Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review Wednesday: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book had a lot going on, and yet, somehow, nothing was ever happening. And that pretty much sums up my feelings for the book. Parts of it I loved, and I couldn't stop reading. Then parts of it...not so much. I'd stop reading with no interest in picking it up again. So, it took me almost a month to read this book, and in that time I read 3 or 4 other books.

The beginning of Rebecca was way too much information for me. I don't like books that start at the end, and then jump to the beginning. Mostly because I don't know or care about the characters when I start, so I don't really care about them waxing philosophical about fate and the past, and boring hotels, and wood pigeons, etc. Really, the entire first chapter and part of the second could have been an epilogue. And if it had been an epilogue, it would have been better, because the author could have tied up some of the hundreds of loose ends she left dangling. As it is, as a beginning chapter, she can't give away TOO much (although again, I think she goes overboard with the foreshadowing and basically gives away the ending. When she talks about the empty shell of the house, I immediately knew it had been burned, so the entire book I was expecting the ending. If I hadn't been expecting the ending, the end would have knocked my breath out. I did have a wonderful little shiver at the ending b/c the author builds suspense so well, but it would have had a much greater impact without being foretold from the very beginning.

Okay. Now that we've dealt with the beginning and end, let's talk about the middle stuff--plot, setting, characters, themes, etc. Yep, all that meat.

The setting of Mandalay was well-done, but somehow it didn't keep me interested. I wanted it to be more creepy or something. I'm sure it was described very well, but I must have drifted off during those parts because I hardly remember anything except the outdoor part of the estate--the flowers, trees, azaleas, etc. The Happy Valley. The cottage, the beach...all those are painted vividly in my mind. The house itself did not make an impression.

Although we get to know the inner thoughts and insecurities of our young heroine quite well, it annoyed me that we never learn her name or age. Maybe that's supposed to make us relate to her better (she's nameless, therefore she's me!) but it only annoyed me. Maybe I'm not romantic enough to put myself in her shoes. Also, they make her sound like she's 15 or something, and Mr. de Winter is 42, so it creeped me out a little, especially when he says stuff like "you're young enough to be my little my wife." And I'm not a big fan of romance-novel hero types, so mean/rude/distant/self-absorbed guys really don't do it for me. Mr. de Winter was very much that, a Mr. Rochester type all the way. I eventually warmed up to him, but even then I kept wondering why he's been such an awful husband and ignored his child bride and her insecurities instead of trying to make her feel at home, or welcome, or even wanted. Especially since he's supposed to love her.

The other characters were well-done, and I liked Maxim's sister, she was such a character. So were Ms. Danvers, the cousin (SO well done!), and the aura of Rebecca that lingered, and Frank. I really wanted to know what happened to them all at the end, though. A rather big loose end.

I will say, it was fun learning the mystery of Rebecca and having her story slowly revealed. When Mr. de Winter tells what really happened to her, I have to say it was a shock. I laughed and decided then that I love this book. But there was so much to go, I kept wondering if she'd turn up alive at some point! I didn't really understand why she hated Maxim, though, and it seemed like a huge oversight not to give her a reason. Sure, she thought men were a big joke. But he married her, and let her have affairs, and did pretty much anything she wanted. So why was she swearing she'd take Mandalay from him? She had no reason to need to 'win' or get revenge. Also, I didn't really think Max had reason to kill her. And then the book sort of makes you root for him, so I'm wondering if the message is supposed to be that it's okay to kill your wife if she cheats but it's not okay to divorce her. And then of course Mr. de Winter is kind of a jerk up until he confesses murder, and then he's the nicest gut, loving and passionate and open about EVERYTHING even though he'd had nothing but anger/secrecy before this point. Yes, I know he's relieved his guilty conscience, but I still didn't really think he'd transform that fast.

Overall, this was a wonderful, deliciously twisted book that gave me lots of surprises and had good suspense and mystery once I got past the first half, which really dragged. The second half was exciting and wonderful, and I walked away from it laughing despite the huge holes at the end that leaves almost everything unexplained. Such as, who lit the fire? Mrs. Danvers? I thought she'd already left. And why didn't anyone put it out? Did anyone die? If not, what happened to everyone? Why didn't the de Winters rebuild the house, since the estate wasn't damaged, or it doesnt sound like it. Why are they living their lives in a hotel? Why don't they go back? Why didn't they sell the property instead of letting it go wild? Yeah. I had a lot of questions at the end, but still, when they drive over that hill and Max says, "That's Mandalay," I laughed out loud with the wonderful ending.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review Wednesday: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Unabridged) (Audio Cd)The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Unabridged) by Avi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Lately I've been reading a lot of YA historical fiction and not finding it as satisfying as I used to. This book really entertained me. I got very absorbed in the story, in the mysteries and intrigue aboard the Sea Hawk.

I loved the characterization of all the men on the ship, although the bad guy could have been a little more evil I thought. But I guess in YA it can't be *too* graphic, and this book was written in 1990 when YA was a much tamer field. Besides the characters, well, there's not a lot going on in this book. There's a bunch of men on a ship. They sail. They get to know each other, and our title character. It's the usual pirate tale, but with a thirteen-year-old heroine. I thought it was a charming book for young people, especially girls, who are interested in strong female characters and pirate novels.

This is the second Avi novel I've read, and I liked them both. My only complaint with this book was the ending was a little predictible and saccharine. Otherwise, exciting and easy fare.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review Wednesday: The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Paris Wife made me remember why I love historical fiction so much. McLain not only captures the atmosphere, but she does it with striking prose. I was not surprised to learn she'd published a book of poetry prior to this.

I just finished this book and I'm a little overwhelmed by it, but I'll do my best to form coherent thoughts. First of all, I cannot stress enough what an amazing job the author did of capturing the atmosphere of post-war Paris. Not that I was there to experience it, but after reading this book, I feel like I was. Like I walked the streets, participated in the extravagance, the decadence, the debauchery, the fashions and fads of the time, the whiskey and wine, the cigarettes and smoke, the poverty and claustrophobia. The atmosphere of the book itself is enough to make me love it. And the fact that it's about a writer only made me adore it more. It made me want to be there, to throw myself into their world, to smoke and drink and ski and go fishing and fall in love and write a novel. The only thing it did not make me want to do was go to a bullfight, but that's only because I did not enjoy that experience myself. If I'd never been to one, I certainly would want to after reading McLain's novel.

Aside from the atmosphere, McLain also captures the personalities of her characters so well. I felt like I was Hadley while I read it. Her parts were so alive, so aching and beautiful. Hemingway's few sections were also wonderful, confused and tortured and with a quite distinct voice from his wife's. Even though I knew what was coming, I still held on with Hadley and ached for her, cried for her a few times, loved with her. Because who hasn't loved that man who is so wrong for you, but so swooningly right?

There were a few parts where it went so far I just cringed, too horrified to look but unable to stop. Like the part where the other woman gets in bed with them and Hadley just lies there while her husband makes love to his mistress. Also, the part where Hadley loses Ernest's manuscripts. Being a writer myself, it just knocked the breath out of me. That must be every writer's worst nightmare. I was literally gasping to breathe at how terrible it would be, and McLain does a wonderful job showing that, even through the eyes of the wife instead of the writer himself.

Hemingway is captured well, too. I understood his artist mentality very well. McLain takes an age old story (the struggling artist, a nobody, falls in love with another nobody, they get married, she stays in love while he gets famous and becomes somebody, and suddenly, his nobody wife isn't enough for him) and makes it stand out in all its tragedy and romance. This isn't a romance novel, but possibly the most romantic book I've ever read--not only in Hadley and Ernest's love, but in Paris, and the sweeping scope of the novel, the lavishness, the beauty of language and description and location, of each event, each chapter of their love affair. Even their demise is poignant and heartbreaking and messy, but rings with absolute truth.

In the epilogue, when it goes into the history of Ernest's family, I got a bit of a shock. Of course I knew of Hemingway's death, but when I didn't know about the rest of his family. It was so morbid, and tragic, and sad. I'm glad that Hadley lived a long and full life, despite the wild years of drinking and smoking and cavorting around Paris with her artist husband. And glad to learn that she went on to happiness, even if she couldn't help Ernest. Like so many tragic figures, you find that the ones who need help are the ones who refuse it the most vehemently. This novel does paint Hemingway in a very sympathetic light, despite his flaws and shortcomings.

Recommended for: anyone who's ever been in love, been betrayed, or been to Paris.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review Wednesday: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenMiss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure exactly how to describe this book. It's definitely YA. But other than that, trying to fit it into a category would take some work. It's part mystery, part horror, part contemporary; it's part paranormal, part sci-fi, part weird picture book.

I really liked it at the beginning. Our protagonist had a good sarcastic voice which I liked, but he never crossed the line into snide or mean. And all the pictures, and hearing his grandfather's stories, got me really interested in the book. It seemed like something fresh, which doesn't happen that often, since so many times the books I read end up having similar plots or problems. I liked that this one wasn't a love story, that it was about a boy bonding with his grandfather. The characters were great--the best friend and the grandfather especially.

But somewhere around the middle of the book, I started to lose momentum. All that novelty and excitement started to wear off. By the time I got to the time-travel 'loops' and all the paranormal type creatures, I wasn't very interested anymore. That part didn't seem all that original, and I started noticing that the writing was a bit elementary for me. Yes, I know it's YA, but I read lots of YA. I could tell it was a first novel.

I did enjoy the book, so I will give it three stars. I like it when writers do something new or different that surprises me, like adding weird photographs into the text. But, that could only carry the book so far. Also, it seems like the ending just leads to a sequel, so that sort of annoyed me. I don't think I would read a sequel, but I did think this book was cute and I'd recommend it to people who are fans of the odd and slightly strange.

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