BOOK REVIEW: The Whale: A Love Story, by Mark Beauregard

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BOOK REVIEW: The Whale: A Love Story, by Mark BeauregardTitle: The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard
Published by Viking
Published: June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

A rich and captivating novel set amid the witty, high-spirited literary society of 1850s New England, offering a new window on Herman Melville’s emotionally charged relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and how it transformed his masterpiece, Moby-Dick   In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville finds himself hounded by creditors and afraid his writing career might be coming to an end—his last three novels have been commercial failures and the critics have turned against him. In despair, Melville takes his family for a vacation to his cousin’s farm in the Berkshires, where he meets Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic—and his life turns upside down.  The Whale chronicles the fervent love affair that grows out of that serendipitous afternoon. Already in debt, Melville recklessly borrows money to purchase a local farm in order to remain near Hawthorne, his newfound muse. The two develop a deep connection marked by tensions and estrangements, and feelings both shared and suppressed.   Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, and Mark Beauregard’s novel fills in the story behind that dedication with historical accuracy and exquisite emotional precision, reflecting his nuanced reading of the real letters and journals of Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. An exuberant tale of longing and passion, The Whale captures not only a transformative relationship—long the subject of speculation—between two of our most enduring authors, but also their exhilarating moment in history, when a community of high-spirited and ambitious writers was creating truly American literature for the first time.

I love reading fictional works about author’s lives, I can’t help it. It’s like literary gossip magazines, and I eat it like candy. Aside from knowing a little bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life due to early American literature courses and my own delving for the science fiction course I taught this semester, I had basically no clue about Hawthorne’s relationship with Herman Melville. Mallory’s review at Goodreads pretty much sums up my reaction to the novel in the end: “Never in my WHOLE LIFE did I expect to be breathlessly swept along like if they don’t kiss I am going to die over Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but here we are.”

The most incredible thing about the novel is that in the novel Herman Melville’s letters to Hawthorne are like 98% real. Obviously with historical fiction, liberties are taken and there are about two letters that have been added to or fabricated, but the rest of Melville’s passion in any capacity for Hawthorne is clearly evident. Most, if not all, of Hawthorne’s letters to Melville don’t exist anymore, but Beauregard does an excellent job of filling in the gaps.

Until this novel, I thought of Hawthorne and Melville as part of those stuffy early American authors that lead stuffy lives and wrote convoluted, dense novels, but now more than ever I want to read Moby Dick and Hawthorne’s major novels that he wrote before, during, and after this brief period of their lives. It’s magical, and sometimes historical context means everything.

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!

BOOK REVIEW: Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye

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BOOK REVIEW: Jane Steele, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Published: March 22nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.”   “Young Jane Steele’s favorite book, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, mirrors her life both too little and too much…In an arresting tale of dark humor and sometimes gory imagination, Faye has produced a heroine worthy of the gothic literature canon but reminiscent of detective fiction.”Library Journal, Starred Review
“Reader, I murdered him.”   A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.   Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?   A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

 Reader, I murdered him.

I’ve never read Faye’s work before, and I was going to put off reading Jane Steele until I’d read a few of her others, but when I saw the book on the library shelves, I grabbed it, sat down, and read it in a day. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a Jane Eyre retelling, but it’s certainly Jane Eyre-inspired, as evidenced from Jane Steele’s fondness for the Charlotte Brontë novel.

Jane Steele’s life follows a similar trajectory as the character Jane Eyre, and she finds comfort in her fictional counterpart. The major difference between Steele and Eyre is that while Eyre merely struggles and sometimes voices her discontent against the female imprisonment and injustice in society by men, Steele actually does something about it. And by doing something about it, she murders the offending men. She isn’t a serial killer. She murders in self-defense, as a way to protect her life and the lives of others.

It’s well-paced, vicious, atmospheric, and a little predictable if you’re familiar with Jane Eyre’s story. The way in which Faye writes makes you feel as if you’re in the dirty heart of Victorian London. The biggest, most frustrating aspect of the entire thing was how forced Steele’s relationship felt with Thornfield most of the time, almost as if Steele expected and forced her life to follow in Eyre’s footsteps because that’s what she was familiar with and that’s where she found comfort. But there’s a scene with Clarke that made me gasp and sigh and long for so much more development in that direction. That would have been the twist that earned that fifth star.

If you enjoy Jane Eyre and its many incarnations; Victoriana; and historical fiction with strong, deviant women, you’ll surely find something to enjoy in Jane Steele.

BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor, by Jason Gurley

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BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor, by Jason GurleyTitle: Eleanor by Jason Gurley
Published by Crown
Published: January 12th 2016
Genres: Magical Realism
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.   Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones.    One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last.

Eleanor opens with a woman named Eleanor, trapped in her home life as a mother and desiring to go swim in the ocean. At the end of the prologue, Eleanor, stripped to nakedness, walks into the ocean and never returns. Agnes, her daughter, feels the loss of her mother for the rest of her life. When she has twins, Agnes names one of her daughters Esmeralda while her husband names the second daughter Eleanor. It becomes obvious as the novel progresses that the children each parent names are their individual favorites. The young Eleanor beings to realize this after a horrific accident kills her twin sister. After her parents’ divorce, Eleanor stays with Agnes. Agnes, in her grief, falls into an alcoholic spiral as she cannot handle seeing Eleanor everyday because her surviving daughter is the exact image of Esmeralda and a reminder of her own mother’s death and disappearance.

Eleanor cannot live up to her mother’s expectations, and that knowledge affects her relationship with her mother and her father. As she ages, strange things begin happening to her. Eleanor falls out of time, disappearing into the space beyond time. Sometimes she is gone for seconds or minutes, sometimes she is gone for much longer. When she is in this space beyond (or between??) time, Eleanor meets an entity that we as readers know has been watching Eleanor for a long time. Eleanor is given the option to change everything, a decision with which she struggles but eventually accepts.

I won’t spoil it, but the option of a resent and the whispery, time-free monsters that human language cannot define is so similar atmospherically to Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you liked that novel, I totally recommend this one, and if you enjoy magical realism, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It’s lyrical, magical, and a little bit heartbreaking. It’s a read that will keep you thinking about what happens and what could happen long after you read the final page.

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

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BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra BrackenTitle: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Published: January 5th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 486
Format: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Netgalley, Library
Goodreads

Passage, n.i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.ii. A journey by water; a voyage.iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever.

We protect ourselves by playing the roles fit for the year we’re in.

Let’s just get this out of the way: I love time travel novels. I’m a huge sucker for them, and I always have been. Had this been released when about ten or fifteen years ago when I was at the age to which this is marketed (god, I’M SO OLD), I would have been all over this and would have given it a thousand and one stars. It still gets a solid rating from me, which comes as a positive thing after reading so many disappointing novels lately.

Etta, on the night of her big violin performance, is transported back in time onto a ship captained by Nicholas, a black pirate of sorts. Obviously there’s a romance brewing between the two, and even though it felt a little forced sometimes, I’m hoping it develops more in the next novel. It wasn’t necessarily an instant romance sort of thing, but the relationship seemed to progress quickly over a span of pages (even if those pages spanned several days). The romance progression felt typical for a YA novel, and that’s completely all right by me!

What I enjoyed most was the commentary on society then and now. Sophia, the other female time traveler whose original time is in the 1920s, says this really amazing thing to Etta about a hundred pages in:

So cling to your rights, your beliefs, your future – but know that none of them will help you here. You haven’t been forced to survive in the same way as the centuries of women who came before you. You know nothing of the impossibly small weapons we must use to carve out knowledge and power.

If I had read that ages ago, I think I would have shifted my thinking much earlier than it did, so I’m really pleased that Bracken is bringing to light the difficulties women have been facing for centuries to a young, modern audience. Not that her audience isn’t aware of it, but I’ve noticed lately in the classes I teach that some of the young women believe that they’ve always had the rights and advantages they have now, and I have to explain to them that within the last thirty or forty years we’ve progressed so much and that we still have so much to work for.

This is a super enjoyable romance-y time travel (with some logic!) novel that’s sure to appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, and Marissa Meyer.

I received a copy from Netgalley for my honest review.