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Archive for the ‘romance’ Tag

Wild Imaginations   Leave a comment

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Active imaginations, fear of the unknown, religion, science and a bit of romance are among the themes in Sarah Perry’s epic novel, The Essex Serpent.

The setting is 1893 England. Cora Seaborne is introduced as a soon-to-be well-off widow. Her marriage is an unhappy one, so her husband’s death, which occurs within the first chapter, is not unwelcome. Her husband’s physician is enchanted with Cora, so is her friend/companion, Martha. Her son Francis is less enamored. These characters, and several others integral to the narrative, are well-developed as passionate, intelligent and flawed.

Cora, Martha and Francis travel to Essex where there are long-standing rumors of an unseen, but terrifying creature lurking near a small coastal town. The idea of documenting its presence appeals to Cora. Her friendship with Will, the local pastor, and his wife provide friendship.it’s clear there is the potential for something more than platonic between Cora and Will, this is an attraction of minds. He is certain the panic stirred by the unseen, unnamed creature reflects a lack of faith among his parishioners. She, on the other hand, is intrigued by the idea of discovering, perhaps, a new species.

Cora is aware of the feelings held by her late husband’s doctor, yet she does little to discourage his interest. When she beckons, he appears. Generally, the women are portrayed as strong-minded and intelligent, while several of the men are satisfied simply being in their presence.

Despite the dark setting, Perry injects humor and light moments.

The Essex Serpent
Four Bookmarks
Custom House, 2016
418 pages

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The American Frontier   Leave a comment

 

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Years ago I gave myself permission to stop reading books that couldn’t hold my interest. Nonetheless, I still struggle with the idea that once I start something I should finish it. As I slogged my way through Amy Bloom’s Away, I wondered when I’d set it down for good. I never did.

Bloom’s slow-paced story is about the determination of a mother’s love and the sacrifices she endures. It’s also a narrative about immigrants and fitting into not just new environments but adjusting to different customs and expectations.

Lillian Leyb is a seamstress living in New York City’s lower east end in 1924. As she becomes romantically entangled with her employer and his son, her past is slowly revealed. She left Russia where her husband and, presumably, her child were killed. Lillian becomes a kept woman until she learns from her cousin, a recent arrival from the homeland, that her daughter is still alive. Thus begins Lillian’s journey across the  United States including the expansive Alaskan frontier en route to Siberia to find her daughter.

Lillian experiences both the kindness and cruelty of strangers; she’s befriended and betrayed. Bloom incorporates humor and pathos in Lillian’s trek by explaining what’s in store for those Lillian encounters – from her east end companions to those in a Seattle brothel and later a women’s prison in Alaska. Through it all, Lillian remains determined to find her daughter.

Although Away was no page-turner for me, I’m glad I stuck with it. It just took time.

Away
Three Bookmarks
Random House, 2008
240 pages

Rosies are Read   Leave a comment

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I am humbled and surprised when I run into someone who tells me my blog is enjoyable and a good place to learn about books (and restaurants when I write about them).  When I started The Blue Page Special nearly three years ago, that’s what I hoped for. What’s even better is when one of my readers shares a book title with me, introducing me to a new author or genre. Such is the case with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Simsion presents Don Tillman: a nerd. This renowned genetics professor at a Melbourne, Australia, university has created a life so structured that all of his activities are scheduled to the minute. He finds the slightest deviation unnerving. This, along with his intelligence and inclination to view the world through literal eyes, makes him socially inept.

Nonetheless, he decides it’s time to find a life partner and creates the Wife Project, complete with a multi-point questionnaire which has no place for romance. That is until Rosie Jarman, a graduate student in psychology, unwittingly becomes a candidate in the project. Don quickly dismisses her as a viable contender because of what he perceives as her many (human) faults.

The novel is predictable which might warrant a spoiler alert, but I encourage reading it anyway. Don’s voice and personality quirks are well-developed — complete with a few laugh-out-loud moments. Also, Rosie’s criticism that the Wife Project objectifies women is unarguable. Yet, the premise results in a fun read where transformations occur on several, some even surprising, levels.

The Rosie Project

Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2013
292 pages

The Very Model of a Proper English Novel   Leave a comment

Major Pettigrew
Easy to visualize characters, plots driven by class conflict, issues of the heart (or both) and a very proper sense of, well, what’s proper are what make English Lit so appealing to me. Yes, the above could easily refer to classic British literature, but it also applies to Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – a very contemporary work.

Simonson’s novel begins with a chance meeting between the Major (his first name is Ernest, while apt doesn’t fit him as snugly as his military title) and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Although their paths have crossed in the past, this encounter comes at a vulnerable point in the Major’s life: he’s just learned of his brother’s death. What follows is the evolution of a friendship based on a passion for books and widowhood.

Both characters are thoroughly engaging. The Major in his stilted, decorous yet sensitive manner has appeal, and Mrs. Ali is an exceptionally intelligent woman burdened by a certain sadness associated with being considered an outsider in her home country. Simonson portrays people we know or would like to; they’re well-defined individuals with foibles, principles and dreams. The cast of lesser characters, including Roger, the Major’s obnoxious status-seeking son, enhance the story.

The novel moves at a leisurely pace as the Major and Mrs. Ali embark on a relationship that puts a spark in their step and ultimately has tongues wagging throughout the village. Simonson clearly enjoys thumbing her nose at what’s considered suitable or not.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Four Bookmarks
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011
358 pages (not including the Reader’s Guide)