BOOK REVIEW: 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie Helene Bertino


BOOK REVIEW: 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie Helene BertinoTitle: 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Published by Broadway Books
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books

An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters  Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.   As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

If you are anything other than humbled in the presence of love, you are not in the presence of love.

Marie-Helene Bertino’s writing is incredibly fresh and free-flowing, almost like jazz itself. It feels timeless it the sense that this story could have happened in the fifties or sixties or in contemporary times. There are very few details that suggest that this novel happens in the 2010s (I think there is only one mention of a touch screen phone). Because of that timelessness, the novel reads like a dream sequence. It’s effective and transporting.

This novel takes place over the span of a single day, from seven in the morning of Christmas Eve eve to seven in the morning of Christmas Eve. It follows a handful of interconnected characters, but it seemed to lack a deeper focus in characterization. When it ended, I wanted to know more about who these characters are and what happens in the coming year. I wanted to read more about Madeleine, the nine year old girl who doesn’t take shit from anybody. I’d really like to read about who she becomes when she grows up, because I think it would be a fascinating companion piece.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s a great novel about what happens between ends and new beginnings, and sometimes that’s exactly the novel we need to read.

A copy of this book was provided for review by Blogging For Books. All opinions are my own.

Post-Modern Victoriana; Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White


Post-Modern Victoriana; Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the WhiteTitle: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Published by Mariner Books
Published: September 1st 2003
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 901
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased

At the heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape to a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during “the Season”; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; his pious brother, Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh; all this overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.

Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.

Agnes lowers the latest issue of The Illustrated London News to her lap, offended and upset. An article has just informed her that the average English woman has 21,917 days to live. Why, oh why must newspapers always be so disagreeable? Have they nothing better to do? The world is going to the dogs.

Michel Faber’s vast expanse of a novel delves into the life of a nineteen year old prostitute named Sugar. And by vast expanse of a novel, I mean it’s a doorstop. I sometimes felt awkward bringing it with me wherever I went because it’s so large. But it’s one of those novels that doesn’t feel large and impossible at all. It’s so engaging and lush that you very nearly believe you’re right there in 19th century London.

I read The Crimson Petal and the White many, many years ago, before I decided to go for my degree in English and before I really knew anything about post-modernism and Victorian literature. When I read it for the first time, I read it for the historical fiction aspect of the novel. Historical fiction, especially fiction set in England, is one of my favorite things to read, so naturally, a huge one that’s vaguely scandalizing was something meant for me.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of post-modernism, a very concise way to describe it is that there are many truths to one story, that there are different perceptions and ways to know something, and that life is infinitely more complex than our puny human minds could ever fully comprehend. The University of Pennsylvania (found in a link from Wikipedia), in a course description, suggests that

Postmodernism articulates a world that is culturally one of multiplicity, diversity, contingency, fragmentation and rupture and accepts that we now live in a state of perpetual incompleteness and permanent unresolve.  Postmodernism promotes the notion of radical pluralism, many ways of knowing, and many truths. From a postmodern perspective knowledge is articulated from local perspectives, with all its uncertainties, complexity and paradox. This viewpoint suggests that knowledge is relational and that all reality is woven and rewoven on shared linguistic looms.

It’s one of those -isms that can never fully be explained because of the definition itself, but that’s one I particularly enjoy for a semblance of clarity.

Anyway, not to digress too much, Faber touches on this post-modern viewpoint in the terminology of itself and in the fact that one cannot return to Victorian England, so that viewpoint of that time is through the lenses of our own time. We, as readers, cannot help but interject our own views and perceptions of the world upon this as the author imposes his view of the time on us in tandem. The narrator plays with the reader on several occasions, dropping little bits about the state of women in that time and about authorship itself. Both Sugar and William aspire to be authors, but for William it’s an occupation, but for Sugar the prostitute it’s a means to pass the time with hopeful abandon; and Agnes writes vivid accounts in her diaries, which give major insight into her madness, only to discard them in a frantic act. Other characters speak about authorship, being an author, or even comparing their roles in life to roles in a novel throughout the course of the book.

A conversation between a poor man and Henry, William Rackham’s older brother, offers a quip that’s pretty clearly a dig at famous authors like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins:

“You ain’t a norfer, are ye?” he asks.
Henry repeats the strange word to himself silently, straining to divine its meaning.
“I beg your pardon?” he’s obliged to ask.
“Orfer,” repeats the man. “A fellow as writes books about poor men that poor men can’t read.”

Sugar, especially, having spent much of her time reading, compares her new role of governess to roles of governesses she’s explored in the novels she has read (which is a spoiler, my apologies):

Sugar steps back, confused: if she’s so superior in rank to the household servants, where does she get her deep-seated notion that governesses are lowly and despised? From novels, she supposes – but aren’t novels truth dressed up in fancy clothes?

The Crimson Petal and the White offers so much to a variety of readers, and that’s what I’ve enjoyed about it the second time around. My biggest frustration about it is the ending. It’s a bit abrupt, there isn’t much explanation as to why what’s done is done, and in some ways it reads to me as if Faber had to end somewhere otherwise it would continue on and on for ages. He’s apparently published a collection of stories set before and after the novel called The Apple that others have said read like “deleted scenes,” so I think I’ll have to find that in the library for further reading. I’m most desperate to know what happens to Sophie, William and Agnes’ daughter.

There is so much detail to delight in as you read this novel. Faber is a master at weaving those old world ideas and sensibilities with our modern perceptions in this, and you hardly know where one ends and one begins. It’s incredibly enjoyable, and I’m glad it’s my first read of 2016.

And, at the very end (more spoilers, but you’ve already made it this far), we as readers are offered the suggestion that someone we know, perhaps Sugar herself, wrote the novel, giving more rise to the post-modern ideas of authorship:

And to you also: goodbye.

An abrupt parting, I know, but that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?

The Keen Rapunzel, Marissa Meyer’s Cress


The Keen Rapunzel, Marissa Meyer’s CressTitle: Cress by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Published: February 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 550
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased


I first read this book as an e-copy while studying in England, and I plowed through it in a day. I couldn’t bring myself to do much else. I love Rapunzel as a fairy tale. Cress embodies that role perfectly – innocent, yet intelligent and intuitive. She grows throughout the entire book in a way that I never found forced or false. Her budding relationship with Thorne is perfect too. They’re probably my favorite relationship in the series because Thorne (the charming scoundrel) learns to love Cress without being able to see her (and it’s a nice reference to the fairy tale itself with him being blinded after a fall).

One of the things I am really liking about this series is the way Marissa Meyer can add new characters to the plot and not have it feel like those additions are too much or too confusing. Each character adds their own flavor to the story and round it out nicely. On some occasions it does tend to drag out a little bit, which may be the only downside to multiple POVs, and that makes it for a weaker novel if you’re looking at it from a standalone perspective. I honestly cannot wait to see how everything is resolved in the last book!

The Renegade Red Riding Hood; Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet


The Renegade Red Riding Hood; Marissa Meyer’s ScarletTitle: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
Published by Feiwel and Friends
Published: February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 452
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

As I’m rereading The Lunar Chronicles in preparation for Winter, I’m taking a closer look at each of the books. I studied fairy tales in college, and I’ve always been interested in reinterpretations and retellings of the stories. I love that this series has a lot of science fiction elements woven in with the traditional magic elements often found in fairy tales.

This second one rates just a slight bit higher than the first because there’s more action, there’s a bit more world development, and a lot more character development. I won’t write out many spoilers, so I’ll touch on things I liked and didn’t like. Out of the new characters introduced, I really like Thorne. He reminds me of a younger, more rash Han Solo. Scarlet is the sort of heroine I want to see more of in books marketed toward younger readers because she’s quite open-minded about a lot of things, especially with regards to Wolf. Something that I found a little unbelievable was everyone’s utter blindness to Cinder’s true identity. The obliviousness left in that blind wake made for sort of clunky storytelling, so if anything could be remedied about this series would to either make a bigger deal of Cinder’s identity or withhold it until a more climactic reveal. Because honestly, why else would Levana be so adamant about killing Cinder?

Meyer’s writing and characterizations are stronger in this second novel of the series, and it ends with a great lead-in to Cress.

An Homage to the Ghost Story; Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup


An Homage to the Ghost Story; Gillian Flynn’s The GrownupTitle: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown
Published: November 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 64
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books

I get really critical when it comes to genres. Especially critical when the genre is a glossed-over one. The Grownup is touted as an homage to the “classic ghost story.” There aren’t any ghosts in Flynn’s short story. Not really. After I read this, I thought back to my courses on Gothic literature and sensation fiction. This is a story meant to titillate the senses, to make you jump out of your skin a little bit. There’s an old house with blood stains, a “psychic” woman, a “psycho” woman, strange children, and stranger behaviors emanating from an even stranger house. The Grownup felt more like an homage to the Gothic style rather than the ghost story. Ghost stories come in all forms, so I feel like that’s not descriptive enough. And I do get it, the average reader will be more interested in the ghost story as the word “Gothic” brings up romantic silliness and grandiose language.

The story starts out normally. Well, normally for Flynn. It gets progressively weirder the more the narrator gets involved with Susan Burke. And by act three, shit hits the fan. Is Susan trying to kill the narrator? Is her stepson? Is anyone trying to kill anyone, and is everyone just a little off their rocker? It ended on an open note, and you can’t really get from the ending whether or not it’s going to end well for the narrator. However, if you are reading it as if she’s writing this herself, the end of it is quite literally the end. She possibly never got the chance to finish writing her story.

I like Flynn’s writing. I wanted more of The Grownup. I didn’t realize it was a standalone printing of a short story I read in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology until I received it in the mail and read the front cover (sometimes I like to be surprised by things by authors with whom I’m familiar). I admittedly have only read this and Gone Girl (I own the other two), so this makes me want to bring up her other titles to a higher spot on my TBR because she writes fascinating women.

This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books for review. All opinions are my own.