Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England by Brooke Conti
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, 240 pages)
I’m reading this one, along with some other books on early modern literature and religion, for a longer review essay. I’ll save the specifics for later, but in general, this is an excellent study of a distinctive genre of religious literature. Conti argues that the “confession of faith” is a unique product of the religious tensions in 17th century England. She makes her case well as she looks at autobiographical writings from John I, John Donne, John Milton, Thomas Browne, John Bunyan, and James II.
Wit by Margaret Edson
(Faber & Faber, 1999, 85 pages)
Andrew read this play last year and wrote a great summary and review which I suggest you check out for an overview.
I picked up Wit after hearing Jess Walter talk about the play on his podcast with Sherman Alexie (A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment). Based on his recommendation and knowing how much Andrew enjoyed it I grabbed it off the shelf. This slim book has a lot of heft and I’m eager to check out the HBO performance with Emma Thompson because I know seeing the play will add a different dimension to my experience with the work.
Definitely a worthwhile read that surprises you with its lingering impact.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
(Riverhead Books, 2013, 417 pages)
The Good Lord Bird won the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction. The book revolves around the events leading up to the raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Young Henry was taken along with John Brown after Henry’s father ended up dying in an altercation that took place in Kansas. Brown mistakenly identified Henry as a girl, believing her name was Henrietta. Henry makes the decision to keep up this charade and soon acquires the nickname of “The Onion.”
The novel is presented as Onion’s transcribed retelling of how he came to be involved with John Brown and Harper’s Ferry. Through Onion’s experiences we see Brown’s vision of a slave uprising brought to life, even though he keeps most of his plan to himself (and while his followers hate being in the dark about things, they still stick with him). Onion’s decision to continue living life as a girl offers him the opportunity to experience things in a way he wouldn’t be able to if others saw him as male.
Trying to describe the book doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an entertaining read about a historical event that helped lead to the Civil War. However, very little of the book deals with Harper’s Ferry specifically, most of it focuses on Onion and the experiences he had leading up to the raid. It took a bit for me to get used to the language because it reads as the way Onion would talk, but once I got into the story I was really immersed in it.
The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 40th Anniversary
by Reading is Fundamental
(Dutton Books, 2005, 96 pages)
I’ve always loved picture books, but now that I have a little one that I can buy them for it seems that I’ve gotten slightly more obsessed. In honor of the 40th anniversary of Reading is Fundamental this book brings together 40 well-known illustrators and asks them to write about a book that influenced them when they were children. They are then to create an illustration inspired by that book. This is a great way to get insight into what led these illustrators to pursue their career paths while also exposing readers to illustrators that might be new to them.
Each illustrator gets two pages in the book, one for a brief autobiographical blurb about the book that influenced them, and then a page for their artistic interpretation of that book. A few of the people included in the book are: Lois Ehlert, David Kirk, Pat Cummings, Jerry Pinkney, and Raúl Colón. I discovered a number of illustrators whose work I want to add to my list.
This is a quick read that will certainly entertain you if you’re a picture book fan, a new parent looking to find books that might appeal to you and your child, or someone who might be hoping to write/illustrate a picture book one day.
Under Fire by Grant Blackwood
(Putnam Adult, 2015, 505 pages)
Under Fire by Grant Blackwood is a Jack Ryan Jr. novel. Under Fire is another book written since Tom Clancy’s death which prominently displays Tom Clancy’s name on the cover and uses characters created by Tom Clancy. In this novel, Jack Ryan, Jr. is in Tehran researching the current financial climate. He meets with his childhood friend, Seth Gregory, and the adventure begins. The day after the meeting, Seth Gregory goes missing. Two men contact Jack to see what he knows about Seth’s disappearance.
Seth is helping to plan a coup in Dagestan. The current President is corrupt. A new leader, Medzhid, is ready to overthrow the President and take his place. Jack is recruited to help Seth and Medzhid and others make the coup a success.
Both Grant Blackwood and Mark Greaney are authorized to continue the Tom Clancy novels. Neither of the two authors can create the intricate plots or the rich characters that Tom Clancy created. In general, I do enjoy the continuations by Blackwood and Greaney. However, Under Fire seems to be the weakest of the post Tom Clancy novels.
His Captive by Diana Cosby
(Zebra, 2007, 315 pages)
His Captive by Diana Cosby is the first book in the MacGruder Brothers series. His Captive is a historical romance novel set in 1296. I don’t normally read historical romance, but I received this title as a free download from Barnes and Noble a few years ago. In His Captive, Lady Nichola Westcott is abducted from her brother’s English castle by a rival Scot named Alexander “Alex” MacGruder. Alex kidnaps Lady Nichola to hold her for ransom which will help fund the Scottish battles against the English. Little does Alex know that Lady Nichola is poor so there is no money for the ransom.
In the process of taking Lady Nichola to his brother’s castle in Scotland, Alex finds himself attracted to the feisty Lady Nichola. Lady Nichola is also attracted to Alex. Neither one is willing to admit that there is an attraction, but it becomes obvious to those around them. There is a surprise twist near the end of the book which allows Lady Nichola and Alex to resolve their relationship with each other.
There are a total of six books in the MacGruder Brothers series. The next book focuses on one of Alex’s other brothers. I have seen mixed reviews of His Captive and other the entire series. His Captive will probably be the only book that I read in this series.
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
(Portfolio, 2014, 256 pages)
Who among us hasn’t made our share of life mistakes? Some of us manage to learn enough from our mistakes to find success – and in Sophia Amoruso’s case, multimillion dollar success! What differentiates her from other young screw-ups? Her book #GIRLBOSS will provide you with a reasonably good idea. Billed by her as part confessional, part business strategy manual, one hopes to obtain the secrets to becoming an indie business dynamo. The title itself clues you in that this book isn’t your average business manual, giving a nod to young women looking to start what’s not your momma’s company – which carries a certain twee sensibility. The book begins with an overview and chronology of Amoruso’s life events, then moving into her life philosophy. The chapters following elaborate on particular principles, including the character-building potential of crappy jobs, learning from sketchy life experiences such as shoplifting and hitchhiking, the importance of having and saving money, risk taking, and good life management.
The only real problem with this book is that it’s easier for some of us to live our lives and have our experiences than it is to articulate them in writing. What is sometimes more interesting in books than the text itself is the subtext, which is broader in this book than it needs to be for a book of this supposed purpose. Amoruso covers all the basics of being a good rank-and-file employee, but it’s easier for her to be the dynamo than it is to clue us in on how to get there. Also, while she elaborates on some of the more painful, less scrupulous aspects of her earlier life, there is a certain failure in her narrative to acknowledge the privilege that possibly allowed her to evade full consequences of her actions (such as shoplifting, which resulted in a run in with security, but not police), and an attractiveness that allowed her to be her own model for the vintage clothing she sold on eBay during its earlier days.
So go ahead, read this book. It is a fun and heady romp through Amoruso’s experiences from (not quite) rags-to-riches – but if you’re looking for comprehensive advice on how to do that in your own life, you’ll probably need to read between the lines, and find another book with more substantial strategies.
Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts
The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #2
(Berkley, 2014, 319 pages)
In Book Two, Connor is taken back to an earlier time to encounter the son of the original Dark Witch. There are many likenesses but the mission remains the same. The power of three is strengthened to the power of six as Meara Quinn, Branna’s best friend, realizes that she is falling in love with Connor. While preparations are being made to battle evil, Connor slips back in time to get advice from his kin. Roberts continues to tell the mystical tale while painting pictures of beautiful old country and the bonds of friendship and love. And just when you think the O’Dwyers have rid themselves of their adversary, the reader finds evil lurking in the fog waiting to break through and steal their power.
Betrayers by Bill Pronzini
(Forge Books, 2010, 272 pages)
Tamara is a detective who works along with Nameless (also known as Bill) at the detective agency. Tamara pursues a personal case as she uncovers the swindler scheme that Lucas Zeller is involved in. Lucas is a former lover who Tamara is curious about. In the meantime, Nameless pursues two separate cases, one involving the owner of a mysterious vial of cocaine that his stepdaughter brought home and the other surrounds a ghost that continues to haunt an elderly woman. In the end, the reader finds that all the cases revolve around betrayal.
The Biographer’s Tale by A. S. Byatt
(Knopf, 2001, 320 pages)
The themes of The Biographer’s Tale are very similar to Byatt’s most popular novel Possession. In both books, disillusioned graduate students turn their backs on literary theory to pursue literary mysteries. They turn from the abstraction of criticism to the lives of authors – and in turn, their own lives become more complicated.
In The Biographer’s Tale, Phineas Nanson sets out to write his own biography of an obscure literary biographer named Destry-Scholes. Although Phineas thinks that researching a biography will be a straightforward task, the indeterminacy of his subject quickly becomes apparent. Truth and falsehood mix as Phineas tries to track this elusive figure through his writings on various historical persons. Trying to piece together a picture of Destry-Scholes from these fragments proves much harder than anticipated.
Given their similar themes, I didn’t find The Biographer’s Tale to be nearly as successful a novel as Possession. That said, I was immediately pulled into the story and had a hard time putting it down. I enjoyed it if for no other reason (and there are plenty more), that it contains probably the best description (or non-description) of a love scene I have ever read:
“And I’m not going to describe what happened, though I am going to record that it did happen, because I am not that sort of writer.”