Emily Faithfull, a leader in the early feminist movement in Victorian England, is drawn back into the life of an old friend and then becomes embroiled in her divorce case.
I didn’t realize until I got to the afterword that The Sealed Letter was a historical novel about actual people and events. Learning that made the book much more interesting to me. The story is told from the points of view of the three members of a triangle, of sorts. Fido (Emily Faitfull) is an independent woman working for the Cause (women’s rights) when she encounters–by chance, it seems–her old friend Helen Codrington, whom she thought cut her out of her life long ago. Fido is drawn back into friendship with Helen when she becomes an unwilling participant in the divorce case brought by her husband against her, a reluctant witness for both sides.
Because of the shifting points of view, we get to know and sympathize with all three characters, who seem caught up in a scandal that becomes much larger than themselves. While Helen is the least sympathetic, as she is clearly cheating on her husband, she is still trapped in a loveless marriage formed when she was too young to know any better, and her husband takes away her children without even allowing her a final goodbye, underscoring how few legal rights women had during this period. Fido, despite her independence and self-reliance, comes across as too naive and trusting, as well as too much in love, something she won’t even admit to herself. And Henry, the husband, is ultimately a man of principle, despite his cruel actions toward his wife. There are no winners here, but the playing out of the scandal and the legal machinations are fascinating.
My main complaint is that the story takes a bit too long to get rolling, and it seems to get bogged down at several points. It took me a while to actually get involved with the characters. There is a twist at the end, but it’s one that perceptive readers will see coming. I appreciated the great amount of research Donoghue must have done to bring these historical characters to life, and I enjoyed learning about a part of British history and the feminist movement that I wasn’t familiar with. I will be sure to seek out more books by Donoghue.
If you liked this book, you may also like: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
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Tags: 19th century history, Biographical fiction, Divorce, Emily Faithfull, Emma Donoghue, England, Great Britain, Historical fiction, London, Love triangles, Sealed Letter, Women
Almost always, things are exactly as they appear. People are continually looking at the painful or boring parts of life with the half-hidden expectation that there is more going on beneath the surface, some saving grace or deeper meaning that will eventually be unveiled; we’re waiting for the shocking reveal, the sudden twist of fate. But almost always things just are what they are, almost always there’s no glittering ore hidden under the dirt.
In the final installment of The Last Policeman trilogy, former detective Hank Palace travels to Ohio searching for his sister in the last days before an asteroid will impact the Earth.
I happened upon these books quite by accident, and was fortunate enough to receive the last two as LibraryThing Early Reviewer wins, and I’m so glad I discovered this writer. Even as a fan of apocalyptic literature, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this series. On the surface, these novels follow the tropes of the police procedural, but they are set in the Earth’s final months, weeks, and days before an extinction-level impact with an asteroid, which casts an existential pall over Palace’s sleuthing. Even as we get down to the wire, he remains true to his character, doggedly pursuing leads and documenting evidence, and still wondering whether he’ll ever succeed as a detective.
Palace’s journey takes him to surprising places in the final book, far from his home state of New Hampshire where the first two novels were set. He journeys through an America that seems to have emptied out; the world has become like a haunted house, empty and creepy, with half-seen shadows lurking in the corners. Searching for his sister, Nico, who disappeared with a group of conspiracy nuts convinced they could stop the asteroid in the last book (Countdown City), Palace instead discovers a body in the woods near an abandoned police substation in Ohio–a woman with a slit throat who turns out to be not quite dead. Convinced she is linked to his sister somehow, he follows the clues, which bring him into contact with different people sitting out the last days in their own ways. The story slowly transforms from a detective story into something a lot more existential, a meditation on our species’ purpose and whether it was chance or fate that brought us to this end. This is a moody, introspective story, and despite having a couple of traveling companions (his dog and a grifter also tagging along from the previous book), Palace seems utterly alone, at least until the end.
This series just got better as it went along, and this last book was the best one yet, probably destined to be one of my favorite reads of the year. I can’t recommend these books enough to fans of either crime fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction who are looking for something truly new and different.
I received an advance copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
If you liked this book, you may also like: A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren
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Tags: Apocalyptic stories, Ben H Winters, Detective and mystery stories, Police, Science fiction, Suspense fiction, The Last Policeman, World of Trouble
Months after someone plows a Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers, the killer sends a taunting letter to the lead investigator on the case, now retired, prompting him to restart the investigation as an amateur detective.
Mr. Mercedes represents a departure for Stephen King from the horror genre he is best known for, which is refreshing for long-time fans like me who feared his more recent offerings had become somewhat repetitive. There isn’t a single supernatural element in this crime novel, although there is plenty to make your stomach turn, with a truly reprehensible villain whose head King takes us into. Although King is trying his hand at the crime genre, he shakes it up a little by making his detective a retired cop, instead of an active-duty one, and by giving him a couple of unusual sidekicks. This novel does have two typical King trademarks: engaging characters whom the reader comes to care about, and a fast-paced, suspenseful plot that keeps the pages turning. There are also one or two surprises along the way (including one scene that I won’t reveal but that just made the book for me, it was so unexpected but perfectly right). While Mr. Mercedes does not stand out as a great Stephen King novel that I’ll want to read again and again, it is a very entertaining read, which makes it a perfect mid-summer release, just in time for beach reading season.
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Tags: Crime fiction, Horror, Mercedes automobiles, Mr. Mercedes, Serial murderers, Stephen King, Suspense fiction, Vacation
July is vacation month for us. For me, the ideal vacation book is a suspenseful page-turner, something I don’t mind reading for hours on end by the pool or on the beach. Or it’s something light and romantic, preferably set in an exotic location or another time. I haven’t yet picked out my vacation reading for this year, although I have several candidates on the “to read” pile, including the latest Stephen King. But here are my top 5 picks for vacation reading culled from my past reads. What are yours?
1. The Ruins by Scott Smith: This is the ideal vacation book. You won’t be able to put it down, it’s set in exotic Mexico among Mayan ruins, and the characters in it are also on vacation!
2. Bag of Bones by Stephen King: King’s big potboilers are tailor-made for beach reading. If you missed this one, it’s a steamy, spooky ghost story set at a summer home on a Maine lake.
3. Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore: It’s set on a South Pacific island, it’s funny, it’s got a lot of action, it’s a perfect vacation read.
4. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A historical setting, a romantic story, and lots of action make this a great candidate for reading by the pool.
5. Little Children by Tom Perrotta: A long, hot summer in suburbia.
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Tags: Beach books, Vacation
This month, I concentrated on reading science fiction and fantasy written by women. My selections ran the gamut from historical fantasy to post-apocalyptic dystopia to feminist speculative fiction to near-future science fiction. I didn’t get to read all five of my selections (Ammonite was the one I didn’t get to), but I’m not going to stop reading SF/F written by women. There are so many more great books to discover, and new ones coming out all the time.
This was a group read over at LibraryThing, and everyone shared what they were reading. I’ve compiled all their selections into a reading list, for my future reading and to give you a starting place for your reading. I’ve linked to books that I’ve reviewed on this blog, and I’ve starred the books that I’ve already read. I hope you discover some great new authors, just as I have this month!
Books are listed in alphabetical order by author:
- Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor
- Emily Anthes: Frankenstein’s Cat
- Catherine Asaro: Sunrise Alley
- Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale*; The Penelopiad
- Elizabeth Bear: Steles of the Sky
- Carol Berg: The Daemon Prism
- Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girls
- Holly Black: Tithe; Zombies vs. Unicorns
- Elizabeth Blackwell: While Beauty Slept
- Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Forest House
- Marie Brennan: The Tropic of Serpents
- Lois McMaster Bujold: Borders of Infinity; Brothers in Arms; Cetaganda; Cordelia’s Honor; The Curse of Chalion; Ethan of Athos; The Hallowed Hunt; Mirror Dance; The Vor Game
- Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents*
- Elizabeth C. Bunce: A Curse as Dark as Gold
- Gail Carriger: Soulless
- Susan Cooper: Over Sea, Under Stone
- Ariel Djanakian: The Office of Mercy*
- Susan Ee: World After
- Amy S. Foster: When Autumn Leaves
- Kerstin Gier: Sapphire Blue
- Elizabeth Goudge: Linnets and Valerians
- Sally Green: Half Bad
- Kate Griffin: The Minority Council
- Nicola Griffith: Ammonite
- Barbara Hambley: Dragonsbane
- Laurell K. Hamilton: A Shiver of Light
- Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life; A Discovery of Witches**; Shadow of Night **I started this one but didn’t finish it.**
- Alice Hoffman: The Probable Future
- Dianna Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle
- Sherrilyn Kenyon: Born of Night
- Katherine Kurtz: Childe Morgan; The Harrowing of Gwynedd
- Madeleine L’Engle: A Ring of Endless Light
- Mercedes Lackey: The Sleeping Beauty
- Ursula K. Le Guin: The Dispossessed*; The Lathe of Heaven*; The Left Hand of Darkness*; The Other Wind; The Tombs of Atuan; A Wizard of Earthsea*; Worlds of Exile and Illusion*; The Word for World Is Forest*
- Anne Leckie: Ancillary Justice
- Ann Leonard: Moth and Spark
- Kate Locke: The Queen Is Dead
- Helen Lowe: Thornspell
- Lois Lowry: Gathering Blue
- Louise Marley: The Child Goddess; The Terrorists of Irustan
- Maureen F. McHugh: China Mountain Zhang* (review forthcoming)
- Vonda N. McIntyre: Enterprise: The First Adventure
- Robin McKinley: The Blue Sword; Sunshine
- Liane Merciel: The River Kings’ Road
- Marissa Meyer: Cinder; Cress; Scarlet
- Audrey Niffenegger: Raven Girl
- Nnendi Okorafor: Who Fears Death
- Danielle Paige: Dorothy Must Die; No Place Like Oz
- Laline Paull: The Bees
- Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time
- Anne Rice: Prince Lestat; The Wolf Gift
- Joanna Russ: The Female Man* (review forthcoming)
- Karen Russell: Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories
- Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow*
- Stephanie Saulter: Gemsigns
- Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel
- Mary Shelley: Frankenstein* (arguably the first science fiction novel)
- Dana Stabenow: Second Star
- Mary Staton: From the Legend of Biel
- Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes
- Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Dreams of Gods & Monsters
- Sheri S. Tepper: Beauty*; The Family Tree; The Gate to Women’s Country*; Grass*; Jinian Footseer; The True Game
- Debbie Viguie: Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of “The Little Mermaid”
- Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Jinni*
- Connie Willis: Doomsday Book*
- Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
- Jane Yolen: Briar Rose
- Sarah Zettel: Dust Girl
Filed under: Genres, Reading Lists | 8 Comments
Tags: Fantasy, Science fiction, Women writers, Women's SF and Fantasy
Originally posted on Shannon Turlington:
In a recent post, I discussed trying to read books written by women. This led me to consider which women authors I would recommend, and I came up with a list of books by women that I think are entertaining and enlightening reads. Of course, I am not the only person to have come up with such a list, and if you are so inclined, you can find 50, 100, or even 500 more books by women to fill up your “to read” shelf.
Here is my list (my absolute favorite books are starred and my favorite women authors are bolded):
- Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
- Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye; The Handmaid’s Tale*; Oryx and Crake*
- Jane Austen: Emma; Persuasion; Pride and Prejudice*
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre*
- Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents
- Kate Chopin: The Awakening
- Daphne du…
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Tags: Women writers
This book has an interesting fairy-tale premise. The two protagonists are non-human creatures (with very human emotions) from two distinct cultures. The Golem is made of clay and brought to life by a Jewish mystic; she is intended to be the wife of the man who commissioned her, but he died on the voyage to New York. The Jinni was imprisoned in a bottle for a thousand years, only released accidentally when a tinsmith attempts to repair the bottle, but is still trapped in human form. They are both unusual immigrants to America, trying to fit in but aware they do not belong, without master or purpose. Then they find each other and instantly recognize their commonality. So they become friends, and an unlikely romance blooms.
The setting that Wecker creates is fantastically detailed. As the Golem and Jinni explore New York, she shows all sides of the bustling, growing city, from the Jewish neighborhoods and little Syria, to the rooftops of tenements, the houses of the wealthy, and the immensity of Central Park. The city was my favorite character in the novel, followed by the Jinni, who I felt we got to know the best–probably because so much (too much?) of his back story was provided.
My quibbles are mainly with the book’s length, which I felt was excessive. There seems to be a tendency now to let novels run long, which is not good for a reader who finds getting through all those pages becoming tedious. I felt this when reading The Goldfinch, and again while reading this novel. I generally love long novels, but they must be truly epic to deserve the length, set in an immense world with a large cast of characters we can come to know. (My favorite examples are probably The Stand, Game of Thrones and Lonesome Dove.) This book is not an epic, nor should it be. It could have used a bit of editing, and the plot seems to drift untethered just for the sake of adding more words.
I also was mystified by the Golem’s character. I didn’t really understand what she was exactly. She comes across as human, with human emotions, and I couldn’t figure out if they were her feelings innately or if they were imbued in her by her creator. Her struggle with her monstrous side –the golem is described as inevitably losing control and going on a rampage–isn’t as pronounced as I thought it should be.
Another character that disappointed me was Sophia, the daughter of a wealthy family who is seduced early on by the Jinni. She was the character who most intrigued me, representing perhaps a change in values from 19th century to 20th century. But her character gets short shrift, in my opinion, and her story is not satisfactorily concluded.
The Golem and the Jinni was a book I liked but didn’t love. I enjoyed the insertion of fantastical elements into a historical setting, and also learning about mythical creatures that we don’t usually see in fantasy. I did feel, though, that it could have been a better book, and a shorter one.
If you liked this book, then you may also like: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
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Tags: Fantasy fiction, Friendship, Golem, Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker, Historical fantasy, Historical fiction, Jewish mythology, Jinn, Mythic stories, Mythology--Arab, New York, Rabbis, Women's SF and Fantasy