Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

I have ambivalent feelings towards Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy. Everything I would label as a weakness is either justified within the text, or partially required by her allegiance to her inspiration: OthelloNew Boy is the latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare project which asks modern authors for retellings of Shakespeare’s works. Some of Chevalier’s nods to Othello are clever, but some are gimmicky because conflicts originally depicted between adults can’t be mapped 1:1 onto 11-year-olds at recess. Since every negative is at least partially justifiable, I’m going to break from my usual format and adopt a criticism/response style. I usually recommend books to people because I think they’ll enjoy them, but I’m going to recommend New Boy to hear what my fellow bloggers and friends make of it. read more

Review: The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers

book cover: the ballad of the sad cafe

Carson McCuller’s The Ballad of the Sad Café is my go-to book when coping with flight anxiety. It’s so absorbing that I can overlook minor turbulence while reading. I’ve read it six or seven times now with a year or two between readings. It’s phenomenal every time.

The story is simple: Miss Amelia is a jack-of-all-trades in a small, poor town. She handles a bit of everything and has become the wealthiest woman for miles. When a stranger claims to be her cousin, the town eagerly anticipates the sight of Miss Amelia tossing the con-man out on his ear. But she doesn’t. His presence effects some positive changes—she begins serving regular dinners at her store and becomes more generous—but Cousin Lymon’s slimy presence leaves everyone bracing for a fall. I first read this book for a college course and spent the next week picking it apart. I was less concerned with themes/symbolism than the question of why, WHY does Miss Amelia get so tangled with Cousin Lymon? read more

Review: House of Names by Colm Toibin

I joined NetGalley when I heard Colm Tóibín’s House of Names was available. My second major was in Classical Languages (Latin & Greek) and I’ve got a weak spot for mythology. Unlike other retellings which co-opt old themes for a modern take, Tóibín’s House of Names keeps the original names and plot basics. Before Agamemnon sails for Troy, he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to turn the wind in his favor. His devastated wife, Clytemnestra, plots his demise and kills him upon his return. This backdrop, which Tóibín swiftly sets up and delivers, stays true to the original but he alters the framing. The women—Clytemnestra and her daughters, Iphigenia and Electra—are in the foreground; Agamemnon and his son, Orestes, move to the back. read more

Review: Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin

As you can tell from my love letter to The North Water, I like books set in the arctic. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer right after my ballerina phase and just before my Indiana Jones phase. (Current phase: I want an office with a door.) I excitedly requested Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds of Winter from NetGalley when I saw the Franklin Expedition’s prominent place in the blurb:

In a journey shrouded in mystery and intrigue, Sir John Franklin’s 1895 campaign in search of the Northwest Passage ended in tragedy. All 129 men were lost to the ice, and nothing from the expedition was retrieved, including two rare and valuable Greenwich chronometers. When one of the chronometers appears a century and a half later in London, in pristine condition and crudely disguised as a Victorian carriage clock, new questions arise about what really happened on that expedition—and the fates of the men involved.

There are many new questions, but few answers. Most chapters are flashbacks to historical events, but two modern-day characters, Nelson and Fay, surface regularly to frame the historical anecdotes without quite tying them together. The best parts of Minds of Winter are the accounts of various expeditions sent to search for the Franklin Expedition and the fabled Northern Passage. read more