Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"You can reinvent yourself with a different alphabet": A review of Elliott Holt's You Are One of Them

This is the story of two little girls, growing up in 1980's Washington DC: Sarah and Jennifer. Sarah's family is dysfunctional. The death of her little sister, Isabel at age 4. Her father, an Englishman leaves his family and returns to the UK, seemingly because of Sarah's mother's inability to cope with Isabel's death, and her obsessive behavior regarding the possibility of nuclear war between the US and the USSR. Sarah is a quiet, loner of a girl, until a new family moves in across the street. The Jones family is all American and seems perfect to Sarah, especially their daughter, Jennifer. Sarah and Jennifer becomes fast friends.

They two school girls share secrets and swimming, and spend lots of times together. For Sarah, the Jones family and their complete normalcy is a respite from her mother's somewhat paranoid antics. When Sarah announces to Jennifer she is writing a letter to Yuri Andropov, the current head of the USSR, and Jennifer also writes a letter. However, the outcome of what happens when one of those letter receives a response from Andropov himself.

Sarah is an unreliable narrator: a smart girl who underestimates her own intelligence and likableness throughout her life and the novel. While Sarah is quiet and studious, Jennifer is popular and confident. But Jennifer isn't as smart as Sarah, and she is capricious and disloyal. Sarah struggles with both her mother's problems and fears, and her own more rational apprehensions. She feels abandoned by both her dead sister and her dad, who has remarried and has another child. She uses Cold War terms to deal with the pain: sister and father are both "defectors." It was easy for me to identify with the reserved, intelligent and thoughtful Sarah.

I loved the way the plot is unfurled like an exotic carpet for the reader to carefully examine, close up for themselves. Sarah grows up, in the shadow of both her parent's failed marriage, with the disappointments of childhood still following and grieving her. I didn't know too much about the plot, except that one of the girls has a response to her letter and life changes dramatically forever for Sarah. Fast forward to her college years, and we learn more about Sarah's parents, as most young people gradually understand their parents as they grow older. Sarah's trip to Russia also reveals so many things the young Sarah might not have understood as unsavvy child.

I have to say, while there were points where I felt the plot was slightly weak, I truly enjoyed both the writing and the elegant way the author allows the story to unhurriedly unfold. Nothing in the story feels forced. No storybook endings here, but that is hardly the point of this book, which is about how well you think you know people: especially family and friends, those you are closest with in this world.

I grew up in the 1980s (I'm a little older than Sarah by 4 years), so this book naturally appealed to me. I remember worrying about the missiles the two greatest powers on the planet had pointed at one another. I was influenced by musicians like Sting and U2, and was watching "The Day After Tomorrow" the night it first aired. If any of these touch points ring a bell with you, this book might be for you.

Joanna Trollope's Sense & Sensibility (The Austen Project)

***SPOILER ALERT***:If you've read Sense and Sensibility before, no need for a spoiler warning here. But if not, you might just want to go into this one cold, and just try it. While I have problems with this kind of book, there are certainly worse books of this type around. Skip my review below though!

I am a big fan of Jane Austen. Generally, I am not a fan of sequels or prequels written by someone other than the original author This yea do I go in for fanfiction. I read Longbourn earlier this year (one of my favorite books of the year), and also one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year as well. I had heard about the Harper Collins Austen Project, and when I saw this on Vine, i decided to take a chance. I have never read anything else by Trollope, so I was taking a chance, since I don't think her fiction is in line with my normal reading habits.

I re-read an Austen every year, and coincidentally, Sense and Sensibility was this year's. So the original was fresh in my mind. The reluctance on Trollope's part to deviate from the original story was disconcerting. I read Margot Livesey's The Flight of Gemma Hardy last year, a riff on Jane Eyre, and while the story was most certainly reflective of Jane Eyre, Livesey manages to make it very much her own story, as well as Gemma's. Trollope sticks very closely to Austen's plot and characters, which for me, with the contemporary setting, was a problem for me.

The plot is identical to Austen's: the Dashwood family (mother and three daughters) are forced out of their comfortable home by Isabel's (te Dashwood girls mother) stepson and his wife. Isabel is not only as sensitive as her daughter Marianne, she is a full fledged, perimenopausal hippie, and she and Mr Dashwood were not actually legally married, making matters more precarious for her children. So we do see some more actual character development in her than we do in the original novel. Same situation with Margaret, she is a tad more developed than in the original novel. Marianne and Elinor are practically the same as in the original, which results in Elinor's martyrdom, and Marianne's ninnydom. Because the innocence and sweetness of the Austen characters doesn't carry over, and instead, Elinor seems long suffering and Marianne, with her romantic ideals and artistic sensibilities just translates as annoying and narcissistic, unfortunately.

Trollope uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, cell phones, computers and cars liberally to bring her characters into the 21st century. Even Mr. Middleton's business is high tech and world wide. Yet that just seems heavy handed. I would have preferred Trollope had let the girls be old fashioned letter writers: keeping their same personalities and using these devices to "update" them seems forced and dull. This is where the story needs to deviate from the original, especially along the lines of the family's money problems, and the highly important talk of marrying for money. There's a name for people who marry for money, and I believe it translates on both sides of the pond: gold digger. And while these girls are not necessarily gold diggers, all the talk of money and marriage makes me cringe. It is just completely anachronistic. And while it is a major theme in Austen's books, that is because it is a fact of life of her time. Women had to worry about who they'd marry and how much cash they'd have, because women couldn't work. Yet here in the year 2013, women CAN work and do. Two able bodied women cannot work in this story. Granted, Marianne's constitution is delicate, but even that illness (asthma, which also killed their father?) seems anachronistic and bizarre in this day and age, with so many medicines to control these kind of conditions. It just didn't work for me.

This was not the worst thing I've read this year. I think anticipating what was going to happen next (and knowing exactly what that would be), made this book a bit of a slog for me, especially after reading it this summer and enjoying very much: I have two daughters who are close in age, and while they are both serious musicians, I think of them as very much an Elinor and a Marianne (although the older one is our Marianne!). I might be convinced to try another of these rewrites of Austen, but if I was making a suggestion for a friend who loves Austen, I'd tell them to read Longbourn by Jo Baker: the writing is far superior with original characters and plot blending in seamlessly with that of the Bennett family, as well as some re-imaginings of what really goes on behind closed doors there. It was brilliant while this book is just so-so.

For more info on this series of books, all rewrites of Austen books by contemporary writers, click here: The Austen Project

3.5 stars

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Little Review time: 4 quickie reviews!

There are a few books I read this year recently that have yet to be reviewed, so I'm going to do a quick little review of those books now!

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindall:  Gone Girl meets Gatsby? Not quite sure how to describe this little "thriller" set in Roaring 20s New York City.  Rose, plain, hard working orphan girl meets glamour girl, Odalie at the police department, where Rose works as a typist.  Odalie has a mysterious past, as well as an unusual present. Rose is intrigued, obsessed even, with the seductive woman.  Crazy read.  (I read this one because one of my bookish friends called me and asked me to, so we could discuss the crazy ending!)  4stars

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri:  I'm giving this one 4 stars because it IS Jhumpa Lahiri, and her writing is amazing. However, this one came up a bit short compared to The Namesake, or even Nell Freudenberger's The Newlyweds, which I adored.  Subhash and Udayan are two brothers, close in age, who grew up in Calcutta. But their paths diverge as the grow into young adults: Udayan becomes a radical and Subhash goes to Rhode Island, to go to college.  Tragedy strikes, changing the lives of the Mitra family in ways they could hardly imagine on both sides of the oceans that separate the brothers.

I just adore Lahiri's writing, and she does have a way with a story.  I just had a funny feeling that something was missing here. And my book group friends pretty much felt the same way. Definitely worth reading if you are a Lahiri fan.   4 stars

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam:
This was a book I selected to read and be the moderator for on an online (Facebook) book group. Initially, I was hesitant and a bit worried, since I was not sure if I would like this book, the premise sounded weird.  Do not fear, I was immediately sucked into this story.  It reads like an Amy Tan story (the close family ties, hopes and dreams of a Chinese family for their future and children), but is set in Vietnam during that terrible conflict.

Percival is a person with many faults, but his worse fault may also be most beneficial to his survival: he is in constant denial of the actual situations in front if him. Whether it is about his son, his father, his ex-wife, his new girlfriend, or the person he entrusts his family business to, he really never seems to be able to acknowledge what the truth is.  Percival's story is both painful and illuminating, and his experience as a Chinese national in Vietnam in the 1970's will have the reader nervous. Tons of symbolism and interesting statements for discussion here, this would truly be a great read for any book group. Historical fiction at its best!  5stars

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand:   Incredible story of a determined and strong American soldier, Louis Zamperini, during WW2 who overcomes the most insurmountable and horrific treatment as, first, he survives a plane crash on the open water for over a month, and then, spends 2 years as a Japanese prisoner of war, under a brutal and sadistic camp leader.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you know about this incredibly popular book, and the man it is about. This kind of story should be required reading for all American high school students: not just because it about the Greatest generation and one of its biggest heroes, but because Zamperini is NOT perfect. He is a flawed human being, with many emotions and hopes and dreams like any other person on this planet, and even after his odyssey in the Pacific, he still struggles. Very human. I had to stop reading this several times, due to the highly charged subject matter!

My only criticism of this book is that often, Hillenbrand's technique for trying to end chapters on a cliff hanger where there is none can be a little trying at times. No need to manufacture suspense here, truly. The story is so amazing, there is no way anyone can be bored by it.  4 stars

Next up: my top reads for 2013 coming in a few days.

Review" The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

     I love books about books, if you've ever read any of my other blog reviews, you know this.  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by gabrielle Zevin, while short and sweet does not disappoint.  A.J.Fikry is a widowed book store owner. Life lost all meaning for him when he lost his beloved, funny wife to cancer.  Alone, he rebuffs almost all overtures of friendship. Until he meets Amelia Loman. And until someone leaves a sweet bundle in his store. Charming and bookish, funny and poignant, this book is grown up enough for, well, so called gown ups, and perfect for teens who are fans of Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and John Green's books.  Definitely one to look for in 2014.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review of Valerie Martin's The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

I've read and enjoyed Valerie Martin's novels Italian Fever and Mary Reilly.   I find she has a unique and sensitive way of approaching her subjects.  I knew I wanted to read this novel as soon as I heard the title; I have always been intrigued by the mystery of the Mary Celeste. Martin has done a masterful job in telling her own version of this many faceted story.

The book has several main characters, but all are connected by the ship, found drifting, empty of any living souls. Martin approaches the subject matter with respect. Martin uses the actual names of the captain and his family on the ship, and an actual story written by Arthur C Doyle, to expand and create an aura of mystery and intrigue.  Injecting Doyle into the story allows for an expansion into a plot involving the spiritualist movement of that flourished from the mid 1800's through the 1920's.

In this setting, Martin masterfully weaves an intriguing plot with fascinating characters who don't quite say what they are really thinking, which is fine, since Martin let's us know exactly what is going on, as far as their thoughts. The books spans decades, and we see one character in particular grow and change the most. I love a book like this, that takes a  mix of real characters and imagined ones, and has them interact and say things to each other that are totally believable and advance the plot.

Violet Petra is a medium of extraordinary powers. She is sought out by many, but her own life is shrouded in mystery. Her revelations to a journalist, and to the creator of Sherlock Holmes become turning points in her life.  You will want to know Violet, why she knows what she does, and how she became the fascinating woman she is.  Martin's way with a story is charming and complicated, like a beautiful and inscrutable woman. This is an excellent novel, fun to read, and a page turner.

5 stars

A review of Valerie Martin's The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

I enjoyed Valerie Martin's books Mary Reilly and Italian Fever.  When I saw the title of her latest book (due out January 28, 2014), I knew I had to read it; the mystery of the Mary Celeste is an enduring mystery that has always fascinated me.  As usual, Ms. Martin's prose and handling of the subject matter doesn't disappoint.

The book has several main characters, but all are connected by the ship, found drifting, empty of any living souls. Martin approaches the subject matter with respect. Martin uses the actual names of the captain and his family on the ship, and an actual story written by Arthur C Doyle, to expand and create an aura of mystery and intrigue.  Injecting Doyle into the story allows for an expansion into a plot involving the spiritualist movement of that flourished from the mid 1800's through the 1920's.  

In this setting, Martin masterfully weaves an intriguing plot with fascinating characters who don't quite say what they are really thinking, which is fine, since Martin let's us know exactly what is going on, as far as their thoughts. The books spans decades, and we see one character in particular grow and change the most. I love a book like this, that takes a  mix of real characters and imagined ones, and has them interact and say things to each other that are totally believable and advance the plot.

Violet Petra is a medium of extraordinary powers. She is sought out by many, but her own life is shrouded in mystery. Her revelations to a journalist, and to the creator of Sherlock Holmes become turning points in her life.  You will want to know Violet, why she knows what she does, and how she became the fascinating woman she is.  Martin's way with a story is charming and complicated, like a beautiful and inscrutable woman. This is an excellent novel, fun to read, and a page turner.

5 stars

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "A Little History of Literature" by John Sutherland (Digital ARC from NetGalley)

I'm a big fan of the Little Histories books from Yale Press: my son and I used EH Gombrich's A Little History of the World for homeschool.  This one is a short survey of Literature, by John Sutherland. The book is geared to younger readers, but I'd say age 12 and up would be the appropriate age--any adult will enjoy this work as well.

As an English major myself, I felt Sutherland did a pretty good job of being comprehensive, as a far as covering most of the major literary movements. Of course, one cannot talk about every author that ever set quill to papyrus!  He covers the classics of world literature, English literature, and American lit as well, and does a pretty good job of touching on the important highlights. He starts with a rudimentary explanation of myth,  "Myth always contains a truth,which we understand before we can clearly see it or explain it."  I felt throughout the book, Sutherland makes simple statements about whatever is being explored; he makes these observations himself, or quotes other experts and authors. This is the kind of book that will lead readers to other works, both of literature and of criticism. It is so important for kids to read and understand what true criticism is about these days. The idea of criticism has becomes so pejorative.

I didn't necessarily agree with every single thought the author has (Mr. Knightley, dull?! Never!), but overall, I enjoyed his style of writing, and he makes it clear that he is also a reader with opinions. He even addresses the EL James 50 Shades of Grey phenom: a "bonkbuster"), and popular lit vs prize winners.  Other noteworthy topics: the Sagas, Anglo-Saxon literature, interactive literature, digital books, and poetry.

The author, John Sutherland, is a professor in London, and there were a few words that were clearly regional to England. This would be a great book for a middle school age child who is truly interested in reading and literature to read and discuss with an adult. I plan on giving it to my son to read as well. He is almost 13. It is not a difficult read, the prose style is conversational and often humorous.  This could give anyone adult or teen, a leg up in English classes, or at a cocktail party!

5 stars!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Longbourn is a must read book for Austen fans!

I have been so excited by two books this year: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (which I am almost done reading), and Longbourn by Jo Baker.  I was so fortunate to be offered an ARC of Longbourn! It was a wonderful, engaging and lovely read.

Ms. Baker's beautiful writing (and much like Kent's Burial Rites) evokes a gorgeous and atmospheric sense of place: : Longbourn,  the family home of the Bennet family is located in the picturesque county of Hertfordshire in the English countryside outside of London.  The story of the servants of Longbourn begins with one of these exquisite passages of Baker's, a word painting really, that describes in lush and fragrant detail, the area around the estate, from the sheep on the hills, to the Bennet daughters asleep in their beds.  Each chapter begins with a line from Pride and Prejudice, giving subtle hints of the time setting.  Baker has taken the lovely old bones of Pride and Prejudice, and re-clothed them with a different skin. And while the time is completely contemporary to P&P, Baker really let's us know the people she portrays in her novel, in a way that is much less guarded than the original.

We are introduced to the hard working house maid, Sarah, who is close in age to the Bennet girls, and almost considers them friends. The family lends her books and gives Sarah their cast off gowns, but of course, she will never be actual friends with these young women, because in the English class system at this time, proper young ladies were not friends with the servants.  I would highly recommend actually reading Pride and Prejudice first, if you have never done so, it really enriches your experience with what Ms. Baker has done here.  Sarah's story, and that of her fellow servants, mirrors that of the Bennet family.  In fact, we see that the servants living at Longbourn are a family of sorts.

Ms. Baker is able to address issues that Miss Austen couldn't even dream of discussing this directly in her own novels, although they were definitely issues that were spoken of privately and secretly at the time. The use of slaves and the abolitionist movement among the county's families, illegitimate children, homosexuality, and even addiction is spoken of throughout this novel.  Ptolemy Bingley is a favorite servant of the senior Mr. Bingley from their West Indies sugar cane plantation, and one can't help but wonder if he IS a Bingley, and not just in name.  Sarah has never met a black man before, but she is both impressed with his physical beauty as well as his regal bearing and charming personality.  Sarah is young (about 15) and is learning about men and women and the attractions between them, via the Bennet girls romantic antics and courtships, as well as the young men she meets herself:: Ptolemy, Mr. Wickham, Mr. Darcy, and James Smith, the latest servant addition to the Bennet's household.  Jame Smith is introduced as a shadowy, mysterious figure, but not a menacing one, a welcome one. And Sarah, sensitive, intelligent and curious, is intrigued.

I absolutely loved this novel. I am a big Jane Austen fan, but not one to read the many "sequels" and take offs inspired by her works.  In fact, I did read Austenland (Shannon Hale) when it came out five or so years ago., but was sort of bored with it. I want to escape too, but that as a plot does not interest me. Nor do books like Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife (Linda Berdoll), which are merely new takes on the same characters in the books: I understand that they are beloved by many, and we want to know what happens after the last page, but this kind of fan fiction does not keep my interest:  I only want to "hear" Miss Austen's voice, and that cannot be duplicated. But what Ms. Baker does here is so very different, in her imagining a completely new cast of characters, not just cut out servants standing in the background waiting to interact, with no real hearts of their own. Ms. Baker gives each and every one a story, a past, hopes, joys and problems, of course; fleshing them out in a realistic and relate-able manner.  This is the kind of novel that causes me to read aloud to my completely disinterested husband, and he listens, because whether or not he can relate or appreciate what I'm reading, he can see that I am in love with the prose and the story.

This book made me cry--and that's a good thing. It was a very moving story, and I couldn't wait to pick the book up again after a break from it. This one will definitely be on my list of favorite for now on. And I will definitely be reading more Jo Baker in the future! What a happy discovery!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman

I went into reading this book feeling excited, because there has been some talk about this book. I saw it chosen as some online magazines "book group" pick, but have since forgotten which one it actually was, even though that is truly what prompted me to pick up this novel. That and comparisons between Waldman and Jane Austen. Well, I guess I'm here to say Ms.Waldman has a long way to go, although it wasn't a bad start, either.

Nathaniel is a writer, living in Brooklyn. He's been struggling for years, but works hard. His parents, Romanian Jewish immigrants, worked hard to give him an American life, and he pretty much seems to have realized that dream: he attended Harvard, pursued a writing career, and eventually, moved to New York City and sold his first book. Glowing in that recent success, Nate starts to wonder: why doesn't he have a girlfriend? What went wrong with the old girlfriends? We soon get a lot of insight into why things might not have worked out with his previous girlfriends, as well as the one he meets in the course of the book.

I will totally admit to having a preconceived notion of what this book was going to be like, and fully admit to being wrong.  I did not have any clue it was going to be a discourse on why no woman would never be good enough for Nate's friends. Yes, his friends. Because even though Nate is fairly attractive in his own right, who you hang out(in Brooklyn!)with is nearly of equal or possibly greater importance as far as how attractive you might be to the opposite sex.  Nate's friends might leave a bit to be desired, but with this novel, everyone is a sort of caricature of themselves, so the fact that we meet a very one dimensional Jason, who eventually does show a more sensitive side, is relatively unimportant. The truth is, for Nate, it is all how the current woman looks on his arm, and to his friends. With Nate, appearances, at least at the start of the novel, are everything.

I enjoyed reading this book, although at times, I felt frustrated. Waldman tries a little too much to "think like a man."  Nate does have some pretty bad habits in his thinking and his behavior, and you root for him, but wish that maybe, he could change just a little, and learn from his mistakes.

Definitely an interesting debut for Adelle Waldman.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review of Nancy Horan's Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Fanny Van De Grift and Robert Louis Stevenson)

My review is based on a Netgalley electronic ARC.

This is a fictionalized imagining of what the relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife and soul mate, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Their lives together are well documented, and they both wrote extensively--obviously, RLS wrote all the time, and as many people of the time were often separated by distance and oceans, and often for life, they were both enthusiastic letter writers. Fanny also wrote some fiction, and she kept extensive diaries and journals, for her own personal reasons, as well as for Stevenson to refer to. 

Fanny meets Stevenson in the French countryside at a sort of summer artist's colony when she fled the US in an attempt to leave her philandering husband with her children to try to pursue a better life. RLS was instantly attracted to Fanny and her verve for life. Having been sickly all his life (tuberculosis), he was entranced by her strength and outgoing ways, especially for a woman of the time period.

This book documents their relationship and life together from day 1. While they loved being together, theirs was not a marriage without its troubles. Both struggled with periods of depression and artistic frustration. Fanny gave up a lot of the things she wanted to do to accompany RLS to various spa like sanatoriums in Europe and the US and Canada. When he was well enough to write, he did nothing but. Fanny managed the household, dealt with his menagerie of crazy friends, and put aside her own artistic pursuits to help him achieve success. 

The writing in this novel was lovely. Horan does not shy away from the tough issues that clouded the times and the life of the people we meet in this novel. From France and Belgium, to the US and finally to the South Seas, where he settled with his family on the Samoan island of Upolu. There was nice balance between the two main characters; I felt like I got to know both Fanny and RLS quite well. I think this book will be well received.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Love Letter (review of The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler)

This book is a loveletter both to New York City, to individually owned bookstores crammed to the ceilings with used books. Esme garland (great name! Esme is an English girl, a grad student on scholarship working on her masters in Art History on scholarship at Columbia(a Froster schorlaship at that!). We meet her as she struggles with the sudden realization that she is pregnant,

Esme is a female character that defies description. She is not a chick lit character, obsessed with makeup and shopping and "boys." Nor is she a truly nerdy girl. She loves what she loves and who she loves, and is serious and thoughtful about people. She is open, in a way I think most native New Yorkers are not. She seeks the good in people, a quality rare in anyone these days, in our cynical socirty. But she is not a dupe, nor is she stupid. She is kind. 

Esme's story centers around her studies and her job at The Owl, a small, independently owned boosktore that buys and sells mostly used books, and most predominantly, her pregnancy and relationship with the father of that baby. meyler does a wonderful job of letting you get to know Esme and her friends. Never forced, the author carefully reveals the thoughts of Esme and her feelings about those around her so that finally, you feel like you really KNOW Esme. And adore her, as well as her friends. 

This book was not perfect, it had a few weak plot moments that I wished were different, but I really loved reading it. It was entertaining, and I was swept up into Esme's life. A perfect little summer read.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mary Anning: Female Fossil Hunter

I have recently (in the last couple of years) been fascinated by the life of Mary Anning, a female fossil hunter who was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England.

From a poor family, but with a dreamer father who was a fossil hunter himself, Mary grew up exploring the rocky and often dangerous coast that was right outside her door. Her family suffered the loss of several children, and though her father was a cabinet maker by trade, he searched for and sold "curies" to tourists, and his children, Joseph and Mary often joined him on these searches. Mary continued with her fossil hunting after her father died. It definitely generated income from them, both from the souvenir business and selling to serious collectors of paleontological specimens at the time.

I have read three different books specifically about Mary, two are novels, and one a biography of her life that reads like fiction. And her life was very much like a Dickens novel (and he was also interested in Mary, and even wrote about her life in his literary magazine, All The Year Round, and certainly had elements of an Austen heroine's struggle as well.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: A "wow" kind of novel.

Wow--an amazing novel. Please don't be put off by the odd narrative style, you get used to it quickly and it really works for this particular book. I cannot wait to read Bring Up The Bodies. Mantel most certainly deserved the Man Booker prize. Really great reading.

I already enjoy reading both novels and non-fiction regarding the court of King Henry VIII, so it does help top already have a familiarity with the cast of characters portrayed. But it is not a necessity, and I often refer to the internet while reading about a seriously intense and large cast of characters, to more easily expand my knowledge of them. This seems to be the first time I remember being exposed to the Holy Maid of Kent, a nun named Elizabeth Barton who claimed to communicate with angels, the dead, and see the future. A brilliant device by Mantel. She also turns the usual portrayal of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell on its head, and very successfully.

I can't recommend this novel enough, especially to fans of the Tudor court. Wonderful writing and a beautifully told story.