Tag Archives: England

*** Calypso by David Sedaris

Can I say that a book is hilarious when it talks about the lonely death of the author’s addicted sister? And his late mother, who seemed to have drunk herself to death? That’s part of the charm of David Sedaris’s latest collection of stories , strangely named Calypso (he has a track record of strange titles): he is not afraid to talk about the sad parts of life, and talk about them again. That’s not to say that there are not purely (or mostly) happy moments in the book: playing Sorry with his ruthless niece, feeding the neighborhood fox on the sly, or constructing a perfect couple for the benefits of house guests. The descriptions of the relationship with his boyfriend is indeed one of the pleasures of the book, with all the silly little wars that long-term partners can wage in between the realization that he is, actually, a very good person.

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Filed under True story

** Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes

Do you think of Victorians as repressed and always perfectly proper individuals,  Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum may change your mind. The author tells five stories that illuminate how they looked at out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the power of women to choose mates, the importance of social class, and child violence. What I liked the most about the book was the way the author could start talking, say, about a suspicion of pregnancy in one of young Queen Victoria’s lady attendants, and take us right into the shenanigans and intrigue of the court, including the very undignified behavior of Queen Victoria herself, who, it seemed, started quite wild before becoming o so proper.

That said, the book is a tad long and discursive.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Cover Her Face by P.D. James

I thought Inspector Dalgliesh was awfully young in Cover Her Face, not realizing until I sat down to write this review that it was the very first Dalgliesh mystery in the series. And young Dalgliesh operates, logically, in a post-WWII atmosphere peopled with country squires, parlor maids, and falling apart once-grand homes that feel like an Agatha Christie mystery. It’s quite interesting to see a different-time setting.

The story is also Christie-like, with the least-suspected person ending up as the murderer (now, did I give it away?). More interestingly, the victim is herself rather devious, so the inquest is as much about her as it is about finding the killer. Old-fashionedly delightful.

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Filed under Mystery

** Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Ian Mc Ewan has written a book with a very clever premise of the narrator being an unborn baby. But beyond that unique perspective, the plot of  Nutshell is entirely expected from the start, and the unique perspective of the baby seems to bring little new to the story, except from an altogether overly precious knowledge of wine (the mom drinks a lot) and very repetitive sex interludes (her lover is assiduous, if mercifully brief). It could be quite fun if the unexpected point of view was fleshed out (haha) in more detail.

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Filed under New fiction

*** The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The Ballroom is a love story that takes place in an insane asylum at the beginning of the 20th Century. Of course, in those days perfectly sane people could be locked up for years, whether they were depressed, destitute, or uppity (special category for women here) and the story focuses on two mentally healthy people who happened to behave badly, once, and did not have anyone to protect them from institutionalization. Their romance is thwarted by a sadistic medical attendant who fervently believes in eugenics but may be the character with the most psychological issues, at least in the context of the times when certain behaviors were thought to be aberrant. Don’t expect happy endings, but what a beautiful story with a meaningful historical context that the author manages to always keep behind the plot.

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*** Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans


In Crooked Heart, a young orphan, evacuated from London because of the WWII Blitz, is claimed by a woman who desperately needs the tiny amount of money she will get for fostering him, and the two become unlikely allies, eventually taking significant risks for each other. I loved the way the author describes the lonely, clever boy, especially how he observes and analyzes the grownups’ puzzling behaviors. A seemingly simple story with many satisfying layers.

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Filed under New fiction

*** Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson


Where Women Are Kings tells a very hard story, of a young boy who has suffered terrible abuse by his mentally ill mother, and others, and who, adopted by a wonderful couple, struggles to fit in his new life. The story is told in alternating chapters between his new life and disturbing letters from his birth mother that slowly reveal what happened to the boy before the adoption. It’s all very dark but beautiful in the saddest possible way. Perhaps not what you are looking to read on summer vacation but there is a lot of love in the book, especially from the adoptive mother and the wonderful adoptive grandfather, and the descriptions of the troubled child are haunting.

 

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Filed under New fiction