Nick Hornby is right up there as one of my favourite authors. He is sharp, witty, and while I’m not sure if anything equal my love of High Fidelity, Funny Girl, his newest book was pretty great.
The novel focuses on Barbara Parker, a beauty queen from Blackpool who wants nothing more than to be a comedian like Lucille Ball. She leaves her small town striking out for London but finds that she is considered too good looking to be seen as being funny. This is the 1960s and Barbara, who changes her name to Sophie, only gets bit parts in plays and TV shows often as a Ditz. Hornby then introduces a whole cast or characters; BBC writers Bill and Tony, producer Dennis, and leading man Clive. The novel follows the production of Barbara (and) Jim starring Sophie/Barbara and Clive as it becomes one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms and as the plots parallel the lives of the other characters in the story.
I loved everything about this novel, the character of Sophie/Barbara was so likeable, and the other characters were also layered and interesting. 1960s London is an amazing time to set a book like this dealing with. Hornby is sophisticated and funny in his writing as always and there were some parts that had me laughing out loud. I can see this being made into a movie so easily, especially as one directed by Richard Curtis, and will be so excited if that does come about.
In defining this book I would say that it was totally and wholly expected. It’s one of those historical fiction novels that you pick up in an airport for a pleasant, although unremarkable read. Maybe some will disagree with me, but there wasn’t anything in this book that really stood out for me; nothing took my breath away.
Essentially the book takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown just before the United States enters the Second World War. Following three characters; Grace, a young Chinese girl from the mid-west who has run away from her abusive father; Helen, a young Chinese widow from a prominent family; and Ruby, a Japanese girl posing as Chinese, Lisa See tells a story of fame, female friendship, and betrayal set against a looming war. All three work as dancers at a nightclub each pursuing their own dreams, and quite unsurprisingly their lives are turned upside down when Pearl Harbour is bombed.
The characters were charming although one-dimensional, and it was easy to see where the story was going from the start. Maybe I’m asking a bit too much of the author or expect too much from the fiction that I read but overall this book was good, but nothing special.
Set in the Southern United States at the height of the Great Depression, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls follows Thea Atwell, a teenage girl sent away from her family to attend the prestigious Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls for reasons that don’t become clear until the end of the novel. This mix of young adult fiction and historical romance work.
The book opens with Thea Atwell being taken to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls after causing her family to fall apart through unknown actions. Despite the fact that Thea is an avid rider and Yonahlossee is a prestigious place, she knows that this is a punishment. The story alternated between Thea’s life at Yonahlossee and flashbacks to her life in Florida where details are gradually revealed. It’s a compelling story and DiSclafani is a vivid and beautiful writer. There were also small parts of the book that were unexpected given the portrayal of Thea but which only served to make her more complex and layered.
The only problem with telling the story this was is that you fall into the same trap that Sarah Water’s did with The Paying Guests. The story is so compelling up to a point. It gets very predictable and it’s hard to keep the reader engaged after providing them with all the details, It feels like DiSclafani struggled a bit with how to end this in a satisfying way and played it safe with Thea. There was so much build up and I loved reading this so much, but sometimes the follow through just isn’t there.
Having previously read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, I came into this book familiar with Hunter S. Thompson. I liked this book way more than the previous ones.
I don’t even really know why; it’s similar to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the Caribbean setting just makes it better for some reason, and I found I liked all the characters better too. This book is exactly what you’d expect from Hunter S. Thompson, a semi-autobiographical rum-soaked account of working as a journalist in the Puerto Rico. The story is about the journalists who work at a ill-fated magazine and their tangled love triangles, jealousy, and drunken shenanigans and violent outbursts.
While it feels like it was written by a older man reminiscing, Thompson was only 22 when he penned this narrative, something I did not know until doing a bit of research. It’s surreal in a way, the experience that 22 year old Thompson had in Puerto Rico. It’s a fun read and a great introduction to Hunter S. Thompson for those unfamiliar with his hilarity, absurdity, and genius.
Growing up in a Catholic household, I was raised, especially by my Grandmother, to believe that the Jesuits could do no wrong. Obviously as I grew up and became disillusioned with the Church I turned more cynical and didn’t necessarily subscribe to her views. Still, in Catholic School, and then University, learning about the Jesuits always fascinated me because of their predisposition towards exploration. Reading and translating the Jesuit Diaries for an undergraduate class was an amazing experience, and despite how problematic the diaries are, I loved reading them.
In her novel, Mary Doria Russell imagines what it would be like if Jesuits were the first group of people to make contact with an alien species. I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about this book, and while I liked it, it didn’t blow me away. There is no denying that it is beautifully written, but I had a hard time visualizing things at time. Russell jumps back and forth in time starting with introducing us to Emilio Sandoz, the lone survivor of the mission who has returned to earth physically and mentally damaged. Throughout the novel you learn more about Sandoz and the other cast of characters who end up involved in the mission. You find out how they made contact, and finally what went wrong.
The novel is much more of a character study than it is a work of science fiction in its classic sense, which was fine with me. The characters are all compelling in their own sense especially as they grapple with issues of religion and faith. There just wasn’t a moment in the book that completely wowed me, but maybe I had my expectation driven up too high by all the things I’ve heard about the book. It was still a great concept and a good read, especially for those who enjoy character driven stories.
I’d heard of Alice Hoffman, author of The Dovekeepers, but never took the time to read anything she’d written. I fell in love with this book quite fast, and not only because it deals with some of my favourite subjects, (freakshows, immigrants living on the Lower East Side, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire), but because Alice Hoffman is an incredibly talented and beautiful writer.
Through her novel Hoffman traces the stories of two characters, Coralie, a young girl who spends her days serving her cruel father, Professor Sardie, and serving as one of his living wonders at The Museum of Extraordinary things, and Eddie Cohen, a Jewish boy who turned his back on his faith and makes a living as a photographer. The two lives intersect in various ways as they both attempt to help the other escape.
Hoffman is such an amazing writer, telling a story in such vivid detail. It’s been a while since I found myself completely lost within a book, but it was quite easy to do with this one. The characters are flawed and relatable and there is the perfect mix of intrigue and whimsy. Set against the backdrop of the Coney Island boardwalk and the Lower East Side Tenements, this book was a fantastic snapshot of New York City at a particular moment in time.
In contrast to the tested theory that the second installment in a trilogy will never be as good as the first, The Magician King was in my opinion, better than The Magicians, especially because it follows two storylines as opposed to one.
The character of Julia, the girl Quinten originally had a crush on before coming to Brakebills and meeting Alice, reappears in this story and we learn what happened to her while Quinten was obtaining a formal magical education and becoming a King of Fillory. Essentially Julia was in the admissions exam for Brakebills and did not pass. While students who are not admitted to the school normally have no recollection of the event, Julia knew something was wrong and she let that fact consume her. We learn that Julia, obsessed with becoming a magician, found an underground world of hedge magicians to train with.
While we learn Julia’s backstory, specifically how powerful she became eventually becoming a Queen of Fillory, follow Julia and Quinten as they find themselves accidentally kicked out of Fillory and struggle to find a way back.
While Grossman introduces some interesting moments in the Julia and Quinten storyline, like having to travel to Italy to speak with a Dragon and the nature of those dragons, Julia’s backstory is far more interesting and compelling to read. The book ends with Quintin once again in exile from Fillory and I’m sure the third book is all about his attempts to return. I really hope Grossman does more with the story however as I got tired of Quinten not in Fillory.