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Q&A | February 27, 2014

Rene Denfeld: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Rene Denfeld

Describe your latest book. The Enchanted is a story narrated by a man on death row. The novel was inspired by my work as a death penalty... Continue »
  1. $18.19 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Enchanted

    Rene Denfeld 9780062285508


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cariola119 has commented on (41) products.

Bring Up the Bodies (A John MacRae Book) by Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies (A John MacRae Book)

cariola119, January 1, 2013

Like many other readers, I was eagerly awaiting the sequel to Wolf Hall, and, overall, Mantel does not disappoint. Here, she again covers familiar ground, Henry VIII's dislluisionment with his second wife, Anne Boleyn, due in part to her strident and flirtatious personality, but more to the fact that she hasn't rapidly produced a male heir. The story is told again from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, who is charged for the second time with the task of discovering a way to cast off an unwanted queen. Cromwell appears to be an ambitious man who (like so many Nazi officers claimed) is just following orders; but there is an undercurrent of revenge towards the men he brings down along with Anne. Mantel gives him an imagined inner life that balances the cold, calculating politican against a man who has survived both hardship and tragedy. Not without heart, her Cromwell nevertheless has the ability, when necessary, to turn that heart into stone.

Mantel brings in a number of details that I either was not aware of or had forgotten, such as the irony that Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled for the same reason as his marriage to Katherine, prior sexual relations with a sibling (in this case, Henry's affair with Mary Boleyn). And she successfully ties in to the events of Wolf Hall through memories, as in the recurrent appearance of the peacock wings worn by his deceased daughter Grace in a Christmas pageant. Again, the writing is at times almost lyrical--another way of humanizing the man whose own son says that he looks like a murderer.

I'll be eagerly awaiting the third installment in this awesome series.
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There But for The by Ali Smith
There But for The

cariola119, January 1, 2012

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

There but for the isn't an easy book for me to write about, because it is one of those rare books that one doesn't just read but actually experiences, participates in. It's not a book to be breezed through for the plot. You have to work at it, often backing up and rereading to make connections between events, characters, and words. But often that work surprises you by becoming infinite play, even as it leaves you with some startling observations about human nature, language, memory, and the world we live in.

Taken separately, each of the words in the title seem nondescript; together, they seem empty without the expected conclusion--without, in other words, God or grace. And maybe that's exactly what Smith intended: to make us ponder the place ("there") of God and the location of grace in a society that is technologically advanced "but" individually isolating. (Think about the person with 5000 'friends' on Facebook.) It may be hard to find, but, ultimately, Smith concludes, grace is still there, within and between us.

The novel consists of four chapters, one for each word in the title, each focused on a different narrator. As many of the reviews below note, the basic premise is that a man attends a dinner party, walks upstairs between the main course and dessert, and locks himself into the spare bedroom, refusing to come out. But the real stories are inside the heads of the narrators. Anna ("There"), a fortyish single woman bored with her job, is surprised to learn that her email address has been found in the interloper's (Miles's) cell phone, pushing forth long-forgotten memories of the continental tour she won as a teenager. Mark ("but"), a gay man in his 60s still grieving the loss of his partner more than 20 years earlier, is haunted by the lyric-singing, rhyme-spouting, often-obscene ghost of his mother, a brilliant artist who committed suicide. May ("for") is a terminally ill 80-year old falling into dementia and memories of the daughter she lost, yet still sharp enough to observe and regret the changing world around her. Finally, the delightful Brooke Bayoude ("the"), who is either the CLEVEREST or the CLEVERIST, a girl who delights in the sounds and multiple meanings of words and wants to pin down the 'facts' of history, even as she comes to realize that facts, too, are mutable. Along the way, Smith deftly and subtly weaves in unexpected connections among these characters and even the novel's secondary characters.

I'm not one who generally likes fiction that philosophizes (see my recent review of Embers, for example.) Here, it takes you unawares, most often playfully, but sometimes melancholically. It's a rare book that can make you think, think about your own life, while you're being so well entertained. And as a wordsmith/word lover, I found Smith's puns, rhymes, jokes, allusions, double entendres, etc. thoroughly delightful. (Having vivid memories of riding in the backseat of the family car at about age nine, pondering the sounds of the word "jello," drawing it out in the voice in my head, I could really relate to Brooke.)

I haven't always been a fan of Smith's type of literary experimentation; in fact, the last of her works that I read, a short story collection, was off-putting simpy because it seemed to exist only for the purpose of experimentation, and while I liked The Accidental--another novel using multiple narrators--, I was somewhat disappointed in the ending. But for me, There but for the is about as close to perfection as it gets. Put aside your usual expections, open your mind, and jump in. You won't regret it
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(4 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

Wait for Me! by Deborah Mitford
Wait for Me!

cariola119, February 8, 2011

I don't read many memoirs, but this one was a real charmer--as is Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. "Debo," the youngest of the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Mitford sisters, is now 90 years old--and what a life she has lived! Her reflections are surprisingly personal, sometimes a bit sad but often endearing.

Debo opens a window onto aristocratic life, which sometimes wasn't as easy as we might expect. Despite the Mitfords' status, for example, they struggled to make ends meet through the 1930s and the war years, as did other Britons. Of course, their reduced circumstances were outshone by the whirl of their social set. Tea with Hitler, dancing with the young JFK, trying to pacify grumpy houseguest Evelyn Waugh, chats with Churchill and "Uncle Harold" Macmillan, attending Queen Elizabeth's coronation and Charles and Diana's wedding--the shining names that drop in and out of Wait for Me! are as numerous as drops of rain, and Debo has fascinating stories about each one of them. And, of course, we get the inside scoop on growing up and growing older with Nancy, Jessica, Unity, Diana, and Pamela, each of whom was extraordinary in her own way.

Unlike her sisters, Debo came to writing late in life, most of her books focused on life at Chatsworth and written to help fund the preservation of the great house. The sections detailing the initial restoration of the house show Debo's ingenuity at its best. She scours the lesser homes of the Cavendish family for furniture, china, and accessories, conducts meticulous research into colors and fabrics, and has a great time in the midst of it all. Many attribute Chatsworth's survival not only to her personal restoration work but to her savviness in agreeing to open the house to the public but to launch ventures such as a gift shop, plant shop, tea room, and even, for a time, a meat market featuring beef and lamb raised on the grounds.

The Duchess is astonishingly candid about her 64 years of marriage to Andrew Cavendish, who became duke after his brother, the husband of Kathleen Kennedy, died in the war. While they fell in love at first sight, the marriage was not without its trials: several miscarriages, a child who died shortly after birth, and Andrew's struggle with alcoholism.

As a literary scholar of sixteenth and seventeenth century England, one of the things I most enjoyed was hearing the names of families, places, houses that were so familiar to me. It's hard for me not to hear the name Cavendish without thinking about Ben Jonson's patron, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle and his eccentric authoress wife Margaret; or to hear mention of Hardwick Hall without thinking of the famously connected and oft-married Bess; or to hear about the house at Rutland gate without thinking of Sidney's daughter, the Countess of Rutland . . . and on and on and on it goes. I even recognized the familiar pair of legs behind Debo in the cover photo as those of Henry VIII. All of these people and places are obviously just parts of ordinary life for Her Grace--yet so intriguing and significant to me. I was absolutely delighted with Wait for Me!

I don't want to give more specific details and spoil the adventure for other readers. Suffice it to say that the duchess has had a remarkable life and, thankfully, she has either a remarkable memory or a remarkable set of diaries (or perhaps both) from which to draw. Don't miss this one!
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(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Thorndike Reviewers' Choice) by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Thorndike Reviewers' Choice)

cariola119, September 14, 2010

This book is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but I was absolutely charmed by it. If I lived in Edgcombe-St.-Mary, I think I'd be in love with the major, too. It's the gentle tale of a widowed retired major who is grieving for his recently-deceased brother when friendship blooms with Mrs. Ali, the widow of a Pakistani shopkeeper. Friendship inevitably turns into stronger affection--but what will the members of the club say (let alone the major's son, a broker schmoozing his way up the corporate ladder)? And will the major ever succeed in reuniting a pair of Churchill shooters given to his father by a maharaja and divided between his sons at his death? Much of the novel centers on conflicts between the "older generation" values of the major and the new values of "progress." Mrs. Ali, too, has conflicts with her own beliefs and the traditional Islamic values of her husband's family. But all is not so serious--particulary due to Major Pettigrew's wonderful wit (which often goes over the heads of others) and some delightfully comic scenes.
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(5 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)

The Wives of Henry Oades (Random House Reader's Circle) by Johanna Moran
The Wives of Henry Oades (Random House Reader's Circle)

cariola119, April 16, 2010

This novel had a lot of promise but left me feeling not entirely satisfied--perhaps, in part, because I had just finished Kate Grenville's The Secret River, a much better written and more detailed account of white settlers' conflicts with "the blacks" in the same part of the world (Australia, as opposed to New Zealand). I found the chapters focusing on Margaret and Henry's life in NZ much more interesting than the "American" part of the story (although the depiction of the Maoris was oversmiplified and one-sided). For one thing, Henry didn't really seem to fall in love with Nancy, he just took pity on her because they had both lost a spouse and decided out of the blue to propose to her. Oddly, his love for her seemed to blaze into a passion after his first wife showed up. For another thing, the moral outrage of the Oadeses' neighbors was just too pat. I know that people may have been more religious, self-righteous, and judgmental in 1899, but surely some folks would have recognized that the family was facing a real dilemma and hadn't consciously decided to wallow in sin (which they weren't, in any case, doing).

Most disturbing was that we never got a sense of what the community or the law expected the Oadses to do, as they first screamed for the banishment of Margaret and her children and then for the "salvation" of Nancy--and, in both cases, the imprisonment of Henry, the supposed bigamist. Nor was it ever made quite clear what message we were supposed to take away from the book. That this was a unique case of "accidental bigamy" and a private matter? That polygamous families can work for the benefit of all? While the Oadses may have worked it out for themselves, I was left feeling unsatisfied with yet another novel in which the women are called upon to make all the sacrifices and make them willingly.
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(4 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)

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