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cariola119 has commented on (41) products.

The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain
The Way I Found Her

cariola119, April 16, 2010

If you think of Rose Tremain as mainly a writer of historical novels, this one will surprise you as much as it did me. In fact, I kept forgetting that I wasn't reading a novel by Ian McEwan. It's a mystery of sorts, involving a 13-year old English boy and a 40-ish Russian medieval romance writer. Lewis Little is spending the summer in France while his mother, a Scottish beauty, translates Valentina's latest work. He becomes obsessed with Valentina--an obsession whose depiction seemed very McEwanesque to me. Then, suddenly, Valentina disappears, and Lewis, not willing to leave matters to the police, determines to find her . . .

I certainly didn't enjoy this as much as Tremain's historical novels like Music and Silence, and I'm not much of a one for mysteries/crime novels. But overall, it kept my interest and was a pretty good read.
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(5 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Alice I Have Been

cariola119, April 16, 2010

How convenient that I finished this novel just as Tim Burton's new version of Alice in Wonderland is sweeping the country! The narrator is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, once the little girl for whom Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodson wrote the famous tale. It begins and ends with Alice, age 80, wrapping up a tour of America and relates the details of her relationship with Dodson. Was it an innocent friendship, an impossible love affair, or something more sinister? Alice keeps us guessing up until the end, dropping tantalizing tidbits along the way that, I confess, sometimes made me cringe a bit. The repeated motif is "that day on the train"--a day that Alice claims to have little recollection of but which resulted in the Liddells cutting off all contact with Mr. Dodson.

Even more fascinating than her relationship with Mr. Dodson are those with her mother and her older sister Ina--but I won't give anything away here for those who might want to read about it for themselves. The remainder of Alice's life is a fairly typical Victorian portrait of a woman who marries a nice man who is not the first or even second love of her life but rather her ticket out of an unpleasant home life and a spinster's future. Years later, like so many women of her era, she has to face the trauma of watching her sons going off to the battlefields of World War I.

My overall reaction to the book is mixed. At times, I was captivated, but at other times, the novel seemed rather a dull and conventional, like something I must have read many times before. Worth reading, in other words, but not exceptional.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael
Romancing Miss Bronte

cariola119, April 16, 2010

About 250 fifty pages into this 400-page book, I asked myself, "Who is actually romancing Miss Bronte?" At this point, Arthur Bell Nicholls had JUST admitted to himself his attraction to Charlotte but had not yet spoken of his feelings, so I could only conclude that it was the author, Juliet Gael, who was "romancing" her in a different way, by trying to turn her into a romanticized heroine admirable not for her beauty but for other, more endearing qualities. The real romance is Charlotte's life: her endurance in spite of personal and professional rejections, her devotion to a demanding family, the sacrificing of her own needs and desires to fulfill those of others, and her dedication to her own work. The book, then, is not quite what the title suggests--which is probably a good thing in my case, since I am not a reader of conventional romance novels. Although the writing does get bogged down in unnecessary details at times, overall, Gael creates a lively portrait of one of the great women writers of the 19th century. The inclusion of a number of the literati of the day (Lewes, Thackeray, etc.) and their reception of both Bronte and her successful novel Jane Eyre make for interesting reading. The complex relationships among the Bronte sisters is also carefully and believably drawn.

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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

cariola119, April 16, 2010

This book is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but I was absolutely charmed by it. If I lived in Edgcumbe-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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(4 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)

Solar by Ian McEwan

cariola119, April 16, 2010

Ian McEwan does it again! Solar is a hilarious, intellectual romp for our times. It's a satire that aims its shots in many directions: at the narrow worlds of academia and scientific research; at the New Age, hug-a-tree, love-can-save-the-world philosophy; at the idealism of the young and the cynicism of their elders; at the wheeling and dealing behind corporate American enterprise; at the inexplicable nature of love and its counterpart, lust.

Michael Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, has been sitting on his laurels for years, working half-heartedly for a British energy center that sees wind energy as the future, spending more time mocking the "ponytails" (the young post-grad physicists who work under him) than developing new theories or resources. In his spare time, Beard has lumbered his way through five marriages and numerous affairs, and his penchant for alcohol, beef, pancakes, and crisps have added more weight to his physical profile than his professional one.

But then things start to happen--call them accidents or fate or coincidences, or just plain old opportunities. And Michael Beard is there to pick up the pieces and use them to his best advantage.

I had no idea that McEwan could be quite so funny. Several of the scenes, including the one on the Paddington train alluded to by others, had me actually laughing out loud.

I listened to an interview in which McEwan discussed his research process (which included not only reading about global warming and renewable energy but an extended stay in New Mexico and an arctic trip with a group of artists and scientists) and the fact that he has already been approached by a number of physicists who claim they know upon whom he based the character of Beard (he claims it was his own creation, but that it's probably a "good thing" there are so many likely Beards out there rather than just one).

Overall, Solar is a smart, funny, and perceptive novel about our times, and I highly recommend it. Don't expect it to be another Atonement or On Chesil Beach; McEwan is attempting something entirely different here, and you will have to be willing to take it on its own terms.
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(6 of 21 readers found this comment helpful)

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