Archive for Reviews

Book Review: Mariana by Monica Dickens

Mariana by Monica Dickens Yawn. Not really my kind of book.

Book Review: The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope Much too long a book for so little to happen in it.

Book Review: The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

I saw The Young Lions mentioned on a list of great WWII books, and it definitely lives up to that label. It’s hard to summarize the book in a short review, especially since so much goes on in the book, but it is really quite good. The writing style makes everything quite vivid, and I had a hard time putting the book down, wanting to see what would happen to the several main characters as it went along. It intersperses three different men’s experiences during this time, showing the grim reality of war from the soldier’s point-of-view, and not just from one side or the other.

A movie version was made 10 years after the book came out, but it isn’t quite as grim as the book, and I’m not sure they got the casting right. I’ve only seen bits of it though, but the author didn’t like it, so that says a lot.

Book Review: New Grub Street by George Gissing

New Grub Street by George Gissing

I struggled with this book a little at first, especially when I had a hard time liking some of the main characters. Most of the men in the book were quite unpleasant or even despicable in some way, whereas the women seemed more interesting to me, as they struggled to be independent of and respected by the men in their lives.

The story focuses on a number of people with some connection to writing or publishing in some form. Some of them are struggling to do good work, while others just want to gain some notoriety. I found some of the “industry” issues interesting, as a few might as well be happening today (the idea of writing shorter, easier to read pieces for a less attentive audience, for example).

I did have a hard time seeing this as happening in the 1880s though, mainly because the writing style seemed a little more modern to me, at least compared to other works from this time. I kept thinking they were in the 1900s at the very least, or perhaps a little later. I also kept making comparisons between some of the characters and those in The Forsyte Chronicles (Alfred Yule and Soames Forsyte, Jasper Milvain and Michael Mont, etc.).

The writing style, although it felt a little more modern, was a bit of a slog at points. The dialogue between certain characters felt extremely formal and overdone, and not enough like natural language. And some of the philosophical tangents were a bit dull and heavy-handed.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting, albeit not very uplifting or happy, book, but I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to. But I think I’ll still look into some of Gissing’s other books, after this initial introduction.

Book Review: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is the first Gaskell book that I’ve read, but I’m not sure why I kept reading as long as I did, as it wasn’t really a very enjoyable book. It was overly long for having so little happen, and every little thing felt drawn out and it sometimes got a bit repetitive, due to all the overly detailed descriptions and build-up. And yet, there was still more to come, except that the author had died before writing the rest!

Beyond the length being an issue, the biggest problem was that the characters felt more like paper dolls than real people. It seemed like the author danced around really defining them, getting too caught up in the overly wordy writing style to make them seem like actual humans. A lot more telling than showing.

It also didn’t help to have the regular reminders that the story took place some years before it was written, though the author contradicted herself or dated things incorrectly on multiple occasions (as the included endnotes pointed out). Not to mention the annoying overuse of “tête-à-tête!”

Perhaps some of her other works are better written, but this one certainly hasn’t made a great initial impression on me, especially after having recently read works by Dickens and Trollope.

Book Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen

Interesting at first, but it wasn’t quite the food memoir I was expecting from the descriptions. It was nice to have the historical context, but this often overtook the more interesting stuff about food and the author’s experiences and family, and I felt like I had to slog through a lot of dull history to get to the (dwindling) good stuff.

Book Review: Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

The first Trollope novel I’ve read, this book kept making me think back to Dickens’ Bleak House, which I read at the end of last year. Both deal with a major legal case, though each very different in nature.

It may not be a fair comparison, but I definitely preferred Bleak House, for the style and overall feeling of the story. Orley Farm felt too drawn out for much less of an overall story — though it certainly had some of the same complexities — and it didn’t have the cozy feeling Bleak House had. I didn’t feel all that attached to most of the characters, who didn’t seem quite as well developed or defined, and my interest in the story waned as it dragged on.

Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This book is obviously an attempt to emulate the lengthy and intricately detailed novels of the Victorian era, like something Dickens would have written (Bleak House came to mind as I read it). Unfortunately, it falls far short of that mark, and instead was just overly wordy, repetitive, and slow-moving, without feeling like there was much substance.

The plot progressed very slowly, structured through constant flashbacks that awkwardly shifted from one character to another without furthering the plot very much at all. It often felt like felt like something that would have taken a minute in real life was drawn out of several pages, with much repetition. Conversations between two people would have them repeating the same phrase back and forth, or the inside thoughts of one character would be repeating and rehashing what was just detailed by the narrator or said by someone else.

Ultimately, the biggest problem was that all this detail felt like it was lacking proper substance to it. It was all just fluff, like being giving an airy ball of cotton candy when you’re hoping for a rich piece of dark chocolate to really bite into. Even if you try to savor the experience of wading through all those wordy passages, in the end, you don’t feel like you really got much out of it, despite all the effort.

I do appreciate what the author was trying to do, especially her efforts to make the language and style fit the time period. The book just didn’t quite work though, and it felt like I was reading the transcript of some sort of interactive, immersive video game, with rather heavy amounts of hand-holding, rather than a great work of historical fiction.

Book Review: To Let by John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy Maybe just a tiny bit less interesting than the previous book (which was a tiny bit interesting than the first), but still enough family drama to be intriguing and keep my reading.

Book Review: The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook The premise seemed interesting, but I didn’t feel as enthused once I got a few chapters in. I wasn’t always convinced of the time period, partly due to the language, and it felt like a lot of heavy-handed telling rather than showing right off the bat. After several tedious conversations, some clunky turns of phrase (“a tiara of sweat?” really?), and a liberal sprinkling of ten-dollar words throughout, I had to bail.