Review: New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford

new york“Oh Lord, we thank Thee for this thy gift of lobster Newburg. And grant us also, if it be Thy will, control of the Hudson Ohio Railroad.’
‘But we ain’t wanting control of the Hudson Ohio,” Sean softly objected.
‘True,’ said Gabriel Love, ‘but the Almighty doesn’t need to know that yet.”
Edward Rutherfurd, New York

New York. City of Lights. City of Dreams. The Big Apple. I have always been fascinated by this city, and cannot wait to visit someday. Always a draw to young people from the Maritime provinces looking for employment and/or adventure, my grandparents lived there before they were married. My father’s aunt stayed, spending her adult life there. Because of this, I am even more interested in the city’s history than its present day glitz & glamour (though I will happily take that in as well).

Having absolutely loved Rutherford’s book about London, I was excited to see this one released, and couldn’t wait to read it. it begins with New Amsterdam in 1664, when the city is little more than a trading village at the tip of the island of Manhattan. We meet the VanDyke family, soon to be bonded with the Masters family (English), as well as other important Dutch families like the Roosevelts and Stuyvesants. As with his other novels, Rutherford follows families through history to tell the story of the city, though in this one the focus is primarily on the Masters family, who are among the original English merchants and old Dutch money, and over time become kings of Wall Street. All other characters are somehow linked to them – their slaves, followed by their servants. Their friends and neighbours and classmates.

Overall I really like this approach to novelizing the history of a city or region, though somehow this wasn’t quite as engaging as the story of London. About a third of the book is devoted to the American Revolution – which frankly just isn’t that interesting in comparison to the rest. Yes of course it was important. But it is 10 years of the whole 350 covered by the novel. In my opinion, it was too much. But otherwise there was so much to learn or remember. The history of this iconic city, from the founding of the boroughs to the revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Slavery and the Underground Railroad. The Irish famines and the Irish gangs. Harlem, and Spanish Harlem. The crash of ’29, and the dot.com boom. So much history in one city. The Triangle Factory fire in 1911 and the terrorist attacks in 2001.

A good, if not great read, and definitely worth the time of anyone who enjoys historical fiction or has a fascination with this city.

Publisher: Anchor Canada (Sept. 21 2010)
Paperback: 880 pages
ISBN-10: 0385664273
ISBN-13: 978-0385664271

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2015 TBR Challenge – the official one

books

Well, I have taken a slightly different approach to my reading challenges this year. I simply gathered all the unread books* on my various shelves, and lined them up. I thought I might fill one shelf in the living room. I nearly filled two.

That is challenge number one. Read all of those books. Within that pile, I am selecting 12 (well, 14) for The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roofbeam Reader. Since a part of that challenge is to also write and post a review, and excludes books published since January 1, 2014, I have narrowed my selections.

In no particular order, they are:

  1. King Leary by Paul Quarrington
  2. Ava Comes Home by Leslie Crewe
  3. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  4. Wonderous Strange by Leslie Livingston
  5. New York by Edward Rutherford
  6. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
  7. Loch Bras D’or by Margaret MacPhail
  8. The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  9. As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman
  10. Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
  11. The Strangers’Gallery by Paul Bowdring
  12. The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
Two alternates, just in case:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Highland Settler by Charles W. Dunn

I’m interested to see how dedicating my year to reading all the books I have not yet gotten to is going to play out. Why do I keep leaving them on the shelf in exchange for the new and shiny, or the old, worn-out comfort reads. Sometimes, I have a book to read for work or for book club that takes priority, but mostly it comes down to choices.Will I discover new comfort reads? Or discover why my instinct kept skipping these?

And if you are new here, or you’ve all forgotten how this works:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later. Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up on Roofbeam Reader’s blog. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2015.

3. Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review.

Visit The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge page for more details on how to enter.

*Did not include D’s books though we share shelving. Thought about it, but may try that next year.

Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was heartbreaking and frustrating and so incredibly engaging. But really, what was I thinking, reading a novel about a women who loses three babies before deciding to “keep” the one that literally floats into her life?
While I easily empathized with the characters, I still struggled with the choices they made. We’ve all dealt with loss, it doesn’t turn you into a kidnapper. I don’t like the idea of an infertile woman as some hysterical, amoral creature who will justify anything to have a child.
Yet, the whole setting led up to making you accept it. There they are, on an island in the middle of the ocean. No one to see, no one to know. Perhaps more importantly, no one to share their struggles and lend support. A woman who lost both brothers in the war, and a man struggling with the guilt of surviving the same war. You can’t help but think “you know, in that situation, maybe I’d have done the same.”
But the fallout. I expected the standard “well meaning couple does terrible thing, learns lesson, everyone lives mostly happily ever after.” I did not expect the gut-wrenching consequences. I did not expect to be up at midnight, desperately reading, tears streaming down my face, hoping everything would be alright in the end. It so rarely is after someone has done a terrible thing.
That’s all I’m going to say. Any more will spoil it. Highly recommended.

Wait – one more thing. I didn’t realize it when I bought the book, but the back-story to the novel is the first World War, and its aftermath. Set in Australia, it is a different take on the war than usual – very similar, but different stories and battles emphasized. Made ever more poignant this year, this week, as it is the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

View all my reviews

2014’s somewhat delayed To-Be-Read List

Books-1

I must admit: it has not been a great year for reading so far. In the past three months and three days, I have finished reading two books. Only two. I’m the girl who reads a book a week I guess I’ve been busy catching up on important things like The Good Wife and  Doctor Who.

It really is time to get back on the wagon, though. I have once again committed to the 50 Book Challenge. I am way behind. And so, I will finally get serious about this, starting with this years TBR list.

You remember how this works, right? I pledge to read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months. Each of the 12 books must have been on my bookshelf (or “To Be Read” list, hence the name) for at least one full year. (Two alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.)

Drumroll please… My TBR list for 2014 includes:

  1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown Author
  2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  5. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  6. The Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman
  7. Lygaya: L’Enfant Esclave par Andree-Paul Mignot
  8. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  11. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  12. Ghosts of Medak Pocket by Carol Off

Two Alternates:

  1. Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

So I’m going for less non-fiction, which I rarely read, and more classic books – I tend to buy older editions at thrift stores or yard sales, and they are piling up on the shelves. Oh – and more reading en francais (dammit WordpPess, why aren’t the accents working?).  Last year I started on time and still only managed 7 of my 12 chosen. Who knows how I will fare this year, but the fun is in trying, isn’t it?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

sherlockI bought a copy of this years ago in the bargain bin. My husband had read many if not all of the Sherlock books in his early teens and really enjoyed them. I always intended to read them. But I am really not much of a mystery novel reader. I used to be. As a child I devoured read Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Encyclopedia Brown, etc., etc., but this obsession died somewhere in my teens and I never got back to it.

The real reason I put this book on my TBR list was all the rave reviews of the British TV series, Sherlock. I wanted to watch it. But I wanted to have read at least some of the original material first. Well… I failed. While visiting my husband in early February (we were temporarily living in different cities) we were searching for something to watch on Netflix and decided to check out Sherlock. Before the weekend was over we’d watched the whole series.

First of all, the series is excellent. If you haven’t already, you must watch it. And it is on Netflix, could it be any easier? Second, you don’t need to have read the stories to watch, and watching doesn’t ruin the stories. Yes there is additional context if you already know the characters, but the stories have been adapted and modernized and while there are similarities and parallels, they are different. (The characters have been extremely well adapted, with the possible exception that the original Sherlock while reserved was not quite as anti-social as the new TV Sherlock. Based entirely on my newfound ‘expertise.’)

I must admit I am a mystery fan again. There were many surprises from Sherlock’s adventures. First: he never utters the words “Elementary, my dear Watson.” I kept waiting for it. It didn’t happen.. Second: he used/abused both opium and cocaine. How very Victorian of him. Third (and this also came from the TV series) he is far younger than I expected. I don’t think an exact age is given, but early-to-mid-thirties is implied. I always thought he was middle-aged or older.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the stories is that unlike many detective  novels which slowly reveal clues allowing the reader to work alongside the detective, Doyle leaves his readers pretty nearly as in the dark as his hapless clients and Inspector-Detectives. When Holmes puts it all together at the end, the nuances are revealed and you are stunned and amazed along with Watson and Scotland Yard. Occasionally annoying, I still think I like this better than the traditional detective novel, as frequently I  guess the conclusion long before the detective, making me wonder what makes him/her so special in the first place. (Lest I sound like I am bragging, this is a complaint I hear often from other readers. I don’t think it makes me special either.)

The most notable of the stories, in my opinion, was the last: The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. I find it hard to say exactly why, but this more than any of the others really pulled me in, creeped me out, and kept me guessing. It is worth mentioning that while Holmes always solves the case, the result is not always a happy ending. Sometimes he is late, sometimes there is nothing to be done to fix things. He does “save” the lady in question in this instance, but as with many real life mysteries, it leaves you with an unsettled, “how could someone do that to someone else” feeling. (Also worth noting, but not why it was my favourite: my Nova Scotia hometown gets a very brief mention in this story.)

Whether you choose to read Sherlock from beginning to end as I have, or want to pick away at a story from time to time, you really can’t get a better mystery story than a Sherlock Holmes adventure. Classics are classics for a reason, after all.

Format: Kobo Edition (eBook)
Published: July 29, 2009, Library of Alexandria
ISBN-10: 1613104693
ISBN-13: 9781613104699
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was originally published in the United Kingdom 1892 by George Newnes, and was 307 pages long.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

annabelWayne is growing up with a secret that he doesn’t fully understand, and secrets are hard to keep in small, remote towns where everyone knows your business. A baby is born in Labrador in 1968, a baby who by all appearances is both boy and girl at once. A quick decision is made, the child is christened as Wayne, and despite the concoction of pills and hormones he is treated with, something is never quite right.

As a confused young child, he doesn’t understand why his likes and desires – preferring synchronized swimming to hockey, or playing ‘house’ with a neighbour’s daughter instead of building a fort – aren’t the same as his friends, and are embarrassing to his father.  He is raised as a boy in a man’s world, but has no interest in his father’s life of hunting and trapping. Like all teenagers, and yet many times more problematic, he struggles to make friends, to fit in.

Wayne’s mother is never happy with her husband’s decision to raise the child as a boy. She loves her son, yet mourns her daughter. Her friend, the midwife and only other person to know truth about Wayne, secretly christens the child Annabel, in memory of the daughter she lost years before. Kathleen Winter has done an incredible job with the creation of Wayne/Annabel, in drawing the reader in to feel his angst, pain and gender confusion. His is such a heartbreaking story, but not without its own beauty and sense of hope.

This novel was mesmerizing. I wasn’t sold on it based on the book jacket or marketing summaries. Having read “Middlesex” (Jeffrey Eugenides) a few years back I guess I thought a novel about a hermaphrodite was already done, nothing to get excited over. I’m embarrassed to say it sat on my shelf unread for almost two years. But consistently, I heard rave reviews from people whose opinions on books I take very seriously. I knew I had to read it, and so finally did.

I have joined the ranks of the rave reviewers. This book was excellent.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: House of Anansi Press Inc.; 1st Edition edition (May 31 2010)
ISBN-10: 0887842364
ISBN-13: 978-0887842368

2013 To Be Read (TBR) Challenge

book pileWell, I performed rather abysmally with last year’s challenge. I read and reviewed 6 of 12 books. I did read, but not review one other: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I just didn’t get into last year’s list that much. Guess that’s why the books had sat in the pile for so long already.

The time has come (arguably, the time has passed) to make my 2013 list. I am late putting it together, so not officially registering the list with Roof Beam Reader’s blog to be eligible for prizes. Just making the list for my own purposes.

Remember the details. The goal is to finally read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months. Each of the 12 books must have been on my bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for at least one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2012 or later. Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile. And so.

My Twelve Chosen:

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  3. Dubliners by James Joyce
  4. A Short History of Progress by Ronald B. Wright
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul
  7. The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

  8. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  9. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
  10. The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnson
  11. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  12. Robert The Bruce: Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter

Two Alternates:

  1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  2. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

In addition, I also pleadge to read at least 40 books this year. Do you have a reading challenge for 2013? What’s on your list?