Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Title: Bellman & Black
Author: Diane Setterfield
Read by: Jack Davenport
Publisher: Simon & Shuster Audio
Length: 9 CDs, approximately 10.5 hours
Source: Review Copy from Simon and Shuster Audio.  Thank-you!

I read and enjoyed Diane Setterfield previous novel, The Thirteenth Tale with my old Kewaunee Library Book club.  I was therefore very excited to be able to review her new novel, Bellman & Black.  I was not disappointed.

As a young boy, William Bellman created the perfect slingshot.  While with a group of his friends, he used the slingshot with a perfect aim to kill a rook.  This one act follows him for the rest of his life.  William is from the respected Bellman family that owns the town’s main employer, the mill.  His parents’ marriage was ill advised, and his father left his mother when William was quite young.  As he grew into a carefree young man, his Uncle Paul took notice and brought him into the mill.  William had a knack for business and soon was making the business boom.  By chance, he also meets the perfect woman and falls in love.  With the perfect wife and children and a fantastic business, William seemed to lead a blessed life until one day everything changed.

During this dark time, William meets a stranger, Mr. Black.  Upon his advice, William makes a reversal in his life and starts a new business in London, Bellman & Black. His life becomes an obsession with this business and making its profits grow enormously.  Meanwhile, the years past and William spends no time with his friends or family.  Were William’s sacrifices worth it?  

I was entranced by this audiobook.  As I listened to it, I felt like I was reading a Victorian novel by Dickens or Poe.  It had the right setting, but also a mysteriously otherworldliness about it that is hard to explain.  I loved the characters, the setting, and the storyline.  The story did have me crying on my drive home at one point as I cared so much about the characters.  It really brought home to me how horrible sickness was in a time before modern medicine.   I liked how the book changed focus halfway through and how the book ended.  I really would love to talk about this ending with someone and see what they thought about it.  This would make an excellent book club selection

Jack Davenport was a wonderful narrator for this audiobook.  His voice was soothing, but also brought the story to life.

Overall, I highly recommend Bellman & Black.  It is a great story of humanity, a ghost story, and a love story.  I loved it!

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

Circle of Friends was one of my late friend Laura Hivala’s favorite books.  Laura was one of those friends that as a fellow reader always recommended books that I was sure to love.  She recommended this book to me and told me it was a must read and I listened.  I purchased the book and had it on my night stand ready to read.  Then Laura passed away unexpectedly at the age of 32 and it has kept sitting there.  I suppose I’m a bit afraid to let go of her recommendations and have only been reading them very slowly over the past four years since she passed away.  I still have two books left.  I picked Circle of Friends for my selection for our January meeting of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club to motivate myself to read it.

Benny Hogan grew up in a small village of Knockglen just outside of Dublin with her best friend Eve.   Benny’s parents own Hogan’s Outfitters and her dad runs the shop.  As the only child of older parents, Benny’s parents shelter her quite a bit.  She is also a tall and shapely young woman, which her family and entire village is not too shy to remind her about.  She is called “a great ox of a girl” among other things. When Benny and Eve graduate, they further their education in Dublin.  Benny still lives at home and goes to classes during the day, much to her disappointment.  She would like to be independent, but also doesn’t want to disappoint her parents.  Due to a random accident when they start school, the two girls meet the beautiful Nan Mahon and the very handsome Jack Foley.  Every girl in school wants Jack Foley, but everyone is surprised when Jack picks Benny with her unique personality.  Things seem perfect, until many tragedies strike.

I LOVED this book and I can definitely see why Laura recommended it.  The storyline engrossed me.  Even though my paperback edition is roughly 600 pages long, I read it in only a few days.  I loved Benny, but I also loved the many side characters in the story.  The village of Knockglen and its inhabitants were wonderful.  I cared about all of these characters and loved their stories.  Maeve Binchy had a great talent for bringing these many characters to life, and making me care about all of their storylines.  I also thought Benny’s story was empowering.  I don’t want to spoil the book, but I really liked the ending.  It is not a typical book ending, but it was a good ending for Benny.  I loved how she became self-confident and took charge of her destiny.  I saw the movie back in the 1990’s and enjoyed it, but the book was so much better!

Sadly as has become very common this past year, I was the only book club member who actually read the entire book.  I discussed it and the ending anyway as at least a few people had seen the movie.

Overall, Circle of Friends was a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.  When I read the end, I knew exactly why Laura had recommended it to me.  I only wish I could discuss it with her.  Every time I think about this book, I will remember her.  She would have enjoyed that.

Book Source:  I purchased this book a few years ago and it is a part of my personal collection.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

I read Project Darcy right before Christmas and it was a perfect book to read at that time of year.    Author Jane Odiwe is also a wonderful artist and I loved her illustration of an old-fashioned house in winter in a small circle on the cover.  Looking at that picture whenever I picked up the book, I found it southing and put me in the mood for the novel.  I wish I could actually get more copies of her artwork.  I need to look into this!

Project Darcy is a time travels with Jane Austen novel. Ellie Bentley joins an archaeological dig at the childhood home (Steventon rectory) of Jane Austen for the summer while in college.   This isn’t really how she wanted to spend the summer, but her good friend Jess has survived cancer and this dig is one of her dreams.  Together with their other friends, Martha, Cara, and Liberty, they travel to Hampshire and stay in Jess’s Aunts house, which also happens to be the home of the Lefroy family, good friends of Jane Austen.  While there, Cara and Liberty go silly over the boys, but Jess find herself more seriously infatuated with Charlie Harden, a rich and nice guy.  Ellie is not so infatuated by Charlie’s snobby friend Henry Dorsey.  This present day story roughly follows the lines of Pride and Prejudice set in modern times, but with a few new twists and surprises.

One twist is that Ellie has a special gift where she is able to slip back in time and experience Jane Austen’s romance with young Tom Lefroy.  Jane finds Tom quite stuffy and arrogant when she first meets him, but upon further meetings, she finds herself in love.  Tom and Jane both have no money and know their romance is improbable, but their love cannot be denied.  Could this romance have helped to inspire Pride and Prejudice?

I enjoyed this novel.  It was a relaxing read and quite entertaining.  I felt both the contemporary as well as the time slip portion of the novels were equally as strong in the narration.  I enjoyed both stories and felt in suspense waiting to see what was happening in the other time frame.  I liked all of the characters and I especially enjoyed the twists to the stories that Odiwe added in just when you thought you knew what was going to happen.  I also really enjoyed the setting of the modern day story – an archaeological dig on Steventon Rectory!  That would be a dream to work on.  I also love time slip/time travel stories so together with my love of all things Jane Austen, this was the perfect novel for me.  I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a great book to read.

Book Source:  I am grateful to author Jane Odiwe who sent me a copy of this wonderful book to review.  Thank-you!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas holiday in a final celebration of the bicentennial of the publication of the book.  Unfortunately I didn’t get my review posted in the bicentennial year, but this still works . . . hopefully.  I am not going to write a full depth review on a synopsis of the story, as I have reviewed the story overall in previous years.

Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books of all time and it is always a joy to reread a well-loved book.  Who cannot help to love the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy?  Austen’s ironic humor in the book and her wonderful characters are sheer perfection. I loved rereading many of my favorite passages and quotes.

 To celebrate the bicentennial, I purchased a new copy of Pride and Prejudice.  It was one of the Penguin Classics newer cool retro hardcover versions complete with a ribbon bookmark (Pictured above).   My paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice is starting to fall apart so it was a good time for an update.  The update had a new introduction by Vivien Jones at the start and the original Penguin Classics Introduction by Tony Tanner at the end.  It also included various notes on meanings of different phrases in the text that was noted with numbers that were referenced in the back of the book (notes).  I found the ribbon quite helpful for looking everything up as I went through.  I also enjoyed both introductions, although as with most introductions, I wouldn’t actually read it unless I had read the novel.  Otherwise, the author ruins the plot of the book for you, or you don’t understand half of the references as you haven’t read the book yet!

Overall, if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice – what are you waiting for?   And if you are looking for a new copy, this hard cover has a nice price, classy cover, and great references.

Book Source:  I purchased this book on Amazon.com

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

Title: The Real Jane Austen:  A Life in Small Things
Author: Paula Byrne
Read by: Kate Reading
Length: 13 hours and 31 minutes
Source: MP3 Audio through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium – Overdrive on my Droid

The Real Jane Austen:  A Life in Small Things is one of the best biographies of Jane Austen that I have ever read.  Instead of a biographical narrative of the slight details we know of Austen’s life from her birth, various moves, and death, Paula Byrne instead explores themes from Austen’s life.  She takes an object in Austen’s life and details the latest research on this object or topic and how it relates to Austen’s novels.  It was wonderful.  It gave such good background that I had never heard before on Austen.  It also really showed that instead of being the sheltered woman that never really got out much, that Austen was a well-traveled woman for her time with a naughty sense of humor.  She also had extensive family beyond her immediate family that helped to influence her work.

I listened to an MP3 Audio version of this book through the library and it was a wonderful book to listen to while I worked on chores.  I’ve listened to books narrated by Kate Reading before and she does an excellent job and is a joy to listen too.  Another wonderful aspect of this book is that while I slowly listened to it, I also read other Austen inspired novels.  This book gave me a great understanding of different aspects of Austen’s novels that I didn’t have before.  I would recommend it as a “must-read” for anyone that loves Austen, and also a book of interest for anyone that would like to learn more about the history of early nineteenth century England.