Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Very good, deftly written literary mystery about two boys, one white and one black, in rural Mississippi. Similar to Tana French's IN THE WOODS, although not quite as suspenseful because it's not focalized through only one character, which means we readers know more than either Simon or Larry (the two protagonists). But like French's first, there is an old murder (which was never solved) matched with a new murder. Good read.


I actually liked this book as much as EAT, PRAY, LOVE. Very typical Gilbert writing, anecdotal, clever, playful, but it also historicizes marriage, situates it as a cultural construct within different frameworks ... it has, as she points out, changed greatly since, say, the tenth century. The initiating event is her fiance Felipe being stopped at customs and sent to jail because it has become clear that he's coming to the states, staying the allowed 90 days, leaving, and coming right back. It's not illegal ... but the officials don't like it. Gilbert talks frankly about pre-nups, being broke and being broken-hearted, the mistaken ideas she had about love when she was in her twenties, feminism, and psychological baggage. Intermixed are stories of people she met while she traveled around, asking people from all different cultures about marriage, what it means, what it provides, the sacrifices it demands (particularly of women who become mothers). Good read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Julia Durango, SEA OF THE DEAD

Small powerhouse of a YA historical novel. It's fierce, compelling, and well-written. The protagonist Kehl is a prince of the (fictional) Teshic Empire. One night he is kidnapped and taken to a ship owned by a tribe called the Fallen. Although he at first is arrogant and despises the leader of the Fallen, he begins to learn that everything he has been taught as a Teshic prince--everything that the Empire said was true--is suspect, including the story of his own mother's death. This is the classic case of an adolescent who must remake his world view. Good read.


I'm sorry to say I would not recommend. The premise is fun: the novelist Charlotte Bronte's secret life as an adventuress/secret agent, saving the royal family of England, dashing around the countryside in hot air balloons. While Rowland is very good at period detail--she includes a great deal of interesting information on Victorian England, from Whitechapel to broughams--the plot and narration is clumsy, and the psychology fails for me. For example, on a visit to Bedlam with her publisher, to gain information for her next novel, Charlotte just happens to see a man being brutally tortured with electric probes by a vicious looking Russian--and that man being tortured is John Slade, with whom she has been desperately in love with for three years, though she has had no word and has been terribly worried about him. !!! Goodness, shouldn't she do something? And she does. She and her publisher immediately go off to view the Great Exhibition (of 1851) at the Crystal Palace. Her comment: "I was so impressed by the Crystal Palace that I almost forgot about Slade." My heart is hammering with worry about the poor man, and she's going to the Exhibition? And then, because the most interesting part of the story belongs to John Slade (who dashes between England and Russia, playing double agent, with three different names) she is forced to resort to this sort of maneuver: "Here I must describe other events that occurred outside my view. The details, based on facts I later learned, are as accurate as I can make them. Reader, you will see ... I was in grave danger." For those of us who know and love JANE EYRE, the phrase "Reader, I married him" is etched in our brains, and the apostrophe was used to wonderful effect. Rowland uses it when she wants to remind us that this is Charlotte Bronte's voice. It didn't quite work for me.