Classic · Fiction · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages) · Theresa F

Middlemarch | by George Eliot


Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot
(Penguin Classics, 2011, 880 pages)

After multiple attempts and months of stopping and starting I have finally finished Middlemarch. I’m sure that doesn’t make it sound appealing but truthfully I loved every minute of it and it really speaks more to my flaws than to the novel’s appeal. After finishing Middlemarch I read a New Yorker article Middlemarch And Me What George Eliot teaches us” by Rebecca Mead and decided that instead of giving a plot summary I would just include a quote from the article that I think speaks to what I found most interesting; the novel is sometimes biting and satirical but never at the total expense of the characters:

But Eliot’s satire, unlike Austen’s, stops short of cruelty. She is inveterately magnanimous, even when it comes to her most flawed characters; her default authorial position is one of pity. Rosamond Vincy is foolish and intractable—her husband refers to her in his later years as his basil plant, because it was “a plant that had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains.” But the sequence of chapters in which self-involved, trivial Rosamond realizes that Will Ladislaw is in love with Dorothea, not her—she is “taken hold of by an emotion stronger than her own, hurried along in a new movement which gave all things some new, awful, undefined aspect”—is a masterpiece of sympathetic imagination. A reader marvels at Jane Austen’s cleverness, but is astonished by George Eliot’s intelligence.

5/5 stars

Fiction · Julia P · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

A Little Life | by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
(Doubleday, 2015, 736 pages)

I have to admit right off the bat that the cover to this book almost turned me off to the whole idea of reading it. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover… Well, what finally prompted me to pick up A Little Life was the fact that I was hearing about it everywhere. It was highly praised on a podcast I listen to called “Books on the Nightstand” and then it was getting shortlisted for numerous literary awards. I couldn’t resist the pull any longer.

A Little Life follows a group of 4 friends as they proceed through adulthood. The friends, Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB, met in college where they all shared a suite in their dorm. The book takes place after they have all moved to New York City and are finding their way in the world. The central figure in the book (and in their friendship circle) is Jude. Jude suffers from episodes of debilitating pain that seems to stem from damage to his legs that occurred when he was younger. In addition to this physical pain, it’s clear that Jude suffers in other, more emotional, ways but he’s not one to talk about himself or his past – not even with those closest to him.

This novel is about love, friendship, forgiveness, and coming out on the other side of tragedy. We see the men grow over a span of decades and Yanagihara’s focus on character development is pretty great. Every time I was forced to put it down I couldn’t wait to get back to the book because I was so invested in the characters. I was definitely still thinking about them after finishing the book.

I will say that there were some elements of the novel that felt a little unfinished. But overall this is a book I would certainly recommend. Despite its size it reads fairly quickly. And it certainly isn’t a “light” read so prepare yourself for some dark elements. Some people talk about how this book had them sobbing – there were certainly moments where I teared up, so if you’re looking for that kind of read, this is a good one to pick up. Plus, it has gotten rave reviews and, as I mentioned previously, it’s shortlisted for all kinds of awards.

Fantasy · Fiction · History · Julia P · Romance · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Outlander | by Diana Gabaldon


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
(Dell Publishing, 2005, 896 pages)

I’m late in the game for checking out Outlander. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about, especially since now it’s a TV show people are flocking to. It’s interesting to try and describe the book to others because it has so many different elements at play. This book has history, romance, AND time travel. This is by no means a small book, but it reads fairly quickly and it’s part of a series of similarly large books.

The book starts off shortly after the end of WWII. Claire Randall and her husband are vacationing in Scotland to get “reacquainted” after years apart during the war. While on this second honeymoon of sorts, the Randalls discover a hidden alcove with stone markers. When Claire revisits these stones on her own she suddenly finds herself transported to another time. She’s in the same place, but it’s 200 years earlier.

Understandably confused, Claire is shocked to find herself grabbed by a British soldier who tries to have his way with her. After managing to escape from him she is then taken by a group of Scottish men who are also trying to get away from the British. The men decide to hold her until they can figure out whether or not she’s a spy. She makes herself useful once they return to their home at Castle Leoch. Having been a nurse during the war her medical knowledge comes in handy.

As Claire adapts to this new time she finds herself placed in another difficult situation. In order to save her from the hands of the British (specifically the man who tried to rape her earlier) Claire is forced to marry a young Scot named Jamie. This forced marriage kindles something between them that neither Jamie or Claire could have anticipated…

I was intrigued by the story and curious to see how Gabaldon developed it. If you enjoy historical novels and don’t mind romance and a unique fantasy element you’ll probably get a kick out of Outlander. I can’t say I’m compelled enough to continue with the series… At least not right now. But I did enjoy the book.

Fantasy · Fiction · Julia P · Page-Turner · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Game of Thrones | by George R. R. Martin

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R. R. Martin
(Bantam Books, 2011, 835 pages)

I’d been hearing for ages how good this series was but I didn’t think it would suck me in. I picked up the first book in the series at our annual book sale last year (it’s coming up, April 13-15, 2015!) for 50 cents, so I took advantage of the “free” moments during my maternity leave to start reading it. I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed it! My husband was thrilled when he saw me reading the book and wants me to watch the HBO series with him (we’ll see if I can find the time…).

The book is written from the perspective of multiple characters and I’m having a hard time thinking of how best to summarize it so I’m going to channel Theresa and turn to Amazon for a synopsis:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Even if you’re not typically a reader of fantasy I think you’d find this to be an entertaining and absorbing read. I look forward to continuing the series 🙂

Fantasy · Fiction · Magic · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages) · Theresa F

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell | by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(Tor Books, 2006, 1006 pages)

It took me a long time to get through this book but I liked every minute of it. It’s not a page turner but it’s well written and it’s interesting to see how the return of magic to England plays out. The middle section, where Strange get involved in helping the English army during the Napoleonic wars, gets a little tedious but picks up when he starts investigating the “wildest” forms of magic. Jonathan Strange is no angel but the character of  Mr. Norrell is particularly off-putting, bringing to mind those people we all know that are nitpicking and conniving but hold themselves up as exemplary individuals.

“At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.” –

Andrew S · Fiction · Science Fiction · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength | by C.S. Lewis

The Space Trilogy

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
(Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997, 724 pages)

As a fan of C. S. Lewis, I’ve been intending to read this trilogy for a long time. In fact, I’d read so much about these novels that I thought I already had a sense of the stories and themes before I actually started reading them. However, the universe that Lewis imagines as Ransom, a philologist and unlikely explorer of deep space, journeys to Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus) defies easy characterization or summary. These are science fiction stories which use the devices of spaceships, inhabited foreign planets, and scientific attempts at human immortality. In fact, Lewis notes that the mode of the novels, if not the message, is heavily indebted to H. G. Wells. However, they rely as much or more on classical and medieval cosmology for the structure of the universe.

Each novel has a very distinct atmosphere. By sending Ransom to these strange planets and following him as he begins to adjust and become familiar with the landscapes and the inhabitants, Lewis gives us the opportunity to pull back and view the Earth and its place within the universe in a new and unnerving way. Ransom finds that these planets are ruled over by eldil, angelic creatures not immediately perceptible to human eyes, who can communicate with one another. He comes to discover that within the broader universe, Earth has become known as “the silent planet,” because our planet’s eldil has become “bent” and rebelled against the divine figure of Maleldil. While the rest of the planetary intelligences communicate amongst each other and as their planet’s populations, made up of various kinds of creatures, live in a state of peaceful flourishing, Earth has descended into war, strife, and interplanetary seclusion. As the novels progress, Ransom realizes his role in redeeming the Earth and restoring the planet with greater and greater clarity.

While occupying the genre of science fiction, these novels are really imaginative depictions of the Christian themes of creation, fall, and redemption. Lewis pits a scientifically reductionist view of the world against a view which is basically Christian, as well as being informed by classical metaphysics. The first two novels are particularly strong as Lewis first imagines, in Out of the Silent Planet, what an unfallen yet slowly dying world might look like. Next, in Perelandra, he depicts a planet whose inhabitants are newly created and who must mature as they encounter their first temptation toward evil. That Hideous Strength is a drastically different kind of book. The action plays out entirely on Earth as the spiritual entities encountered and discussed in the previous novels battle over the destiny of the planet. The final book combines an Orwellian plot with Arthurian mythology, and the combination doesn’t make for as successful a novel as the previous two. However, taken as the whole, the trilogy creates a world that is beautiful, tragic, and absolutely engrossing.

Classic · Fiction · History · In the Library · Page-Turner · Sadie J · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Gone with the Wind | by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
(Scribner, 1964, 1037 pages)

Scarlett O’Hara’s mother raised her to be a Southern lady and the belle of the county. Scarlett has multiple beaus and has properly refused proposals from many suitors while she waits for Ashley, her true love, to propose. But when she hears that Ashley is about to announce his engagement to Melanie, Scarlett hatches a plan to turn everything around for her. As the Civil War and Scarlett’s jealousy rages on, she must continue to make adjustments in her life to not only survive but continue to be close to Ashley and to put up with the constant irritations from Rhett Butler. Although her mother’s teachings on how to be a lady seem to be forgotten, Scarlett promises that once she has enough money and Ashley by her side, she can return to her position as a lady.

What a beast of a book to read. There is so much scandal, war, new life, and death that I don’t think there was a stretch of time where I was bored despite the 1,000 pages. The drive that Scarlett has to get what she wants and the sacrifices that she makes whether they hurt herself or those close to her are truly remarkable. The difference between how smart and successful Scarlet is in her business ventures and how poorly she interacts and upholds her social bearings is incredibly frustrating because Scarlett really could have everything she ever wanted if she just opened her eyes a little bit more. I would recommend this read to anyone and don’t be scared off by the high page count, it is truly worth it.

Andrew S · Art · Fiction · Graphic Novel · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Prelude to a Million Years, Song Without Words, Vertigo (v. 2) | by Lynd Ward

Lynd Ward v. 1-2

Prelude to a Million Years, Songs Without Words, Vertigo (v. 2)
by Lynd Ward
(Library of America, 2010, 728 pages)

This second volume of “wordless novels” by Lynd Ward is made up of two shorter stories or movements and one long novel. Prelude to a Million Years depicts an artist who desperately pursues his ideal of beauty in the midst of the despair and chaos of the Great Depression. In Song Without Words an archetypal women wanders through a world corrupted by capitalism and fascism. She despairs of bringing a child into such a world, but in the final scene, she holds her newborn child in her arms as she and her husband gaze past the dark city and look to the horizon in hope. Vertigo is the longest of Ward’s novels. It follows three characters, “The Girl,” “An Elderly Gentleman,” and “The Boy.” The story critiques the failures of capitalism as it shows how each character is effected by the Great Depression.

As in the first volume, all of these woodcuts are beautiful and intricate. There is something particularly appropriate about the black and white medium for expressing the despair and fear of American society during the Depression. The shadow is cast not only by a devastating economic crisis, but also by the rise of fascism in Europe. The contemporaneity of these themes and the sophistication with which Ward utilizes such an old technique combine to give the images in these novels a very modern feel. They may in fact be forerunners to what we now call graphic novels, but I wonder if any contemporary graphic novels can actually rival their effective use of this visual storytelling medium.

Andrew S · Art · Fiction · Graphic Novel · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage (v. 1) | by Lynd Ward

Lynd Ward v. 1-2

Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage (v. 1) by Lynd Ward
(Library of America, 2010, 812 pages)

Each novel in this collection consists of a single woodcut per page without any text. These “wordless novels” were early forerunners to today’s graphic novels. Lynd Ward’s visual stories deal with themes like the role of the artist in society, the consequences of industrialization, the plight of the worker, the failures of capitalism. In Gods’ Man a young artist arrives in the corrupt city and makes a Faustian deal with a mysterious stranger that results in his rise to the top of the art world. He eventually flees the city and finds love in the country, but the deal he struck ends in tragedy. In Madman’s Drum, a murderous slave trader returns home with a demon-faced drum, bringing with it a curse that sets the man’s family on a disastrous trajectory. Wild Pilgrimage follows a factory worker as he leaves behind the dirty and violent environment of the factory for the unsullied countryside. However, he finds hatred and violence even in this rural setting, and he returns to the factory to lead a worker’s rebellion.

The woodcuts that make up these novels are beautifully executed and remarkably detailed. In Gods’ Man, the ominous shadows cast by looming skyscrapers communicate the corrupting influence of the city on the idealistic artist. The faces of the characters in Madman’s Drum are remarkably expressive. In Wild Pilgrimage, Lynd alternates black and white woodcuts with red “dream sequences” to communicate the reality versus the ideal of a socialist agenda. God’s Man has a strongly allegorical feel. It is the simplest of the stories, and it flows smoothly. The images in Madman’s Drum are more complicated. The story is more complex and it is not easy to follow at every point.

The collection includes an introductory essay by Art Spiegelman which helps to contextualize Ward artistically and socially. In the back, there are three essays written by Ward that correspond to each novel. These are very helpful, both for making sense of some of the more difficult parts of the stories and for appreciating the artistic techniques that Ward employs.