Tuesday, December 30, 2014
We all seem to be fascinated with the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia, Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian Stephen and an assortment of Thoby's friends from Cambridge. Their story is told here by Priya Parmar in a series of vignettes, a bit like diary entries, from Vanessa's point of view.
Thus we see Virginia Woolf always in sympathy but frequently in exasperation by her sister "Nessa" who loved her dearly but always had to keep in mind the state of Virginia's mental health. Virginia was unstable all her life and her siblings grew all too familiar with the signs that a mad spell was about to come upon her.
Virginia not only loved Nessa but was almost totally dependent on her. Jealousy reared its ugly head whenever Vanessa was the object of someone's else attention or admiration, particularly when Clive Bell began to court her. After Vanessa married him, Virginia seduced him into a platonic relationship simply because she couldn't stand his being in love with Vanessa. She most likely would have made it a physical relationship as well except that she had no interest whatsoever in sex.
Vanessa was an artist and yet in the Bloomsbury crowd her artistic achievements and talent were pretty much overlooked because she didn't demand attention like Virginia did. Bell was a rare exception, realizing that she had a real gift.
Thoby died young of typhoid fever and since he had been the leader of the group and much of what they did together, they were all devastated. The house where the siblings lived together for so long became a place for them all to mourn together. Their butler, Sloper, didn't approve of their life because the young women would gather in the evenings with the men without a chaperone. Their half brother, George Duckworth, handled their money and highly disapproved of their bohemian lifestyle. He was particularly upset that the girls weren't looking for husbands.
The discussions in that house must have been wonderful. Parmar writes in a style I would imagine is how they spoke, i.e. Parmar writes of words sprinting through the room. She also shows a ferry ticket showing arrival in England from France rather than just writing that Vanessa had come home.
I came to have great admiration for Vanessa Bell. She was the soul of patience with Virginia, tried her best to control her sister's most destructive mad spells and to see that she ate. After her son Julian (Thoby's first name) was born, Clive was unfaithful and made no real effort to hide it. Vanessa in our time would probably have divorced him but in that age she remained faithful to him for many years, trying only subtly to stop his affairs. Her art was her life's consolation.
This is an easy reading, delightful book that gave me a better understanding of the Stephen siblings than an earlier biography of Virginia did.
Source: Ballantine/Random House via Netgalley
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Reading this book from my "book bucket list" was a Christmas treat for myself. I've had it on my EReader for a long time just waiting for a little spare time. It's one of those classics people like to claim they've read when they really haven't. I was interested because it begins at the time when Napoleon escaped from the Island of Elba and marched into France to regain control of the country, temporarily as it turned out.
You must accustom yourself to the flowery, yet formal prose and stilted dialogue which fits the time of the story and of fiction when it was written. Personally I didn't find those things any detriment because this is quite a good story with excellent characters. Of course there are coincidences that are a bit of a stretch, and plot devices that wouldn't fly in modern times, but I found them easy to overlook in my delight in the story.
The count himself is of course the best depicted character of all. He is initially a 19 year old sailor who has applied himself well to learning his trade and who is deeply in love with the girl he is about to marry. Edmond Dantes is on the brink of wonderful things, not least of which is his pending wedding to Mercedes. Such a promising young man generates jealousy though and he has innocently made two enemies. These two men forge a letter implicating him in the conspiracy to help Napoleon and he is sent to prison. Soon he is in a dungeon and all but forgotten except for Mercedes, his elderly father, and his former employer, Mr. Morrel.
His years of imprisonment and the intricate plot he follows to get revenge on the people who were responsible make up the bulk of the book, but the point of it all is the emotions that sustain him until he escapes and then how the years of obtaining revenge that he believes he is due affect him. His plans are fascinating, even cringe-worthy at times but always understandable because we know exactly what he endured in that dungeon.
I'm so happy that I finally can cross this book off that bucket list and have the memory of it for my life. I find myself thinking about it again and again as the days pass. It's one of those books that stay with you; there's just so much to think about.
Source: Free download
Thursday, December 18, 2014
This is my second Steven Gore novel but won't be my last. His hero, Harlan Donnally, is a cerebral former cop with a highly developed sense of right and wrong. Add in a pinch of action and danger and you have a satisfying read with a great story and characters who actually think about important issues.
Israel Dominguez is the subject of the plot in this one. He has spent 20 years on death row for the murder of a gang rival. Now he is nearing execution and the judge who presided at his original trial has admitted his doubts to his friend Donnally that Dominguez was actually guilty. Gang wars and the passing of time haven't cleared up anything of what happened, but Judge McMullin can't bear to just let it go.
An alternate plot line concerns dementia. Donnally's fater, a Hollywood producer familiar to anyone who has read earlier books, is showing signs of it and so is Judge McMullin. As each faces the inevitable in his own way, the emotional toll on Donnally gives this story depth that you normally don't find in a mystery novel. I like the relationship between Donnally and his girlfriend as well. This is an adult committed partnership not based on lust, but not lacking it either.
I really must read Gore's other novels. This is an author who provides thoughtful plots and characters to engage my mind.
Source: LibraryThing win
Friday, December 5, 2014
I've been reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series for many years. I feel like I know Scarpetta and the other regular characters personally so I always look forward to their next adventure. One of the characters though has always stretched my powers of belief too far. Scarpetta's niece Lucy is just too brilliant, too rich, too strong, too everything. Everyone else has faults that make them believable.
In Flesh and Blood Lucy is acting strangely and suspiciously, and it begins to look like someone is trying to frame her for a series of murders. Of course Lucy isn't talking to anyone about her obvious problem so no one can help but Scarpetta is about the only person really confident that Lucy isn't involved in something illegal.
Scarpetta and her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, are scheduled to leave for a Miami vacation when a man is killed in his driveway by a sniper far away. Investigating this and other murders leads the team to a real estate company run by a politician. One of the company's employees keeps tailing Kay and Benton and seems to know too much about them, even the condo Benton has rented for their vacation. No clues are left with the victims except fragments of copper and in one body a complete bullet. Oddly, someone has placed seven shiny pennies on the wall around Scarpetta's back yard, each dated 1981, the year Lucy was born, and each facing the same way. Other items at murder scenes also show compulsive behavior.
In the end I was dissatisfied with this novel. I'm not saying it's a bad book. I don't think Cornwell could write a bad novel if she worked at it. What I am saying is that this one is a disappointment. Scarpetta and Marino are caught in an enormous traffic jam for too long (although since they're in Boston I understand) and are simply getting messages from others about ongoing investigations. Throughout the story Scarpetta seems not to be part of the action and Benton is obviously keeping secrets from her.
It's an intricate puzzle that took some work on my part to keep up with and in the end I didn't feel like it was all wrapped up. I didn't feel like Cornwell played fair with the identity of the killer either although I can't say why for fear of a spoiler. My advice? If you are a die-hard fan, you'll probably read this one to keep up with the characters but if you aren't, read any other book in the series rather than this one.
Recommended only for Scarpetta fans
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Match Play is a debut novel by an artist who is, I believe, a new talent to watch. Not for the faint-hearted, this novel features an obsessive/compulsive killer who chooses his victims at random, making him that much more difficult to catch.
The only thing tying his victims and their locations across the U.S. together is the LPGA Tour. The women he selects are golfers but not the recognizable professional golfers on the tour. Necessarily, they must live alone.
The killer has a well-thought-out plan which involves the golf game of match play. You don't need to know much about golf to understand what he's doing since you'll catch on as he goes along. It is however creepy enough to make you suspicious of strangers for quite some time.
I should warn you that mutilation of the victims is a vitally important part of this madman's m.o.
When he learns which FBI agent is leading the investigative team, he turns his activities personal, as in a match play game between the two of them. The agent, Lou Schein, is frustrated in his attempts to catch the villain before he can kill again. The reader is head of him all the way and the back story of who the killer is and why he became the man he is makes this an unusual and engrossing novel.
I do hope Poppe will continue to write fiction. He's trying this later in life than most writers but he has demonstrated an ability to write a compelling plot with well-drawn characters.
Source: Partners in Crime Book Tours