BOOK REVIEW: Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

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BOOK REVIEW: Giovanni’s Room, by James BaldwinTitle: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Published by Penguin Books
Published: 1956
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 150
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Baldwin's haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.
Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

 People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen forget.

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin, follows a brief episode of David, an American living in Paris who is desperately trying to figure out who he is, to himself and to the world. David meets Giovanni through an old man’s acquaintance, and he goes home with Giovanni. In poetic, lyrical language, Baldwin explores the nature of love juxtaposed with David’s idea of love. David’s idea of love clashes with his expression and exploration of love, which eventually culminates in an emotionally heart-wrenching separation.

I’ve often seen this book on lists of best gay novels, but this novel goes beyond a stark black-and-white view of homosexuality. Baldwin explores bisexuality in both David and Giovanni and how each of the two men come to terms with their emotions. David is presented as rather cool and logical, succumbing to his emotions but logically pilfering through them after. Giovanni’s behavior appears to be purely emotional and irrational at times, contrasting against David’s eventual cool behavior to Giovanni. Giovanni is that character who wants to live life to its fullest, no matter the cost to himself or anyone else. David is the sort of character that will risk it, but not too much, because David, in the end, is one who preserves himself above all else, even if it means giving up love.

David, unlike Giovanni, has a plan, knows his role back home in American society, and cannot deal with something so “extra” as a male lover. His fiancée Hella is off traveling in Spain, presumably with her own lovers, and her return to David is his savior on the horizon, a means by which he can escape back into a comfortable, unquestioning existence.

This novel not only about gay/bisexual love, but about the complexities of the emotion all together.

This short novel is heartbreakingly beautiful and tragic and should be on your reading list if you’ve not yet read it.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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BOOK REVIEW: The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleTitle: The Sign of Four (Sherlock Holmes, #2) by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #2
Published by Penguin Books
Published: March 6th 2008
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 153
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A dense yellow miasma swirls in the streets of London as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson accompany a beautiful young woman to a sinister assignation.
For Mary Marston has received several large pearls – one a year for the last six years – and now a mystery letter telling her she is a wronged woman. If she would seek justice she is to meet her unknown benefactor, bringing with her two companions.
But unbeknownst to them all, others stalk London’s fog-enshrouded streets: a one-legged ruffian with revenge on his mind – and his companion, who places no value on human life...

 ‘The division seems rather unfair,’ I remarked. ‘You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?’

‘For me,’ said Sherlock Holmes, ‘there still remains the cocaine-bottle.’ And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

I’m making an effort to read every one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories because (gasp) I haven’t yet. A Study in Scarlet is a strange miasma of events, traversing from foggy, gaslit London to the wild American west that disconnected me as a reader. The Sign of Four reminded me much more of the traditional Sherlock Holmes story. I do think Conan Doyle’s strength as a writer is the short story, but this novella is an engaging read through Victorian London.

In The Sign of Four, Mary Morstan has received one large pearl a year for the last six years until she receives a mysterious letter revealing that she is a wronged woman. She visits Holmes and Watson to get to the root of the mystery. Watson falls in love with Morstan over the course of the narrative (nearly instantaneously, I might add), and Holmes finds the greatest pleasure in keeping his mind active, away from boredom. The blatant racism and misogyny (however authentic to the time in which it was written) is difficult to read in today’s times and that certainly takes away from some of the enjoyment of the story for me.

However, the appeal of Sherlock Holmes still remains. Watson’s a sharp narrator who is consistently challenged by Holmes’s charming arrogance. With enough action to keep you glued to the page as the narrative propels itself forward, it’s always a pleasure to see how Doyle manages to bring it all together, however messily or neatly.

FIRST CHAPTER, FIRST PARAGRAPH: Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

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First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday is hosted by Bibliophile By the Sea!

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is part of the classics challenge I am doing this year (and spectacularly failing at, but I still have time to catch up). The edition I have is part of Penguin’s Great Loves series that contains twenty volumes of love. The back cover of this says “Love can be dishonest.” In Giovanni’s Room, when David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.

I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hands, there is a bottle at my elbow. I watch my reflection in the darkening gleam of the window pane. My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is like a face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past.

Have you read this? What did you think?

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

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BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom RiggsTitle: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
Published by Quirk
Published: June 7th 2011
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is one of those odd books that I liked but also didn’t like. It’s difficult to explain, and the only thing I can come up with is that I like the premise and I like the atmosphere created, but I found the characters and a lot of the writing to fall flat. I couldn’t put it down while I was reading it, but after I finished the book, I just felt sort of ehh.

It’s pretty much a meh execution of a really excellent idea. I was expecting something scarier, but it wasn’t all that scary. The writing most of the time felt juvenile, and I feel like I might have liked this book had it been shelved in the children’s section rather than in Teen/YA. I have expectations of depth of writing when books are categorized in certain sections, and this being shelved in the YA section most of the time is misleading in terms of the depth of the story.

The best parts about this book are the weirdly manipulated photographs that add more to the story than just the words (which shouldn’t be the case, but it is) and Miss Peregrine herself. I like the idea of time loops and that the children are stuck in them forever, and I wish that idea was developed a little bit more in this book (and maybe it is in the following books!).

I wish the book had a different narrator. Jacob seemed bland and boring, and I’m over the whiny rich boy narrators because I felt he had no depth and no change in character, but I do understand the bland character as a narrator as it allows the reader to self-insert and connect with the story more (which is not the greatest tactic in grabbing your reader’s interest).

I may eventually pick up the rest of the series (or borrow them from the library) because while I enjoyed this story for what it was, the executed concept fell flat and didn’t totally wow me enough to rush out and read the next two.

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.