Seamie and Willa can sort things out in The Wild Rose. The Finnegan family are a fun bunch.

Rating: ★★★★☆