Thursday, March 31, 2011

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende ***

The only other book I've read by Isobel Allende before this was Daughter of Fortune, which I liked a great deal. She writes of strong women in her books, women who have to overcome severe adversity to find happiness. In general I like that theme, I'm sure most women do--we all feel that though our lives in developed countries are much easier now, we still have adversity we must overcome in order to find some meaning in our world.

For that reason I thought I'd like Island Beneath the Sea very much. It tells the story of Tete, a Haitian slave in the late 1700's (Haiti was called Saint Domingue at this time). Her life is the result of a rape on a slave ship, and her own mother rejected her at birth because of this. Raised as a house slave in a life of extreme hardship, she knows that it could be worse--she could be a field slave, who's lives were worth so little to their owners that they barely fed them, just worked them to death and then purchased more.

Tete's main challenge in her life is to stay alive and care for her children. She includes Maurice, her master's son by his wife, as her child and loves him as much as her own. Living through the slave uprising in Saint Domingue and later finding her own place in New Orleans society, Tete always keeps her pride and continues to love and care for those around her, despite the cruelty that is heaped on her.

I loved the descriptions of life at this time and in this place. Haiti has always fascinated me, and it's interesting to see the extreme violence that this impoverished country has sprung from. When you read about the evil that humans perpetrated on their fellow man in this place, whether it be the Arawak Indians or the slaves, it leaves you feeling like Haiti is a country that deserves to finally have some peace.

Despite my interest in the history of this story, I had a hard time with it only because it seemed like Tete was used as a vehicle to tell the history of this time and she was put in one situation after another just to enable it to be told. I know that's the whole point of historical fiction, but I guess I'm saying it was just a little too much for me. I would have liked to have heard more about Saint Domingue after to uprising, and some was told, but she was whisked away in the book to New Orleans so the author could then expound on that place. I think I would have liked this to be two books, or one book with two characters, one in Haiti and one in New Orleans.

Overall the book is very well written and I do recommend it. I just was a little blown away by how much history was packed into one character's life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scandalous by Karen Robards ***

Alright! I needed something new to get me going again, & evidently an historical romance is what I needed. I found this book sitting on the break room table at work & figured "why not?"

My maternal grandma always called these kind of books "Bodice Books", because either the picture on the front would show a gal whose ample bosoms were heaving against the restraining enclosure of her bodice, or something like that would be described between the covers at least three times.

For a Bodice Book, this one was pretty good. A young woman takes a chance on fooling society when she pretends her dead brother is still alive so she can marry off her gorgeous younger sister to a rich guy & they can all live happily ever after. Except some guy seems to be pretending to be her brother already...& of course the sparks fly between them. Forbidden romance, lusty glances, you know how it goes.

Look, I know this isn't great literature. But the bottom line is, I respect writing in all its forms. I wish I had the talent & nerve to write a few Bodice Books myself--it brings in decent earnings, you're getting published, & many many people get enjoyment from your writing. Honestly, what more could an author ask for?

And yes, I'll be reading the sequel. Maybe it'll be laying on the break room table at work when I go back Monday!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki ****

I read the introduction by A.A. Milne to this short story collection just now, and I shouldn't have. Milne is such a great writer, it's hard for me to come up with a way to describe Saki without using his words now. I'll give it a go, but if you ever read this collection forgive me if I sound like Milne!

First I can say that Saki (H.H. Munro was his real name...hmm, these British gents back then liked to use initials instead of first names!) is one of the most sarcastic and bitter writers I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying! If one of his stories seems to be going along at a good, positive clip, you can be sure it's going to take a sharp turn soon towards irony. His recurring character in many of these stories is Clovis Sangrail, a 17 year old who has seen it all and knows how to use the people around him to make his life more amusing. The rest are about unrelated people and places, but they all have the touch of the dark side of life.

There are 29 short stories in this collection so I won't talk about all of them, but some of my favorites are "The Music on the Hill", "The Hounds of Fate", "The Remoulding of Groby Lington", "Tobermory", ... alright, I'll just talk about those four.

"The Music on the Hill" is the only story from this book that I've read before. It was part of a collection of short stories about weird and unusual phenomenon. It's actually why I thought that all Saki's stories would be like this, but they aren't. It's highly sarcastic, with a young couple living in their country home because the new wife thought it would be nice. It took a lot of persuading to get her husband to make the move, but now he seems to be reluctant to ever leave. There's an ominous feel about the place and the husband is acting strangely. So young wife decides to follow him one day, hears some odd piping music coming from the direction her husband went, and finds a small alter to Pan in the woods. Someone has put an offering of grapes on it, and in disgust she throws them away. The music stops, and her troubles begin.

"The Hounds of Fate" is one of those depressing little gems about how no matter how far you run, fate will track you down. It's well written and again rather eerie, though not as mystical as "The Music on the Hill".

For pure humor "The Remoulding of Groby Lington" is great. It's about a rather retiring man who has a pet parrot whose nephew brings to his attention that he's very similar to his pet. Then his brother brings home a pet monkey for Groby, and he turns from parrot to something else...

And "Tobermory" is just plain evil. It's about a cat who's been trained to speak English. Sounds great, eh? Well, that is until Tobermory starts blabbing about who he's seen doing what with whom...

All in all, a great collection. There are other stories I enjoyed also, but it's hard to go over them all here. Just take my word for it, they're worth the time!