Book sampling: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Title: The Sentence
Author: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: November 9, 2021
Length: 387 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Sentence asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book.

A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading with murderous attention, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

The main character of The Sentence is Tookie, a Native American woman who is sentenced to sixty years in prison after a misadventure involving a corpse — a crime that we hear about in the opening chapter, presented in a practically comic manner. Her sentence is eventually commuted, but only after she serves many years. Prison changes Tookie, but one of the most lasting effects is that she becomes a voracious reader during that time. It’s only natural that she ends up working in a bookstore — Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, owned by a novelist named Louise. (And yes, Louise Erdrich does actually own Birchbark Books in Minneapolis in real life).

The book follows Tookie’s life as a bookseller, as a woman married to her longtime love Pollux, and as a survivor and a witness. She’s also a woman who’s haunted, literally — an annoying bookstore customer named Flora continues to visit the store even after her death, and Tookie becomes consumed by a need to understand the ghost’s motivations and how to be rid of her.

The Sentence was my book group’s pick for October, and reactions were decidedly mixed. While many appreciated the author’s magnificent way with words, the general sentiment was that the story itself was overly complicated and uneven in tone. Midway through, we’re in 2020, and the narrative becomes heavily focused on both COVID and the impact of George Floyd’s murder, so much so that it often feels more like narrative non-fiction.

I was very absorbed while reading the book, but in the end, I didn’t quite know what to make of it all. The story veers in all sorts of directions, and I’m not sure that the overall themes and messages hit home.

That said, the writing is amazing, so rather than attempting to write a thorough review, I thought I’d just share some favorite lines and passages:

I’m still not strictly rational. How could I be? I sell books.

Delight seems insubstantial; happiness feels more grounded; ecstasy is what I shoot for; satisfaction is hardest to attain.

Pen had started working here because she developed obsessions with female authors, alive and dead, and was having a May-December romance with Isak Dinesen’s stories.

When I creep into our bed, there is the joy and relief of a person entering a secret dimension. Here, I shall be useless. The world can go on without me. Here I shall be held by love.

Sometimes Jackie resented a perfectly good book because it ‘forced’ her to stay up all night.

I put my hand on my chest and closed my eyes. I have a dinosaur heart, cold, massive, indestructible, a thick meaty red. And I have a glass heart, tiny and pink, that can be shattered.

As it turned out, books were important, like food, fuel, heat, garbage collection, snow shoveling, and booze.

I stare at my husband’s face, the new cheekbones of a skinny man, his surprising beauty, and I decided to live for love again and take the change of another lifetime.

Beyond the terrific writing, I loved all the references to favorite books, so I was absolutely delighted to see that the book includes a section called Totally Biased List of Tookie’s Favorite Books at the end, with sections called things like “Ghost-Managing Book List”, “Short Perfect Novels”, “Sublime Books”, and more. I will definitely be returning to these reading lists for future inspiration!

Wrapping it all up — there were elements of The Sentence that I loved, and I’m happy to have read it, but I’m still not quite sure that it worked for me completely. I’m really curious to hear how others felt about this book. Have you read The Sentence? If so, please share your reaction!


Silly romance two-fer: A pair of mini-reviews

While traveling for a few days this past week, I read two romances that were very silly — one silly but entertaining, and one silly and annoying. Which is which? Read on…


Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto: This is the silly and entertaining one! Four Aunties and a Wedding, the follow-up to Dial A for Aunties, continues the hilariously ridiculous adventures of Meddy, a wedding photographer, and the four aunties who dominate her Chinese-Indonesian family. In this sequel, Meddy is finally about to marry the man of her dreams, but when she overhears her own wedding photographer plotting a murder and realizes that there’s going to be a mafia hit on her big day, she and the aunties spring into action to foil the evil plans. Shenanigans ensue — kidnappings, spontaneous Tai Chi, komodo dragon fascinators, and marijuana-laced cocktails, to name but a few of the outrageous obstacles that interfere with Meddy’s dream destination wedding.

This is a light, fast read, and I enjoyed it overall, but did find myself getting annoyed eventually by just how over-the-top the plot became, how the aunties and Meddy jumped to one false conclusion after another, and how these ridiculous circumstances completely ruined the wedding day. Fortunately, Meddy’s groom is far more understanding and loving and, well, just plain perfect than any ordinary man might be, so the couple gets their happy ending… and so what if zipties, druggings, and assassination attempts get in the way?

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos: Obviously, that leaves this book as the silly and annoying one! This Austen-inspired romance centers on a 39-year-old single mother whose business is failing. In desperation, she makes the obvious choice — to go to England and participate in what she thinks will be a documentary about Regency life, but turns out to be (drumroll, please…) a Regency-themed reality dating show. The prize is marriage to a wealthy British hottie (and $100,000), and Chloe is determined to win. To get to the prize, though, she must live in total Regency style, meaning chamber pots, no technology, food-based cosmetics, and constant chaperonage. This book was published in 2012, and feels a lot like an Austenland retread — and also feels pretty dated, in terms of attitudes toward relationships and female competition.

The plot really doesn’t make sense, the Regency affectations are applied inconsistently and weirdly (for example, the woman playing the role of Chloe’s chaperone is very pregnant, and has agreed to give birth Regency-style… WHY?). There are slapsticky misadventures, mistaken identity, and plain old nonsensical decisions. I finished the book, and I suppose it held my attention enough to make me want to see how it turned out, but I can’t say I recommend this one.

Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.


And there you have it! Fun romance, not-so-fun super annoying romance… and now I’d better switch up my reading for a bit and tackle something with a bit more there there.

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Book Review: Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Title: Honor
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this riveting and immersive novel, bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the story of two couples and the sometimes dangerous and heartbreaking challenges of love across a cultural divide.

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.

In this tender and evocative novel about love, hope, familial devotion, betrayal, and sacrifice, Thrity Umrigar shows us two courageous women trying to navigate how to be true to their homelands and themselves at the same time.

Honor is a powerful, painful book — it’s impossible to put down, and yet left me feeling practically bruised by the trauma experienced by its characters.

In Honor, expat Smita returns to India after 20 years abroad to fill in for her best friend and fellow journalist while she recovers from an injury. Smita’s friend was covering a sensational trial: A Hindu woman, Meena, horribly disfigured by the fire that killed her Muslim husband, is suing her two brothers, the men responsible for the horrendous attack. If she wins, they could face life imprisonment — but even if she does win, Meena can never get back what she lost.

Meena’s story of life in a small village stuck in old oppressive traditions and belief systems is counter-balanced by Smita’s own experiences and memories, which unfold slowly over the course of the novel. Smita and her family relocated to the US when she was a teen, but we don’t learn the circumstances until late in the book. Still, we know that something bad happened, enough for Smita to have sworn never to return to her homeland, instead living an austere, independent life, traveling the globe to report on gender issues worldwide. Meena’s case is perhaps too close and personal for Smita. She’s outraged and furious, struggling to maintain her journalistic distance, all the while becoming more invested in Meena’s life and in her own growing connection to Mohan, the man who acts as her travel companion and protector as she journeys to Meena’s village.

The interviews with the men of the village are simply terrible to read — the bigotry, sexism, and cruelty is impossible to fully express. Meena, now living in her husband’s village with her mother-in-law, fares no better there. She’s blamed for her husband’s death, considered a burden and a curse, and lives a life of pain and suffering, brightened only by her young daughter, the only remnant of her dream of a life with her beloved husband.

Through flashback scenes, we see Meena’s quiet bravery as she defies her brother’s control to first take a factory job (thereby supporting her brothers), then falling in love with someone she never should have met. The story of Meena and Abdul’s romance is sweet but piercing — we know already that tragedy awaits the couple, and that love can’t save them.

By the end of this tragic novel, Smita comes to understand more about herself, her childhood, and her country, and also finds a new sense of purpose in the aftermath of the trial. The ending is as uplifting as such an awful story can be, but there is hope left, even after all the terrible events and experiences.

Meena’s story is haunting and makes the bigger impression, but Smita’s personal journey is inspiring and moving as well.

All in all, Honor is a deeply moving and upsetting look at the concept of honor, both in a more modern society and in a tradition-bound, repressive community. I can see why it was chosen as a Hello, Sunshine pick earlier this year — it would make a great book group book, with plenty to discuss and ponder.

Book Review: The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau

Title: The Stand-Up Groomsman
Author: Jackie Lau
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 25, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A bridesmaid and groomsman put their differences aside to get their friends down the aisle in this opposites-attract steamy romantic comedy.

They say to never meet your heroes, but when Vivian Liao’s roommate gets engaged to her favorite actor’s costar, she has no choice but to come face-to-face with Melvin Lee again. He’s just as funny and handsome as he is on-screen…but thinks she is a snob and a sellout. It’s none of his business how she chooses to live her life, no matter how charismatic he is.

Mel is used to charming audiences as an actor and stand-up comedian but can’t connect to Vivian. She’s a smart, talented artist–which is why he thinks she’s wasting her life as a corporate finance drone. The only thing uniting them is their goal for the wedding to go off without a hitch.

As they collaborate on wedding cake and karaoke parties, Mel realizes he might have seriously misjudged this bridesmaid, while Vivian discovers the best man might just be as dazzling off-screen as he is on. With the wedding underway, maybe more than one happily ever after is in the future.

In this follow-up to Donut Fall In Love, a self-contained finance professional falls for a loud, outrageous stand-up comedian, and sparks fly — despite the fact that on the surface, at least, they’re complete opposites, and what’s worse, had an awful first meeting.

When Vivian meets Mel, she’s thrilled to be meeting the star of one of her favorite sitcoms. I mean, she’s done fan art about him! But he makes the mistake of assuming she’s like he used to be — someone pursuing a corporate paycheck rather than taking a chance and following their muse. Vivian is furious and would be happy to never see him again. Unfortunately for her, they’re going to be forced together over the coming year, as her roommate Lindsay has just become engaged to his best friend Ryan, and they’re both going to be in the wedding party.

As the wedding events seem designed to throw Vivian and Mel together, they form a tentative sort of connection, realizing that their outward differences mask some life experiences and personality quirks that make them more alike than they realized. Of course, the more time they spend together, they more their chemistry heats up, and it’s only for so long that they can deny that they’re better off as lovers than as enemies (or even frenemies).

The Stand-Up Groomsman is lots of fun, with tons of cute flirting, silly gift-giving, and shedding of inhibitions and defense mechanisms. I was impressed with the author’s ability to peel back the outer layers of the characters to show us how they’ve ended up where they are. Vivian confused me for much of the story — why was she so closed off? Why did she seem so unable to make connections or get involved with other people? But eventually, we learn more about her childhood and her parents’ expectations of her, and it finally all clicks and makes sense.

Melvin himself is all sorts of adorable. He and Vivian are both bisexual, and their frank conversations about sexuality are very refreshing — I haven’t come across all that many contemporary romance tales with such positive bi representation. (Mel’s bi identity is one of the many pieces of himself that becomes fodder for his stand-up routines, and it’s both sweet and funny to see how he works it into his set).

As the title indicates, Mel is a stand-up comedian as well as being a comedic actor. We see his stand-up shows throughout the book, and while some bits are quite funny, this is actually one part of the novel that perhaps didn’t work all that well for me. Reading a stand-up routine as part of a book’s narrative is just not the same as seeing a stand-up performance — and without the personality and physical presence, I just didn’t feel like the comedy translated all that well to the printed page.

That’s really just a minor quibble. Overall, The Stand-Up Groomsman is silly, sweet, and romantic, with some sexytimes in the mix too. (In terms of just how sexy, I’d rank this one as somewhere between steamy and graphic on my non-scientific, inexact ratings scale — it’s detailed and shows everything, but doesn’t cross into downright overly anatomical descriptions, if that makes any sense.)

On Goodreads, The Stand-Up Groomsman is listed as Donut Fall In Love, #2 — and yes, it is a sequel, but if you’re interested in this book, no need to get too hung up on reading the first book first. The couple from the first book are the wedding couple in this one, but really, you can read The Stand-Up Groomsman as a stand-alone and it’ll work just fine. (That said, Donut Fall In Love is super enjoyable, so why not read both?)

I’d definitely recommend The Stand-Up Groomsman for anyone looking for a light, contemporary romance with unusual characters and a sense of whimsy. Really a fun read!

Audiobook Review: Rules at the School by the Sea (Maggie Adair, #2) by Jenny Colgan

Title: Rules at the School by the Sea
Series: Maggie Adair / Little School by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Jilly Bond
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: Originally published 2010; reissued 2022
Print length: 288 pages
Audio length: 7 hours, 32 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s summer, but school is in session in the delightful second book of New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan’s utterly charming School by the Sea series, set at a girls’ boarding school in Cornwall.

For the second year at Downey House, it’s getting harder and harder to stick to the rules . . .

Maggie Adair’s first year as a teacher at Downey House was a surprising success. After making the leap from an inner-city school in Glasgow, she’s learned to appreciate the mellower pace of the girls’ boarding school by the sea.

Now engaged to her longtime boyfriend, sweet and steady Stan, Maggie’s just got to stop thinking about David McDonald, her colleague at the boys’ school down the road. Well, hasn’t she? Can Maggie take a leaf out of the Well Behaved Teacher’s exercise book and stick to her plan for a small but elegant wedding and settled life of matrimony?

Even as Maggie tries to stay within the lines, rules are being broken all around her. Maggie’s boss, headmistress Veronica Deveral, has more to lose than anyone. When Daniel Stapleton joins the faculty, Veronica finds herself forced to confront a scandalous secret she thought she’d carefully buried forever. How long will she be able to keep her past under wraps?

What does a new year of classes, rules, and camaraderie hold for the students and faculty at Downey House?

After listening to the first book in the Little School series, Welcome to the School by the Sea, I thought I’d wait a bit and enjoy the anticipation before listening to the second… but in the end, I just had to see what happens next!

In Rules at the School by the Sea, we start a new school year alongside teacher Maggie, headmistress Veronica, and the rambunctious group of girls — Simone, Fliss, and Alice — we got to know in the first book.

Maggie is much more settled into her life at Downey House. She’s more confident in her teaching abilities, and plans to grab her girls’ attention by focusing on romantic poetry from the World War I era during English lessons. Maggie and her long-time boyfriend Stan have recently become engaged, but Maggie seems to be in a bit of denial: She doesn’t really have any interest in wedding plans, and despite Stan’s urging, really doesn’t want to leave Downey House and look for a teaching job in Glasgow.

For Veronica, she’s both thrilled to have her biological son teaching at the nearby boys’ school, but also worried about whether news of her having once given up a baby for adoption will create a scandal among her staff and the parents. Meanwhile, she and Daniel are cautiously beginning to get to know one another, but Veronica is finding it almost impossible to balance her growing love for her son and his family with her deeply ingrained need for privacy.

And the girls — well, what can we say about a bunch of 14 (almost 15) -year-old girls in all their glorious confusion of hormones and growing up and still being so very young in so many ways? A new girl, Zelda — the daughter of a US army officer temporarily stationed in the UK — shakes up the group of friends with her brashness and American approach to school, while Fliss and Alice fall out over a boy and Simone takes Zelda up on her offer of a total image makeover. There are arguments and rule-breaking and hilarity, and it’s quite fun to see the girls’ petty squabbles as well as their friendship and commitment to one another.

Rules is quite a lot of fun, capturing the excitement of the school year from the perspective of the students as well as that of the teachers. Overall, I quite enjoyed this 2nd book, but I did feel particularly frustrated by Maggie’s romance story line.

Maggie has been with Stan for ages and cares for him, but she’s so clearly in love with (and better suited for) David, the English teacher from the boys’ school. Maggie spends the entire book trying to convince herself that her crush on David is just a passing phase, and that she really does want to marry Stan — but it’s entirely obvious that she and Stan have grown apart and want very different things out of their lives. It seemed as though there were plenty of opportunities for Maggie to face the truth and take responsibility for breaking off the engagement with Stan, but each time, she backtracks and recommits, even though she isn’t actually happy.

I know this back-and-forth love triangle stuff is supposed to add drama and tension, but after a while, it just makes it seem as though Maggie is emotionally unaware, and that doesn’t feel true to her character. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger ending in the final chapter, but it does appear that Maggie has finally had an epiphany and is on the verge of taking action… and I hope that’s really the case! (This is why I’ll probably grab the 3rd book the very first second that I can — I need to know what happens next!!)

On a more serious note, the problematic focus on Simone’s weight from book #1 continues here. Again, there’s nothing wrong with Simone making an effort to adopt healthy eating habits if that’s what feels right to her, but the over-emphasis on being slim in order to gain popularity and attract boys leads to an eating disorder for another of the girls in the group. On the one hand, I’m glad that the darker aspects of this focus on dieting are shown, but there’s still something very uncomfortable about how much weight and appearance matter in the girls’ lives. (Perhaps this is an aftereffect of the fact that this book was originally published in 2010 — if it were written today, I’d hope that the fat-shaming and focus on a specific standard for acceptable bodies would be addressed or eliminated altogether).

My frustration with the romance and the weight/dieting storylines aside, I did find Rules a sweet, entertaining, engaging read. I love how the storyline bounces between the adults and students, and how we get to see each sides’ attitudes and perceptions about the other. The characters are all quite endearing — even the obnoxious spoiled girls have something going for them — and the story as a whole is just such a yummy treat in the way it presents a somewhat idealized yet still modern-day version of life at a lovely boarding school.

This is the 2nd book in a series that was originally published over 10 years ago under a pseudonym, now being reissued with spiffed-up covers, titles, and the actual author’s name! The third reissue, Lessons at the School by the Sea, will be released in March 2023 — although since I have a paperback of the original version, I may have to read it much sooner. (Apparently, I am terrible at waiting.)

The audiobook is very enjoyable — I really liked the narrator’s approach to voicing the different characters. She does a very good job of capturing their personalities, although I found her version of an American/Texan accent for Zelda incredibly grating and overdone. Otherwise, though, it’s a charming listening experience.

And finally, one lovely bit is that the audiobook ends with a collection of Maggie’s poems — the poetry she teaches her class over the course of the school year. It was a sweet treat to get to hear all of these after the main story had concluded, and even though pieces of some of these are included earlier in the story, it was lovely to get to listen to them in their entirety. (My favorite of these is Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou — see the full text here).

Another nice little bit at the end — after finishing the audiobook, I picked up my paperback edition and discovered that the final piece included is step-by-step instructions for some of the dances that the girls learn, including The Dashing White Sergeant, Strip the Willow, and Eightsome Reel. (I can’t actually visualize the dances from reading the instructions, but seeing these pages is motivating me to go look for dance videos online.)

Wrapping it all up…

I love when a first book’s promise is delivered on in the second book, and that’s definitely the case with Rules at the School by the Sea. There’s much still unresolved plot-wise, but it’s wonderful to see these likable characters continue to learn and grow, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for all of them!

Book #3, to be released March 2023

Book Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne

Title: Lute
Author: Jennifer Thorne
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: October 4, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy/thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

On the idyllic island of Lute, every seventh summer, seven people die. No more, no less.

Lute and its inhabitants are blessed, year after year, with good weather, good health, and good fortune. They live a happy, superior life, untouched by the war that rages all around them. So it’s only fair that every seven years, on the day of the tithe, the island’s gift is honored.

Nina Treadway is new to The Day. A Florida girl by birth, she became a Lady through her marriage to Lord Treadway, whose family has long protected the island. Nina’s heard about The Day, of course. Heard about the horrific tragedies, the lives lost, but she doesn’t believe in it. It’s all superstitious nonsense. Stories told to keep newcomers at bay and youngsters in line.

Then The Day begins. And it’s a day of nightmares, of grief, of reckoning. But it is also a day of community. Of survival and strength. Of love, at its most pure and untamed. When The Day ends, Nina―and Lute―will never be the same. 

In the world of Lute, the residents of this peaceful place truly live in an island paradise. Lute is located in the Bristol Channel, a small place with one little village, a grove of trees, some goats, gorgeous views, and a manor house that’s been occupied by the Treadway family for centuries.

Lute is also a haven from a war-torn world. We’re never told exactly when this story is taking place, but it’s set at some indefinite point in the future when the entire world is engulfed in a devastating war… the entire world except for Lute, that is. While many of Lute’s residents have been drafted or volunteered to serve, the war itself has never touched the island — no invasions, no air raids. All is peaceful.

Nina Treadway, the main character, has lived on Lute for almost seven years, after meeting the son of Lord Treadway on an ocean voyage and then returning to the island with him after his father’s sudden death. After all her years on Lute with her husband and two children, Nina feels settled, but not truly a part of the island community. She doesn’t quite fit in with the townsfolk, and she accepts as quaint tradition the island lore about The Day.

What is The Day? Going back thousands of years, the islanders believe they live under the blessings of the old gods. In exchange for seven deaths on midsummer every seventh year, the island enjoys good weather, good fortune, and mostly importantly, peace. Nina scoffs at the stories, and really doesn’t believe that the good people of Lute actually believe in these stories that they tell.

But this is the seventh year, and as The Day approaches, the mood shifts to one of anticipation and dread. It can’t really be true… can it? These people can’t truly think that seven deaths are inevitable… can they?

Told in chapters that creep forward from three days before, to two days before, all the way through to The Day, which then unfolds pretty much hour by hour, Lute carries a growing feeling of anxiety and fear that’s hard to describe, but so impossible not to feel.

I wouldn’t describe Lute as a horror story — there’s very little in the way of gore or jump scares, and there’s no big bad lurking in corners. Still, I haven’t been this terrified reading a book in quite some time. The quiet creeping dread that builds and builds had my stomach in knots — and while part of me just absolutely did not want to know what was coming, another part simply couldn’t look away.

Lute is a fairly short book, and I think it’s probably best enjoyed in one big marathon read. I wish I’d been able to do that. By having to break up my reading time, it would take me a few beats before feeling immersed again, and that’s not at all the fault of the writing. This is a haunting, absorbing story that I think is best read by just diving in and staying with it to the end.

I’m not sure that I loved the wrap-up in the epilogue, although it does work. I also really did want to know more about the war and what was happening in the wider world… but then that would be a very different book. Those are my only quibbles, really.

All in all, I simply loved this book. The writing is beautiful and evocative and sets such an eerie, otherworldly tone. I loved getting to know the people of Lute, the history of the island, the origin of their legends, and the way the very rocks, waves, and trees seem to bring the mythology of the place to life. The beauty and isolation of Lute is presented as a blessing that comes with a price, and over the course of the book, we come to understand why the people of Lute are willing to pay that price, despite the pain and sorrows that come with it.

Lute is a very special reading experience. I highly recommend it.

Audiobook Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Title: I’m Glad My Mom Died
Author: Jennette McCurdy
Narrator: Jennette McCurdy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 9, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Audio length: 6 hours, 26 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair. 

My kids and I spent countless hours watching iCarly, and we always loved that crazy Sam character, with her wild antics and silly schemes and out-there sense of humor. But now, having read Jennette McCurdy’s painful, raw memoir, I don’t think I could ever watch iCarly in quite the same way again.

The Goodreads synopsis (above) doesn’t really do justice to this book — if anything, it goes light on the depths of abuse and trauma portrayed through Jennette’s story. There’s very little here I’d describe as “hilarious” — and the “joy of shampooing your own hair”? Please. As we find out in the book, she was not allowed to shower on her own until late in her teens. There’s nothing joyful about it.

From an absurdly young age, Jennette was conditioned to make her mother’s happiness the absolute focus of her life. From the annual family ritual of watching an old video of her mother’s dying message to her kids (from an earlier bout with cancer, which she survived for another 20 years or so) to her mother’s emotional meltdowns if Jennette voiced her desire to quit acting, the mother’s narcissism and need to be in control was the dominant influence in the family’s lives.

As she describes so meticulously and painfully, every aspect of her life and career was dictated by her mother’s wishes and need for the spotlight, even if only available vicariously through her daughter. Jennette’s preferences didn’t matter. She was forced into auditions, acting classes, hours of dance lessons per week, and the pursuit of any other skill that casting directors might want. In one anecdote, she relates that after not getting cast for a part that required bouncing on a pogo stick, her mother immediately bought a pogo stick and forced her to practice on it in their backyard until she could get to a bazillion bounces in a row. Anything in pursuit of fame and success.

Much more dire than the endless lessons and “beauty” treatments is the eating disorder. As she began developing breasts on the cusp of puberty, Jennette’s mother offered to help her stay childlike (and therefore, more castable) by teaching her about “calorie restriction”. Essentially, the mother taught her own child how to be anorexic.

In addition to the severely unhealthy mother-daughter relationship, further trauma was inflicted by the toxic working conditions on the Nickelodeon set, in particular in regard to the man referred to in the book as “The Creator”, whose behavior paints him as creepy, emotionally abusive, and invasive — as well as being the person who gave the very young actress her first taste of alcohol.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and I have to be honest, it’s a very tough listen. Jennette McCurdy’s delivery is full of personality, and she certainly knows how to use her voice to evoke and portray emotion — but the story she tells is so gut-wrenching that it can be really hard to hear. Somehow, listening to her voice her own story makes it that much more painful — it feels very personal and real.

I’m Glad My Mom Died has a provocative and controversial title, but I think her point is very well articulated through her writing. She examines how there’s a whole culture built up around putting mothers on pedestals, and how incredibly difficult it can be for someone with an abusive mother to understand that she wasn’t perfect, and that she was in fact responsible for so much of the trauma in her child’s life.

As I’ve said, this book is not easy. While there are some funny moments, and the actress’s trademark deadpan delivery can be really offbeat and startle a laugh out of the listener, it’s overall quite serious and heartbreaking. As well as the emotional, mental, and physical abuse, there are very frank discussions of eating disorders and addiction, so readers for whom those topics are triggering may want to consider whether this is the right choice for them.

Overall, I’m Glad My Mom Died is a strong, deeply sad memoir, told with honestly and blistering forthrightness. It’s uplifting to learn how far the author has come in her personal growth and recovery, but that doesn’t change the harrowing truths about her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Jennette McCurdy bravely shares her truth in this book and makes a lasting impression.

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Title: Lavender House
Author: Lev AC Rosen
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication date: October 18, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A delicious story from a new voice in suspense, Lev AC Rosen’s Lavender House is Knives Out with a queer historical twist.

Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.

When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

Lavender House opens with a desperate man in a bar having one last drink while contemplating suicide — before a broad in bright colors walks in.

She has a deep, sharp voice, and it cuts through the fog of drunkenness in my mind. She’s right out of a movie — she could ask me to kill her husband any second now.

In this noir-tinged murder mystery set in 1950s San Francisco, there’s no place to hide if you’re queer, and that’s especially true if you’re a cop. Our main character, Andy Mills, has just been fired from the SFPD after being caught in the act during a police sweep of gay bars. Broken, beaten, and with no hope, he’s having one last drink while considering throwing himself into the Bay, when Pearl walks into the bar.

Pearl is a classy older woman with an aura of money, and as Andy listens to her pitch, he learns something truly shocking: Pearl refers to her long-time companion Irene as her “wife”. How can two women possibly live a domestic, committed life together without persecution? Soon, Andy learns much more: Irene is the head of the Lamontaine family, who own a fabulously successful soap company known for its lush floral scents and secret formulations. With the Lamontaine money, Irene and Pearl are able to live a rich, free life within their secluded, gated estate in Marin, along with their son Henry, Henry’s partner Cliff (who poses publicly as Henry’s secretary), Henry’s wife Margo (again, a public-facing role), and Margo’s lover Elsie, who runs one of the most successful queer clubs in San Francisco, sheltered by generous payoffs to the police.

Henry turns and kisses him on the forehead. And everyone acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world. No one even seems to notice it happen. I’ve seen affection like that in the clubs before, sure. But here, in morning light, at a breakfast table, it’s like they’re so bright it makes my eyes hurt.

The Lamontaine’s idyllic life is devastated, however, by the event that’s brought Pearl to Andy: Irene is dead, and Pearl suspects murder. While the rest of the household believe the death was an unfortunate accident, Pearl thinks there’s something more sinister at play, and she invites Andy back to the mansion to investigate. As he takes up residence in a guest room and gets to know the family, Andy uncovers many secrets, but also sees both the freedoms and limitations of the family’s isolated lives, and considers whether he might ever find a way to live a freer, truer life himself.

There’s so much to love about Lavender House! First, the murder mystery itself is well developed, with an intriguing set-up, plenty of clues and red herrings, and a cast of characters who all seem like good people, until we’re forced to see other sides of them and wonder what lies beneath the friendly surfaces. This is a manor house mystery — an isolated, grand house, with each resident a suspect, and a detective in their midst, who may end up in grave danger himself. It’s quite deliciously built, as we get to know and like the various characters — but like Andy, we need to also look beyond the smiles and sympathetic conversations and to hold ourselves at a bit of a distance while we assess which of these people is a murderer.

Beyond the mystery itself, there’s also the historical setting and the depiction of gay life in the 1950s. The era shines through via the author’s descriptions of the bars and alleys and criminal life, as well as the music, clothing, and cars. But it’s the narration of Andy’s inner turmoil, the constant threat of discovery and the very real danger of beatings and abuse that give this book such a gritty, sad, realistic feel.

Even amidst the seemingly open life of the Lamontaine house, Andy is constantly aware of the redwood trees that line the drives, looking like prison bars, and the heavy gates that must be kept locked to keep the world out — and by extension, to keep the family locked within their private haven, unable to leave without putting on masks to shield them from the world.

As long as the world out there stays the same, a paradise like this keeps you in as much as it keeps you safe.

There’s so much sorrow in Andy’s experiences of living a secret life, his attempts to keep himself safe and his shame at not having done more to help others like him, his knowledge that the camaraderie he once experienced on the police force was erased in an instant the moment his true self was exposed, and the physical danger he faces simply by being spotted by someone who might recognize him. Through Andy’s investigation, we also learn more about the backgrounds of the various other inhabitants of Lavender House, and it’s a sad litany of secrets, shame, family disgrace, and abuse.

The murder is, of course, tied up neatly by the end of the book, and I thought the resolution was quite clever and not at all obvious. Andy’s life seems on the verge of a new beginning, and it’s wonderful to be able to leave him with a sense of hope. Life in the 1950s hasn’t magically changed, but he at least has options and a vision for how his life might be better. It felt as though the ending might be leaving the door open for additional mysteries starring Andy, and that would be amazing! Here’s hoping this is just the first in a continuing series.

I’m not at all surprised that I ended up loving this book. The author, Lev AC Rosen, has written some fabulous books already, including two gems that I think deserved much more attention than they got (All Men of Genius and Depth — go look them up and check them out!!). I haven’t read his YA novels yet, but they’re on my TBR list. In any case, Lavender House seems to be generating lots of buzz and is getting a big, splashy release, so I hope this is the book that will finally provide this talented author with a much bigger audience.

Lavender House is a fast-paced, intriguing mystery with a deep inner core of emotional impact and sensitivity, and I loved the sharp way the characters’ experiences enhanced the murder genre aspects of the story. This is a terrific new release for October — don’t miss it!

Audiobook Review: Welcome to the School by the Sea (Maggie Adair, #1) by Jenny Colgan

Title: Welcome to the School by the Sea
Series: Maggie Adair / Little School by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Jilly Bond
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: January 1, 2008 (reissued March 29, 2022)
Print length: 304 pages
Audio length: 7 hours, 54 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library (audiobook)
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book of Jenny Colgan’s delightful new four-part series, set at a charming English boarding school on the sea.

Maggie went to the window and opened it wide, inhaling the lovely salt air off the sea. Why had she never lived by the sea before? Why had she always looked out on housing estates and not the little white hulls of trawlers bobbing off in the distance?

It’s gloriously sunny in Cornwall as the school year starts at the little boarding school by the sea. Maggie, the newest teacher at Downey House, is determined to make her mark. She’s delighted by her new teaching job, but will it come at the expense of her relationship with her safe, dependable boyfriend Stan?

Simone is excited and nervous: she’s won a scholarship to the prestigious boarding school and wants to make her parents proud. Forced to share a room with the glossy, posh girls of Downey House, she needs to find a friend, fast.

Fliss is furious. She’s never wanted to go to boarding school and hates being sent away from her home. As Simone tries desperately to fit in, Fliss tries desperately to get out.

Over the course of one year, friendships will bloom and lives will be changed forever. Life at the Little School by the Sea is never dull…

Jenny Colgan books are always a treat, and this one was an especially nice surprise! Originally published under the pseudonym Jane Beaton starting in 2008, the three books in this series were hard to find in the US, and I finally landed copies of the UK editions (titled Class, Rules, and Lessons) by ordering via EBay.

The series is now being reissued by Avon, with books 1 and 2 available, and #3 coming in early 2023. Although I’ve had my paperbacks for several years, seeing the new editions made me realize that it was finally time to give this series a try!

The books are set at an English boarding school, Downey House, located in a beautiful old manor house on the shores of Cornwall. While there are several point-of-view characters, our lead character is Maggie Adair, a young teacher from Glasgow who applies to Downey House on a whim. Maggie cares deeply about education and providing opportunities for youth, but she’s frustrated by her early years of teaching in an underfunded school where the headmaster doesn’t even bother learning new teachers’ names, since he’s sure they won’t last. Maggie spends her days on discipline and making sure her students are safe and have food, rather than being able to actually teach her beloved literature.

The job offer at Downey is a surprise to Maggie, as well as to her long-term boyfriend Stan, a good-natured guy who just wants life to continue as it’s been, with pub quizzes and a non-changing status quo. But Maggie sees Downey as an opportunity to truly stretch herself and grow as a teacher, and hopes to one day bring what she’s learned there back to Glasgow and its lackluster schools.

Downey House is run by the stern but impressive headmistress Veronica Deveral, who has secrets of her own. It’s an all-girls school, with a partner boys’ school just down the road. Students enter at age 13 and continue on for six years. Most are from hyper-privileged families, with money (oodles of it), fancy homes and vacations, and the clear impression that the world is theirs. Not all, though — there are the occasional scholarship students, and one of these is Simone (originally with the last name Kardashian, but changed for the new editions to Pribetich).

Simone is from a working-class Armenian-British family, a brilliant girl who’s shy and insecure after years of bullying in her local school. Downey is a chance for her to shine, but even there, she’s ostracized by her classmates from day one because of her looks, her background, and her embarassing family.

Then there’s Fliss, the younger daughter of a very popular older student (she’s a prefect!), who absolutely doesn’t want to leave her friends back home and go to a stupid posh school. Fliss is determined to get kicked out, so she breaks rules, has a nasty attitude, and teams up with one of the worst girls there to cause trouble and act up.

Maggie has a hard time fitting in at first, and the girls are obnoxious as hell about her Scottish accent. Still, she’s clearly a gifted teacher, if a bit headstrong, and begins to make a difference, and she finds a friend in the glamorous French teacher (who smokes contraband cigarettes out the window) and the dashing English teacher from the boys’ school.

Jenny Colgan writes in her author’s note that she grew up loving boarding school books, but not being able to find any for grown-ups, she decided to write some! Reading this book, it occurs to me that everything I know about English boarding schools basically comes from Harry Potter! I mean, prior to HP, I’d never heard of school houses or prefects or any of the other terms and concepts of this type of school — but reading Welcome to the School by the Sea, I had fun seeing how pieces I assumed were Hogwarts-specific are actually just elements of a boarding school (sans magic).

At Downey, the girls are divided into four houses (Wessex, Plantagenet, York, and Tudor), and live in house dorms with their classmates. There are school uniforms, mandatory sports sessions, classes and exams, and annoying teachers to gossip about. There are also pranks, holidays, performances, and competitions, as you’d expect in this kind of story.

I really enjoyed the interplay between the characters, and appreciated that the characters we spend the most time with (Maggie, Veronica, Fliss, and Simone) are each given well-developed backstories and their own sets of challenges and adventures.

Maggie’s romantic life quickly develops into a love triangle. Stan is not supportive of her new position and gives her a very hard time about it for most of the book. He’s a lovable doofus, and Maggie has been with him since they were teens — but clearly, he’s not the right guy for her. Underneath his mocking and lack of support, he does truly care for Maggie, but even though they stay together, we know this won’t last. Meanwhile, David from the boys’ school is surprising, fun, and very much in tune with Maggie in terms of dedication to education, and they seem to work. The triangle is left hanging by the end of the book, but it seems pretty obvious that the Maggie/David pairing is end-game for this series.

A few bits seem dated, or perhaps don’t quite fit with current sensitivities. For me, the most annoying was the emphasis on Simone’s weight. When she arrives at Downey, she’s quite heavy. It’s clear that she’s been overindulged with sweets by her doting mother, and due to the bullying she grew up with, has found refuge in food and has always tried to avoid further ridicule by shying away from physical activity. That’s all fine, as far as backstory goes, but she continues to be referred to as chubby or fat throughout the book, and after a while, it starts to feel like too much. The fact is, at Downey, she discovers that she’s a gifted field hockey goalie and starts to eat a healthier diet away from her mother’s influence, so whether or not she’s still plus-sized, she’s definitely getting healthy, and that should be applauded.

Other than that, there’s some mean girl business that’s a bit too obvious, but I was happy to see unexpected friendships formed by the end of the first year, and assume we’ll see these characters and their relationships continue to grow in the next books.

The audiobook is quite fun to listen to (although the audiobook uses Simone’s original last name, so it’s a little inconsistent when compared to print editions). At the start, I found the audiobook hard to follow, as we’re introduced to so many characters right away, each with their own POV sections. After a while, it becomes clearer, and I appreciated the narrator’s ability to give the various characters their own distinct voices.

Overall, this is a fun, engaging listen, and I can’t wait for more! Book #2 (Rules at the School by the Sea) is now available, so I’m already in the queue for it at the library, and I hope to listen to the 3rd as soon as it’s released. As for additional books, the synopsis (above) refers to this as a four-book series, although in the author’s notes, she mentions intending to write six books… but as of this moment, I don’t see anything specific online about books beyond the current three.

If you’ve visited my blog over the past few years, you may have noticed that I’m a Jenny Colgan fan. It’s true!! Her books are sweet, good-humored, and full of engaging, funny characters, and she excels at building a fictional community around key lovable, memorable characters. I can’t get enough, and I’m always excited for her new releases. Bring on Rules… and keep ’em coming!

Book Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (Classics Club Spin #31)

Title: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Author: Mark Twain
Publication date: 1889
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis (Goodreads):

One of the greatest satires in American literature, Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ begins when Hank Morgan, a skilled mechanic in a nineteenth-century New England arms factory, is struck on the head during a quarrel and awakens to find himself among the knights and magicians of King Arthur’s Camelot. The ‘Yankee’ vows brashly to “boss the whole country inside of three weeks” and embarks on an ambitious plan to modernize Camelot with 19th c. industrial inventions like electricity and gunfire. It isn’t long before all hell breaks loose!

Written in 1889, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is one of literature’s first genre mash-ups and one of the first works to feature time travel. It is one of the best known Twain stories, and also one of his most unique. Twain uses the work to launch a social commentary on contemporary society, a thinly veiled critique of the contemporary times despite the Old World setting.

While the dark pessimism that would fully blossom in Twain’s later works can be discerned in ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, ‘ the novel will nevertheless be remembered primarily for its wild leaps of imagination, brilliant wit, and entertaining storytelling.

And from Wikipedia:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Some early editions are titled A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.

In the book, a Yankee engineer from Connecticut named Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur. After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur’s knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician. He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people’s lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time, which grows fearful of his power.

Twain wrote the book as a burlesque of Romantic notions of chivalry after being inspired by a dream in which he was a knight himself, severely inconvenienced by the weight and cumbersome nature of his armor. It is a satire of feudalism and monarchy that also celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values while questioning the ideals of capitalism and outcomes of the Industrial Revolution. It is among several works by Twain and his contemporaries that mark the transition from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era of socioeconomic discourse. It is often cited as a formative example of the time travel genre.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is my fall 2022 Classics Club Spin book, and once again, I’m delighted that the CCSpin has given me reason to finally read a classic that I might never have considered otherwise.

Way back in my middle school days, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were both required reading, and that was about it in terms of my experience with Mark Twain. Still, I’d been more or less familiar with the general plot of this book as well as The Prince and the Pauper, which have both been adapted and retold in countless formats over the years.

1889 frontispiece by Daniel Carter Beard, restored

In Connecticut Yankee, a “modern” man of the 1880s finds himself transported back in time to the world of King Arthur. Being a proud Yankee, our narrator isn’t content to just find a way to fit in and survive, but instead decides to bring 19th century civilization to life a full thirteen centuries early.

First, seeing the power that Merlin holds over King Arthur and his court, the narrator proclaims himself to be an even greater magician, and uses his 19th century scientific knowledge to create supposed miracles — for example, using dynamite and fireworks — to astound and frighten everyone there. Quickly, he is given the title of “the Boss”, second only to Arthur himself in power and authority.

From there, the Boss begins a plan to introduce modern technology to the kingdom, instituting factories, newspapers, electricity, schools, currency, and more. Determined to improve health and sanitation, he introduces soap, then has the knights roam the countryside carrying advertising shingles to promote it! Of course, obstacles arise, and the Boss finds himself challenged and inconvenienced many times throughout his adventures, but his knowledge of unknown mechanics, science, and communication techniques help him triumph, again and again.

The writing in Connecticut Yankee is sly, sardonic, and often outright funny. From the earliest chapters, I was charmed and entertained, as in this encounter with a young boy as the narrator enters the court at Camelot:

He arrived, looked me over with a smiling and impudent curiosity; said he had come for me, and informed me that he was a page.

“Go ‘long,” I said, “you ain’t more than a paragraph.”

Mark Twain satirizes and skewers concepts of class throughout the book, as the main character — while appreciative of Arthur himself — is determined to do away with nobility, chivalry, and all the inherent injustices of a societal order that holds some people to be better than others.

Intellectual ‘work’ is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer, is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the magician with the fiddle-bow in his hand, who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him – why, certainly he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it’s a sarcasm just the same. The law of work does seem utterly unfair – but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash also.

The application of justice, as portrayed in this book, is particularly brutal, and there’s one especially heartbreaking scene of a young desperate mother’s punishment that’s truly haunting.

Still, even during scenes of great violence or inhumanity, Twain’s humor shines through. Even the more serious situations are lightened by his skill with words, and I couldn’t help laughing at so many of the small little lines and comments that are thrown in throughout the story.

His head was an hour-glass; it could stow an idea, but it had to do it a grain at a time, not the whole idea at once.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is an early example of a time-travel novel, and while the genre has certainly changed over the years, it’s a fun look at the concept. Mark Twain does it well, showing both the influence of the 19th century on Arthurian times and offering a solid set of circumstances to explain why history continue on as expected.

There have been many, many movie and TV adaptations of this story over the years, including a musical version from 1949 starring Bing Crosby, a 1989 TV movie starring Keshia Knight-Pulliam, and a really strange-looking 1995 movie called A Young Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, starring Michael York as Merlin and featuring a guitar-playing teen in the lead role.

I’d decided to read Connecticut Yankee via the Serial Reader app — which I did — but instead of sticking to just one 10-minute installment per day, I got caught up in the story and finished well ahead of the October 30th deadline. I expected to be interested in the story, but I didn’t realize just how entertaining it would turn out to be.

I’m really glad to have read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I’m not sure that I’d pick up more Mark Twain immediately, but I think at some point, I’ll want to read more of his works, perhaps venturing into some of his non-fiction writing.

Are you a Mark Twain fan? Which of his books would you recommend?

Once again, I’m so happy that I decided to participate in the Classics Club Spin! Looking forward to the next one!