BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa Montefiore

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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa MontefioreTitle: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: September 27th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 576
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

 The Girl in the Castle is about the lives of women around an estate in Ireland. It’s the first in a trilogy that spans before, during, and just after World War I and the Irish War of Independence. It’s expansive and well-detailed historical fiction, but I found it typical of the genre. There’s romance, war, and rape. I am so incredibly tired of rape being used as a plot device to make us feel pity for that character. While I understand it can be used as a plot device to explore certain aspects of how women and men are treated in society, I really hate when it’s used to just add “flavor” to a narrative as I feel like it’s used here.

Aside from that, it’s a well-structured historical novel that kept me interested. It has a wide variety of characters from all backgrounds, and Montefiore explores nearly all aspects of the characters and compels you to care for the protagonists in some way. Montefiore also weaves historical significance of both the Irish War for Independence and World War I throughout the narrative, showing how both wars affect each of the characters and the fate of the estate.

Sometimes I felt as if there were too many characters to follow, and I hope there are fewer in the second and third novel. Often times what happens with several characters to follow in any series is that the storylines blur and individual voices are hard to differentiate.

It’s a novel that was reminiscent of Downton Abbey, and if you’re in the mood for something more after finishing that show, this is the start of an expansive trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the next one!

Little List of Reviews #1

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Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
Published by Harper
Published: February 11th 2014
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

I liked the premise of it, but like I mentioned in my Goodreads review, I thought the narrator made Bartholomew a bit slower than I probably would have imagined the character if I had read it instead of listened to it. It can be discerned from the story sometimes that the social awkwardness and social anxiety may place Bartholomew on the autism scale, but sometimes people who care for their overbearing, needy mothers in the way he did do end up being more socially reserved than others and not on the autism scale at all. I felt a lot of the story was too trite and stereotypical in a way that didn’t sit well with me. I don’t mind language, but one of the characters cannot speak two words before interjecting “fuck,” and the overuse of the word “retard” by the main character to describe himself got old and frustrating by the second time he used it. By about a quarter of the way through, I kept asking myself why I was still listening to it, and realized it was sort of like watching a train wreck. You don’t want to stop watching in case something better happens. Halfway through, I realized nothing better would happen and let it go.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Published: August 11th 2015
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

The premise sounded so interesting! It’s going to be made into a movie! I don’t read many books about Australia! Unfortunately for me, the characters fell flat, there wasn’t any connection among all of the characters introduced by the time I was halfway through the novel, and I didn’t feel like I cared about any of the characters or what happened to them. I might give the movie a go if it ever comes to Netflix because sometimes these kinds of stories work better on film.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Published: September 30th 1999
Pages: 162
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

I can’t believe this was released in 1999. I remember when it first came out, and it makes me feel a little bit old. I read this last year in hopes of reading all thirteen by the end of 2015, but that didn’t happen. With the announcement of Neil Patrick Harris’ casting in the role as Count Olaf in the new Netflix series, I decided that in 2016 I am going to read all of them. For whatever reason, I’ve never read the last three, so I’m excited to discover how this story ends. These are great books for everyone who likes a good deal of dark humor, word play, and shenanigans that play on popular tropes, so if you haven’t read them, do give them a go!

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories by Michel Faber
Published: September 7th 2006
Pages: 199
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Faber apparently wrote these to appease himself and his fans who wanted to know what happened after The Crimson Petal and the White ended. To me, they read as deleted scenes of sorts. Good in their own right, but not good enough in the context of the novel. I liked the story with Sophie the most because it offered a peek into a relationship arrangement that would be considered scandalous even today by some people, but it didn’t offer the sense of completion I was hoping for. C’est la vie.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Night Manager by John le Carré
Published: November 7th 2013
Pages: 473
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The things I do for Tom Hiddleston? I liked Tinker, Sailor, Solider, Spy, which admittedly I read after seeing the film and enjoying Gary Oldman’s and Benedict Cumberbatch’s roles in the film. I really don’t know why I took so long to read this (literally from March 2015 to February 2016), but I think I attribute it to the fact that I read it before I went to bed/fell asleep, so my brain got in the habit of wanting to fall asleep soon after picking it up again. It got really good in the last quarter of it, and the amount of building up that it took to get to that point might be why I let it linger for so long. I’m looking forward to the BBC/AMC mini-series, and I think it will translate nicely to screen as le Carré’s works tend to do.

I think I might make this a regular feature. Here’s a little list of reviews for books I’ve read up until now. Some of them are rereads, some of them are books that I didn’t devote enough time outside of reading to devote a whole review post (like write down my favorite parts, keep notes in a notebook, etc.), some of them are books I didn’t finish. I’m going to start with the ones I didn’t finish, just because I’d rather get the not-so-great out of the way.

BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin HannahTitle: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 440
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.

I’d heard a lot about this book from various people, publications, and my old job at the bookstore. It kept showing up everywhere, so I finally decided to reserve it at the library and give it a go. We usually hear about the stories of men in wars, a man’s heroic actions, and a man’s role in the war, but we hardly hear of what women went through during any war. Not in popular commercial fiction, anyway. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hesitant on picking it up because Hannah’s other works aren’t titles of interest to me, but I’m all about expanding my horizons this year. I’m glad I did for this one.

In The Nightingale, Hannah explores the relationship between two French sisters during World War II. It started out slow, a bit cliche at times, but by the time I got through a third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I read straight on from about eight-thirty in the morning to noon. I wanted to read more of Isabelle’s story, and I can certainly see from this interview why Hannah wrote about a young woman leading hundreds of soldiers to freedom. I don’t recall reading anything even remotely similar to that in my history books, nor are the actions of women often spoken about in reference to the war. The Nightingale shows two women fighting their own battles during the war in their own ways, sometimes through being outspoken and daring, and sometimes through hardship and resilience.

Even though the story seemed too tidy and too happily-ever-after in its resolution, I really enjoyed reading it, and it makes me want to read more about the women who played such pivotal roles in World War II.

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

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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
Goodreads

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?