Historical Fiction, Reviews, World Literature

Review: An Irish Country Doctor (Irish Country #1)

An Irish Country DoctorAn Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My mother and I share a love of stories from the British Isles – TV shows, books, or movies, it doesn’t matter – so after reading this first installment of Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country series, she recommended it to me and I decided that March was the perfect time for this story.

All’s well that ends well in this delightful tale of a small Northern Irish village as seen through the eyes of a newcomer in the form of a young doctor apprenticed to the village’s GP. The novel is filled with the requisite oddball characters and funny moments I expected but because of the novel’s medical framework, it also deals with the realities of small-town medicine, and life and death. The point of view of Dr. Laverty, too, lends the narrative some weight with a message about not judging people – or places – too quickly. All in all An Irish Country Doctor is a joy to read, especially if you want to travel to another time and place for a nice escape.

Although I haven’t yet read any, reading An Irish Country Doctor brought to mind James Herriot’s series of memoirs based on his life as a country veterinarian and the TV show based on them that I did watch as a child.  So if you like stories with a sense of humor,  and a delightful cast of characters set against a medical backdrop like An Irish Country Doctor, you may also enjoy Nick Trout’s The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Paris Hours

The Paris HoursThe Paris Hours by Alex George

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

I am torn over my rating of Alex George’s upcoming novel, The Paris Hours: A Novel, an ARC I received through Goodreads.com. The historical drama is set in 1927 in interwar Paris, a time and place that saw much creative innovation and was populated with many cultural icons but was also filled with the struggles, hidden pain, and cautious hope of those that had endured WWI and were still dealing with its consequences. While many of the famous faces that could be seen and heard in Paris during those years appear and often take part in the narrative of The Paris Hours, the focus is on the lives of four seemingly unconnected French citizens each with their secret post-war struggles – Guillaume, a penniless artist surrounded by this historical gathering of genius but unable to make a name for himself; Camille, an innkeeper, and mother haunted by the loss of her employer and friend, Marcel Proust; Jean-Paul, a journalist who longs to leave Paris and the memories it holds of those he’s lost but hope chains him to the city, and Souren, an Armenian refugee who has seen unspeakable horrors and carries with him a guilt over having survived.
These characters are richly drawn and the reader quickly comes to care for them even as each alludes to unforgivable transgressions. The reader is left wondering what these secrets and betrayals are until the climactic scene at the nightclub, Le Chat Blanc. The journey to this scene with its descriptions of 1920s Paris is also beautifully written even when describing the less beautiful areas of the city. With each mention of a street name or a bridge, a park or a cafe, I felt as if I were traversing the city along with the lonely characters.
The novel and its secrets stealthily inhabit your mind until you find yourself trying to figure out how the characters fit together and learn their terrible secrets before the author reveals them instead of sleeping or working as you should be. The reason I find myself torn comes from all of the questions the novel leaves unanswered at the end. The reader is left to imagine how the characters’ stories end, ending at what could have been the most dramatic scene of all. I can imagine many things but after spending so much time getting to know the characters, I want to know what happens to them.

Note:  My favorite celebrity cameo in the novel is the composer Maurice Ravel.  I kept wondering what the heartbreaking piece he kept playing was so I thank Alex George for telling us in his notes at the end of the book.  I’ve since listened to the piece and plan to download it as soon as possible.  Gorgeous.

If you enjoy novels with lots of secrets, unexpected connections, and surprising twists at the end like The Paris Hours, then you may also enjoy M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, or Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s The Book of Secrets.  And I definitely recommend (again) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

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Biography/Memoir, Comics, Reviews

Funny Like Sunday Morning

I don’t remember a time when I did love Charles Schulz’s brilliant comic strip Peanuts, first encountering Charlie Brown and friends through their holiday TV specials – it isn’t Halloween until you’ve sat in that pumpkin patch with Linus anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, and you know it is Christmas when the gang starts singing around the once sad, lonely little tree.  Once I learned to read, one of my favorite things was poring over the Sunday funnies.  The simplicity of those three or four panels makes comic strips appealing to young readers.  I’ve never lost that joy.

peanuts4
December 23, 1952

It wasn’t until I re-read some of my favorites, particularly Peanuts, that I realized that they aren’t written for children.  As a child, I thought that the funny page was a section specifically for children but there are ideas and jokes in the comics that you only understand with age.  So now, while I still read the daily comics, I also go back to the books of comic strip collections I’ve been collecting since childhood and get more out of them than ever.  Peanuts, in particular, has more to offer as the reader experiences more of life.

The latest addition to my collection is The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 1:  1950-1952PeanutsThese earliest strips are not the Peanuts I know and love but it is fascinating to watch the strip evolve from its somewhat meanspirited beginnings to something more recognizable as Schulz added characters and they came into their own. What is really great about this particular collection, is the biography and the lengthy interview with Schulz that appears at the end of the book.  These sections are entertaining and informative about the great cartoonist and the art of comic strip creation.

While Peanuts is considered to be the gold standard of modern comics, here are a few of my other favorites:  

Garfield by Jim Davis (mostly for nostalgic reasons)

For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston (the chronological story is like watching a soap opera but with better writing and a better sense of humor)

The Far Side by Gary Larson (that twisted sense of humor)

Baby Blues by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott (Hammie is a direct descendant of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and if I had a daughter, I feel like she would be a lot like Zoe)

Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson (it’s almost like the creators have cameras on my parents)

 Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (in my opinion this is the pinnacle of comic strip artistry and humor).  

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3)

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

The Winter of the Witch, the third installment of Katherine Arden’s wonderful Winternight Trilogy is a gorgeous, thrilling, heartbreaking, horrifying, magical, and, yes, romantic conclusion to the series. As with the first two books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, there are plenty of elements of the fantastic mixed seamlessly with the historical. This combination echoes the many dualities explored throughout the series – nature vs. civilization, Christianity vs. paganism, tradition vs. being true to your nature.  While the series doesn’t necessarily reconcile all of these conflicts, the conclusion is deeply satisfying – even in its most heartbreaking moments.  I only wish there was more of Vasya’s tale to read.
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Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Arden’s descriptions in this second novel of her gorgeous Winternight Trilogy of Vasya’s world are as stunning as they were in the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale but what she describes is far from beautiful. From the oppressiveness of medieval Moscow to the violence of the times, The Girl in the Tower is a more brutal read with a bit less magic and more of the realities of the era, especially as they pertain to women.
It was often as infuriating for me as the reader as it was for Vasya to read about the way women in feudal Russia (and everywhere in these Dark Ages) were seen as property or prizes that were little more than vessels for carrying heirs. As modern women, our frustration comes not just from the lack of rights and choice women suffered 500+ years ago or the knowledge that in many cultures women are still treated that way. What is frustrating is that even in cultures not governed by religious strictures, we often still feel that lack of choice and that some people still view women as prizes to be won.
I make it sound like The Girl in the Tower is a feminist rant but, while there is a feminist undertone, it is a gorgeous folklore based fantasy that serves as a riveting exploration of nature versus civilization as well as a fascinating glimpse of a time and place not often observed. I am already reading the third installment of the trilogy and cannot wait to see where Vasya’s tale goes next.

If like me, you enjoy novels that combine fantasy with folklore and history, I highly recommend this series, beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale.  When you’ve finished with this trilogy (as I soon will be 😞), I recommend Juliet Marillier’s beautiful Sevenwaters series, starting with Daughter of the Forest

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