8.25.2016

Review: The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, by Jack Caldwell

The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel: 
Book Two of Jane Austen's Fighting Men,
By Jack Caldwell
2016  |  320 pp
Jack Caldwell's Austen-verse novels have been a pleasure to read over the last couple of years. Pemberley Ranch is a treat for any lover of Pride and Prejudice, but it's Caldwell's The Three Colonels that really stands out as a credit to not only his impressive grasp of history but his clear and apparent love for Austen's characters; and I'm happy to report that his latest novel, The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, continues in that vein and does not disappoint in the least.

Looking at the title, you probably aren't expecting this book to live in the same world as The Three Colonels, but that's precisely where it belongs. If you're trying to figure out what Baroness Orczy's preening Pimpernel has to do with Austen's characters, let me remind you that, in The Three Colonels, Caldwell tweaked Jane Austen's timelines just enough to throw the characters into wartime - to just about 25 years after the Reign of Terror ended in France.

Thus we find some (mostly) minor characters from Austen's Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park thrown together with Percy, Marguerite and their children. The timeline is a clever trick on Caldwell's part, giving our author a twofold advantage - for one, by focusing on Austen's minor characters he's allowed more freedom in their actions and, secondly, by setting his novel into a generation after the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel's activities he can still use Orczy's main characters and not upset their thru-line.

What results is a delightful and effective mash-up of the two styles; a drawing room romance and a heroic mannered melodrama. And, as in the other two Caldwell titles I've mentioned, he yet again shines a light in places Austen left practically unattended. In both Pemberley Ranch and The Three Colonels, Caroline Bingley became a character one could actually talk about; in the latter, Wickham became more developed and Lady Catherine turned out to be human. In this most recent novel, the focus (and, strange as it is to say, hero) is Frederick Tilney - Henry Tilney's profligate brother in Northanger Abbey, whom many consider to be a kind of pre-caricature of Mansfield Park's licentious Henry Crawford.

In Caldwell's hands, Frederick - who becomes perhaps a more rehabilitated character than even Caldwell's version of Caroline Bingley - happens to be friends with both Colonel Buford (of The Three Colonels) and George Blakeney - son and heir of one, Percy Blakeney, tying all the relevant threads together and making for a beautifully elaborate, satisfying read. The characters walk from one source to the other, mixing with Caldwell's original characters so effortlessly that one can easily believe that they were all birthed from the same mind.

The presence of the Blakeneys, their relationship with the Prince Regent, and the dichotomy of Percy's character heighten the social profile of the ensemble overall; the ton becomes almost a separate character - a barometer by which both Orczy's and Austen's characters at times measure their clout or worthiness. It's an effect that is present in the Pimpernel stories, but seeing it affect Austen's characters the way it does is rather new. Sure, we get a glimpse of it in Sense and Sensibility when Marianne shouts Willoughby's name across a crowded room, but this is on a grander scale.

On top of which, the reader is juggling not only London but Paris as well - it wouldn't truly be a adventure for the Pimpernel if France were not involved, no? And what awaits these characters in France is a story all its own, with twists and turns worthy of both the ladies who inspired it. 

8.18.2016

Review: Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman

Truth be told, I finished this book some time ago, but it's taken me awhile just to wade through all of the feelings it brought to the surface for me - I don't know that I've been so affected by a book since Atonement, and I honestly don't know if that says more about Francisco Goldman, about the book, or about myself. As with Ian McEwan's Atonement, the narrator has an overwhelming amount of survivor's guilt, though Goldman's approach is significantly more transparent than McEwan's fictional narrator.

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman
Grove Press  |  2011  |  288 pp
I remember reading the New York Times review back in 2011 and feeling so compelled by Goldman's loss - his young wife died tragically only two years into their marriage in what authorities would call a freak accident - that I stopped into the Grand Central Posman Books (now gone) the next day to buy it. I couldn't remember the name of it (a fact which I acknowledge to be incredibly ironic) but I was able to summarize it (no response from the employees) and describe the cover - the guy helping me located the sea-blue hardcover with the shapelessly-draped wedding gown floating beneath the title, and looked at me kind of dubiously as if he either had no idea what I was about, or as if he was judging my choice of book.

Perhaps that's in part because this tremendous story of tragedy doesn't make for a great best-seller, or even a highly-recommended mass market beach read (actually, in the interest of taste, please maybe don't read this at the beach). It feels so much more niche and complex than that - not something the casual reader would or should pick up.

Honestly, I'm not sure I was at a point in my life in 2011 where I could have been prepared for it; now that I'm past 30 and have had my share of loss, I know that I appreciate it more than I could have then.

It's a commitment - truly, I think any memoir or biography or autobiography worth its weight requires more attention than most readers can give, but then I hate to call this novel any of those; it is without question biographical - but the way that Goldman breaks up the tragic tale of his short-lived ardent love and builds it strategically is much more like a fictional novel and, in that aspect, exceeds even McEwan in sparking my emotions. Goldman has even said this is not a memoir - certainly, these events happened, but the telling is him emotionally...not the real him - he cites Faulker to this point: "A novel is a writer's secret self, a dark twin of a man" and so that is how he proceeded with telling his story but also removing himself to a degree and allowing the catharsis to take on a life almost of its own.

By design (I imagine), their story arrives like waves as high tide approaches - you can see them in the distance as they surge and recede back and forth until the reader is completely saturated, drowning in stimuli. The Times reviewer called this oscillation "restless...the pacing of the grief-struck," which is terribly accurate in this case.

Goldman, who does not always present himself (or, shall we say, his fictionalish self) in the best light,
shames himself for his humanity in a way that makes it clear that he is (or, was, at least at the time of writing) still working though his grief. We see the denial, the anger, the bargaining and the depression and it seems, only when he begins to imagine Aura as a spirit in her tree, that he has begun to approach acceptance.

How can one explain death? How can one begin to understand it? And how can we move beyond it? Perhaps we never do or - as Goldman says - perhaps grief is eternal like a person's name - "Say her name. It will always be her name. Not even death can steal it. Same alive as dead, always."

While I can't recommend this book for most readers, I encourage you to read about Francisco and Aura - you can read about the Aura Estrada prize here, and you can read an excerpt "The Wave" here.

7.14.2016

Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams, by Lynne Withey

Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams,
by Lynne Withey
1981  |  Touchstone  |  369 pp
When my grandmother passed a few years ago, I inherited some of her books (as the big reader in the family, almost by default). Among them was this one - a book that my mother had given her to read with the note you'll find at the bottom of this post.

I honestly don't know why I put up with having so many biographies in my possession. I dislike them immensely. They rarely illustrate a full life, especially when it's the life of someone who lived so long ago; we are subject to what was left behind almost incidentally as opposed to recorded, on top of which the writer - who means to interpret and illustrate that life for the reader - often leaves off the least-appetizing bits and inflates the subject's importance.

I don't deny Abigail Adams her influence. She was assuredly one of the most influential women in early American history, and she definitely suffered for it. But in Dearest Friend Lynn Withey really makes it feel as if Abigail was the only influential woman of the time, which is incorrect. And while Withey does not shy away from Abigail's personal faults, she does gloss them over by focusing so strongly on her loneliness, as if that were an excuse.

And from this book, you cannot tell that Abigail and John had any real feeling for one another. The author describes letters between the two of them and often fills space by saying that John did not write often, but still insists that the feelings were strong. In 1981, when this book was first published, this might have been acceptable. In 2016, it doesn't pass muster. I would rather have just read their letters. Instead, it was just a lot of Abigail Adams feeling sorry for herself and trying to control everyone else.

She decides to add rooms to her house, but we don't get an explanation of why. She agrees with her husband's politics (Federalist) until suddenly neither of them do, and then she starts agreeing with the Republicans - but so little is said about what was happening at the time and what could have influenced that change in her vision other than a mention of John Quincy explaining something that we never get the benefit of understanding; it reads more like an outline than a true-to-life story. It's an illustration that is neither complete nor appealing and, as a reader, it is a bit of an affront to my intelligence.

One note: in the epilogue, Withey mentions that although Abigail did not live to see it (spoiler alert?)
she was the "first and only woman ever to be both wife and mother of American Presidents." In 2001, 20 years after this book was published and 200 years since John Adams vacated the Presidency, Barbara Bush became the second. Though I very much doubt that Mrs. Bush ever had to make as many sacrifices, or was ever called on to advise, as much as Abigail was. I also very much doubt that Barbara would ever be caught hanging her laundry in the east room of the White House.

5.31.2016

Top 10 Beach Reads


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish.

I love going to the beach; I also just love sitting by the water in general. If I could safely have a kiddie pool in my apartment, I would lay out by it (but unfortunately, kicking up my heels with the sink full of soaking dishes just isn't the same!) I can pretty much read anything poolside, but here are some of my favorites:


1. Jaws, by Peter Benchley. 
Yes, seriously. I'm already semi-terrified of going in the water, so this one really doesn't do anything to make that worse. 

2. Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort-Of History of the United States, by Dave Barry
Apparently Dave Barry is not for everyone. This is not a concept I understand. He's the kind of writer that I find funnier every time I pick him up. So if you don't mind looking like an idiot cracking yourself up, this is (probably) for you.

3. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig
I've only read the first book in this series, but I have no doubt that Willig's historical flair runs through its entirety. I have to say, though, I'm a little concerned about her running out of color and flower names. Book 10 in the series is The Passion of the Purple Plumeria which just sounds awful, but then it's followed (Book 11) by The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, which sounds like something the Brontë teenagers made up. 

4. Actually, while we're on that subject - Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia (e.g. The Secret, Tales of the Islanders, etc.) which is fantastical and perfect for reading on and off while you doze by the water.  

5. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
But then, I recommend The Princess Bride for all kinds of locations. It's an awfully fun book to just lose yourself in when you're laying out. 

6. The Princetta, by Anne-Laure Bondoux
A children's epic with adult appeal. It's perfect when you're by the water. 

7. Mariel of Redwall, by Brian Jacques
You don't *need* to have read the first three books in the Redwall series to appreciate this one, but I strongly recommend doing so. Mariel is great for the beach, though, because we first encounter the title character in a shipwreck, and pirates (naturally) follow. 

8. On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
McEwan is always a bit dark, but it's a great vacation read.

9. The Pirates of Barbary - Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th Century Mediterranean, by Adrian Tinniswood 
While it's a fair distance from the classically romantic notions of pirating, it's a great non-fiction read for your beach bag. 

10. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Thought I was going to leave Jane out, did you? Foolish mortals. Of course not. Persuasion is my favorite and, as such, I can read it just about anywhere. But the nautical undertones make it an easy to ones' beach reads. 

5.29.2016

Collected Book Reviews (5/22 - 5/28/16)

In addition to TLG's review of Bruce Wagner's The Empty Chair, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

The Thank You Book, the 25th and final book in Mo Willems' "Elephant and Piggie" series, and which Maria Russo acknowledges as a sort of "sacramental" experience. Willems is launching a new imprint "Elephant and Piggie Like Reading" later this year. 


Smoke, by Dan Vyleta which Jason Heller cites as being Dickensian in a way, but as also managing to avoid "anything remotely resembling cliché."


Brenda Janowitz's The Dinner Party - based on Marion Winik's review ("fun premise...hilariously precise") this one sounds like it'd make a great beach read. 


Finally, rather than another review, check out this report from The Guardian on two new papers that analyze the spells in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and their likelihood of realistic use. (Seriously, science? It's magic. Back off. Let us have our nice things.)


5.26.2016

Review: The Empty Chair: two novellas, by Bruce Wagner

I'm warning you right now - there are some recent Game of Thrones spoilers ahead.

I know - that's not what you came here for. I'm sorry for that. The fact is, when I sat down to write this review, I had no plans of bringing up Game of Thrones. I was simply trying to work out how best to explain Bruce Wagner's compellingly difficult work. Suddenly it came to me - this week's episode "The Door" is the perfect companion piece to this book's backbone. So if Game of Thrones is not your thing, or it is but you still haven't watched this week's episode - sorry - you can skip this review if that's going to spoil something for you. Come on back later. For everyone else, let's dive in (after the break)

5.24.2016

Top 10 Books About Which I Feel Differently Now That Time Has Passed

Top 10 Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme: Top 10 Books about which I feel differently now that time has passed. (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)
This is a tricky one. I feel like most of this is going to be an "it's complicated" situation...

1. The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass - Yeah, starting with some heavy stuff here. Sorry, not sorry. This was required reading for one of the courses I took in college for my English minor, called "The War Novel." The professor chose to focus on the World Wars, so it was full of O'Brien, Grass, Hemmingway, Celine, Barbusse and - god help us - Proust. Of the ones that I actually read (because I definitely didn't trouble myself with half of them), The Tin Drum is one of the ones I hated most. But nine-ish years on, it's grown on me. You can't make me re-watch the film (LOL nope) but the style and the voice are more appealing now. 

2. Save Me the Waltz, by Zelda Fitzgerald - In high school, I was obsessed with the Fitzgeralds. Ob. Sessed. In 2003, I managed to acquire a disintegrating 1968 paperback of this, the only novel attributed to the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I keep it squeezed on a shelf tightly, between two other books in the hopes that it will keep it from deteriorating further. I love it more with every read. It's clumsy and human in a way that Scott's novels strive to be but almost never achieve.

3. Lester Higata's 20th Century, by Barbara Hamby - I loved it when I read it in 2010. But now I can't remember why. Almost nothing from it has stuck with me, aside from Hamby's inherent poetry.

4. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown - I know. I know. Dan Brown. Dan Brown was once the crown prince of popular fiction. He couldn't write those historical thrillers quick enough for the populace's hunger for them (or Tom Hanks' for that matter). I read The DaVinci Code overnight - in about 6 hours. But Angels and Demons I read over the course of a college semester. I just didn't have the option of not sleeping one night to try and get through it. I think, for that reason, I liked A&D more - because it lived with me longer. But now I honestly could barely tell you what the difference is between the two. Blame Tom Hanks and that awful hair he has in those movies.

5. The Echo-Maker, by Richard Powers - Another one from college that I'd rather forget. This was for a Contemporary Fiction class (and it was very contemporary, as the book came out the same year as the class) and I thought it was wretched. And something about just the memory of reading it makes me angry. It won awards! It was a Pulitzer finalist! And it was a waste of my time.

6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling - As the release of the 7th and final Harry Potter book approached, I re-read all of them. I had done this for the last four books. Up until that time, Goblet of Fire had been my favorite. And then something changed. I honestly can't tell you what it was, but a switch flipped as I re-read Order of the Phoenix that summer, and it was like re-discovering something you'd lost in an old house when you were a kid, that has suddenly turned up in a desk drawer 2,000 miles away. However many years later, still my favorite.

7. The Color of a Dog Running Away, by Richard Gwyn - When I first read this book, I was sooo into it. But, looking back, it's kind of like The DaVinci Code Lite.

8. Auraria, by Tim Westover - Loved this book when it came out, still love it, and I wish that more people knew about it!

9. Mystery on the Moors, by Barbara Michaels - I picked up this 1967 paperback at a Books-a-Million in probably 1999? 2000? It was my first introduction to the gothic novel (Jane Eyre hit my desk about two years later) and I pretty much thought it was the best thing ever. In retrospect, it's not that great. However, I still have my poor (like Save Me the Waltz) disintegrating copy (the cover is now completely gone), and it's another one of those books that I *know* no one else has read, and that makes me a little sad.

10. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen - Of all the Austen novels, this one took me the longest to come around to. Fanny is kind of a push-over as far as Austen heroines go, and she's in love with her first cousin which, you know, is weird. Frankly, the damn thing bored me. But when I gave it a second go, I noticed the subtle bite of the narrator's tone, the quiet judgement falling from Austen's pen, and the sweetness of its simplicity. I find that I like it much more now.


5.22.2016

Collected Book Reviews (5/15-5/22/16)

Our next review will be along shortly! In the meantime, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
which Mary Gordon praises as "superb." 

Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman
which Michael Schaub says is "nearly impossible to put down."

Jade Sharma's Problems, which
the author discusses with Devin Kelly over at 

And finally The Bridge Ladies, a memoir by Betsy Lerner, 
about mothers and daughters, and their struggles to get along. 





4.29.2016

Review: Charlotte Collins, by Jennifer Becton

Charlotte Collins
A Continuation of Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice
, by Jennifer Becton
published independently, 2010 | 256 pp
When Jane Austen was alive, one would not yet have conceived the notion of a spin-off. But since her time, secondary characters have made excellent material for just that, whether it's an alternate perspective of a beloved novel's main events, or a continuation of a novel that follows one of the story's side branches, as we have with today's subject - Jennifer Becton's Charlotte Collins.

For any lover of Pride and Prejudice, this is a delight. Its is constantly pointing in the direction of its inspiration, but it does not suffer for that. It is it's own creature, blossoming from a cutting, as it were, of the original novel - similar, but laying down its own roots - its movement independent of the original.

The story begins some seven years following the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins has died (in a manner suiting his folly) and Charlotte must find her independent way in the world. She will not do so alone, however, for her younger sister Maria seizes on this opportunity to make Charlotte her chaperone as she finds her way through society and attempts to secure a husband of her own. In Jennifer Becton's hands, their tiny world of Kent becomes much larger, and Austen's characters blossom into leading players.

For many readers, Charlotte and Maria are thankless supporting characters to the Bennet sisters' plot, so seeing them so fully fledged here brings a kind of comfort. Becton's ancillary characters create a new part of the world that is remarkably detailed and bears the sort of witty appraisals one might expect from Austen's own pen (were it not for some of this author's indulgences in 19th century American exoticism and a slightly more passionate portrayal of emotion in general - both common traits in this brand of writing).  It is a credit to both Austen and Becton that Charlotte and Maria (and Lady Catherine) have a strength of their own and have no need to stray far from there inherent characterization in this newer continuation. They are all very much the same people, but it is the new story that allows us to see them in full form.

Charlotte Collins is a real tribute to Jane Austen, with shades of her other novels - most particularly, I found, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility; but it bears the mark of its home world most of all. I have not found, in my reading of Austen offshoot fiction, a work focusing on a minor character to do so as successfully as Jennifer Becton has managed here. And while I can't recommend this book to someone looking for a fresh or modern Austenesque novel, I think that anyone who loves reading Austen in its original form could give it a go and be the better for it.

4.26.2016

Top 10 Bookworm Delights


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Bookworm Delights

Per Jamie at B&B - "These are just some really delightful book related 
experiences in life that can just make me happy on any given day." 

I think any bibliophile could make a longer list, but in the interest of not 
boring everyone else, we'll keep it to 10. 

1. The smell of books - This is a no-brainer. Doesn't everyone love the smell of books? 
Except maybe Fanny Dashwood, of course. There's something very old and homey 
about the smell of a printed page. It's probably got something to do with mold and/or
getting high off of some spore growing in the spine but, you know what? don't know. don't care. 

2. Hunting for used books - Sure, you could spend hours digging through the 
shelves at Strand, or a place like the old Derby Square Bookstore in Salem 
(now closed, I understand...) but there's something to be said for finding that 
out-of-print copy of the book you had as a kid and haven't seen in years on eBay, too. 

3. Seeing what others are reading on the train - I love peeping over the shoulders 
of my fellow commuters to see what they're reading, even if I can't see the titles. And I 
always smile to myself when I see someone reading a book that I already love. 

4. Finding a favorite dog-eared passage - I am a bit of a cur in the book-lover community 
in that I dog-ear like my life depends on it. Bookmarks can fall out, right? So unless I'm 
using a bookmark that's got a good grip, dog-earring makes a lot more sense. I love it when 
I re-shelf a book after moving things around and come across a spot I had left marked for myself. 

5. Getting to the point in a book where I can bend the spine back - Yes, I am truly 
a mutilator of the books I love so dearly. Not only do I fold the pages whenever 
I please, but I also break the spines. I love the convenience of holding a book in 
one hand when I'm commuting, and I love getting to the point in my book where it 
won't destroy the integrity of its construction if I do this. 

6. Reading during a storm - Truth be told, I also love sleeping 
during a storm. But reading is good, too. 

7. Crying during a book - Or, really, having any kind of real emotion while reading. 
To me, that's the sign of a wonderful book. 

8. Organizing my shelves - I have a very precise way that I like things - 
I like keeping the authors I love most together; that's why McEwan, Kerouac, 
Connolly, Bronte and Dumas all share a shelf. Austen would be there but she has her 
own shelf plus another shelf of Austen-inspired books. But then I also have shelves 
that are arranged by genre - my fantasy shelves - which include the likes of 
Barrie, Pearson, Funke, Jacques, Rowling and Martin. I have a non-fiction shelf. 
I have a shelf of plays combined with some of my favorite contemporary fiction. 
And then I have what I call my Europa shelf. There are only nine Europa Editions there, 
but combined with the colorful spines of my NYRB tomes, and sprinkled with my favorites 
that don't fit in with the likes of McEwan and Austen, it makes for a very pretty picture. A book has to really win me over to fit into my limited shelf space, and to make me re-arrange my collection. Which leads me to....

9. Getting someone to take a book off my hands - Because I can't keep all the books (and, in many cases, don't wish to keep them) I want to make sure that they go to good homes. I hate having to see a book I once treasured trapped living a life in my office's lending library. Speaking of a which - I have a bunch of books ready to head to the office if anyone is interested...

10. Their unchanging nature - No matter what happens, a book will always 
conclude in the same fashion. Sure, an author can add a sequel, but that won't change 
your head canon. Yes, other authors can write alternate takes on the same story, but that 
won't change the story itself. George Lucas can try to change the end of your favorite book 
all he wants, but it will still end with "Yub Nub" and Han will always shoot first, because 
you have the written, edited and published truth of the matter. That's an argument for 
paper books over e-books as well, but I feel like that's a fight for another day. 



4.24.2016

Collected Book Reviews (4/17 - 4/24/16)

In addition to TLG's review of The Rescuers, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Janna Levin's Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, 
which Maria Popova praises as "first-rate." 

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld's "crass and raunchy" millennial-updated Pride and Prejudice

Lisa Hilton (here, L.S. Hilton)'s Maestra which Bethanne Patrick calls "pure pulp madness."

And finally, a review that is from a while back, but which just came to my attention 
thanks to an article about Kirkus being the veritable Statler and Waldorf of 
book reviews (and anything that resembles my spirit muppets must be attended to):

Claudia Gray's Fateful. While I - and the reviewer - acknowledge that 
this book is from the height of paranormal mash-up fiction, even they sound resigned 
when starting the assessment with "It has come to this: werewolves on the Titanic."

4.21.2016

Review: The Rescuers, by Margery Sharp

The Rescuers, by Margery Sharp
Illustrated by Garth Williams
NYR Children's Collection, 2011
149 pp
When first published in 1959, Margery Sharp had initially intended The Rescuers for adult readers like her other novels. But ever since its release with illustrations by Garth Williams (Charlotte's Web) it has been increasingly popular with children. Sharp eventually went on to write 8 more books in the series about these mice and their adventures.

At first glance, this book definitely appears to be a children's book; the New York Review Children's Collection edition from 2011 features Williams' illustrations every fifth page or so. But the themes in this book are overarchingly adult. For those familiar with either of the Disney films inspired by Sharp's novels, be assured that we are talking about a very different story here - there is no Madame Medusa or McLeach in sight. Rather, the primary antagonist is much darker - an anonymous government that has imprisoned (for reasons suspiciously unknown) a Norwegian poet in the deepest dungeon of an impenetrable prison ominously named Black Castle. The Prisoners' Aid Society (in the films, the Rescue Aid Society) is much the same but, as the name might indicate, has a focus on the incarcerated.

The constant presence of emotionally hopeless poetry throughout the book is probably a bit much for kids. Miss Bianca's torn feelings of whether to continue her life as a pampered pet or resolve to teach drawing to bring in money as the wife of a pantry mouse are positively mature. And the invisible and oppressing government (physically embodied only briefly by a literal fat cat) is a bit abstract for younger readers. But this miniature fantasy is charming, full of bravery and heart - and even a bit of grown-up reality.

I now find myself facing a curious perspective: Yes, more often than not, the book is better than the film - you'll hear that all the time from professional and amateur critics alike. Even though I have a deep and unflinching love of both films (yes, both) and I still cannot help but have that feeling. Sure, the stories are quite different, but Sharp's witticisms and daring characters now seem to exist beyond the page in name only: here, Bernard is braver, Bianca is humbler, the situation seems fraught with more danger than even the films can portray, and the sweet, neat, comfortably-tied-up endings are nowhere to be found.

4.19.2016

Top 10 Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)


I'm actually not really into "funny" books - at least not in the "laughing haha funny" sense. I have exactly three books for this list, so I've called for reinforcements.

My mother said Dave Barry. But Dave Barry is already on my list! Particularly Dave Barry Slept Here, I'll Mature When I'm Dead, and the Starcatchers series which he wrote with Ridley Pearson.

Jessica (a sometimes-contributor to TLG) said The Diviners...or maybe the second Diviners. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I looked it up. These are novels by Libba Bray (whose name, I have to assume, is the result of someone drunkenly attempting to spell "Library") and upon looking at them once, I can't tell that they're meant to be funny. But they definitely gave Jess a chuckle.

My friend Phil brought up Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) I've never read any of her stuff, but my sister and my roommate both love her as well.

Elisa said David Sedaris. I believe her, but I've managed to stay away from David Sedaris for all this time, I can't say I'm willing to pick him up now. Elisa also brought up Tina Fey which, well, we all know how I love her. Bossypants is a gem of a book.

The one that no one else has mentioned (but I will!) is Isaac Oliver's Intimacy Idiot. If you haven't picked it up yet, you need to do so. But maybe not in front of the kids. Unless you're a cool parent like that or something. But no, really, maybe not in front of the kids.




4.17.2016

Collected Book Reviews (4/10 - 4/17/16)

In addition to TLG's review of Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Samantha Mabry's debut novel A Fierce and Subtle Poison, which Caitlyn Paxson calls "impressive."

Bucky F*cking Dent, by David Duchovny (yes, that David Duchovny) which is a "home run" according to Jeff Ayers. 

Ian McGuire's The North Water which, if Colm Toibin is to be believed, is apparently a modern work of naturalistic genius. He describes it as a "riveting and darkly brilliant [novel that] feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy." 

4.15.2016

Review: Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms - The Story of the Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind, by Richard Fortey

I have to begin by saying that reading this book was intensely selfish of me. Being a purely left-brained selection (non-fiction AND science!), I can't imagine that many people who read this post are going to have the same desire to pick up this book as I did, simply upon hearing the title or seeing the Ernst Haeckel drawings on the cover. It's a very niche selection, to be sure. And, actually, while we're here - Thom, if you're reading this (Thom is my roommate), you can stop now. Turn around, bright eyes, this is not a book that you would enjoy. Many fish.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms
The Story of the Animals and Plants
That Time Has Left Behind
,
by Richard Fortey
Vintage Books | 2012 | 332 pp.
That being said, reading Richard Fortey's Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms  turned out to be far more enjoyable than even I had anticipated. Maybe endless talk of angiosperms and blue-blooded horseshoe crabs isn't your thing, but if you're going to take a lesson on the subject, I strongly encourage you to pick up any of the prolific Richard Fortey's books. Not only will you find it an extremely rich source of information, but you may even have a good time doing so.

Fortey - a paleontologist, among other things - brings an easy, pleasant sort of grandfather-scholar approach to dissecting Earth's biological tree, all the way from bacterium to humanoids; he presents history in an unfolding matter-of-fact fashion while also managing to be incredibly personable. There are a lot of scientific names and, if you either never took Latin or you sleepily skimmed through all of your biology lessons, you might think you'd find yourself in some Cretaceous weeds, but Fortey never leaves the reader without a thorough explanation.

He is, at every turn, rich in his poetic imagery, and he presents every gnarled branch in our history with an amicable humor that might make science fun even for someone less inclined to find it so. As with any effective book on the natural sciences, there are also reference pages at both ends of the book. And Fortey has arranged the chapters in such a way that you feel - all the way to the epilogue - as if you have been on this journey with the author across continents, through fields and rainforests, and deep into the past.

One cannot help but appreciate the aesthetically pleasing nature of passages like this:
Compared with human history, the seas are eternal, and the medusae pulse on and on, like an unstoppable heartbeat.
 Nor could one lack appreciation for the author's frank observation of the attractions of being Norwegian. Nor ignore this stinging assessment:
To give one example, the curious and venomous platypus claw always seemed to have more to do with reptiles than mammals (who, with the exception of critics, entirely lack venom).
 I know what you're thinking..."wait, platypodes (yes, that's the plural) are VENOMOUS?"

See? This proves my point about Fortey's intellectual appeal: you haven't even picked up this book and already you've learned something new.


4.12.2016

Top 10 Books that Every New Yorker Should Read


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Books that Every New Yorker Should Read

New York has a very long history, and there are thousands of books to choose from on this subject, so this is a small sampling. You've likely already read a few of them, but others may be a little off the beaten path for most.


The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Obviously. 

The Gods of Gotham, by Lindsay Faye

Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park

Forever by Pete Hamill

Jacob Riis' collected photography in How the Other Half Lives

Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger (I shan't be including The Catcher in the Rye because, frankly, it's a terrible book).

Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow

And Tango Makes Three (because it's just the best)

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

There are still, of course, other necessary New York-set books that I have yet to read myself (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Godfather, American Psycho, etc.) but this is a good start. I'm always looking for recommendations - drop me a line if you have any to suggest!