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 Doctoris 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.
What would happen if you moved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to 21st century Pakistan? You would get Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable, which I got the opportunity to read thanks to NetGalley.
Reading Unmarriageable is not about the story. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you already know the story – a man and a woman from different classes meet and thanks to their ingrained prejudices, take an instant dislike to each other, a dislike she maintains as he falls grudgingly in love with her. That story will always be great, it is the execution that often fails. Unmarriageable is not a particularly great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Alys is no Elizabeth Bennett, Mrs. Binat is even more annoying than Mrs. Bennett, some of the dialogue is just awkward, and the writing tends to be repetitive. Instead, for me, the joy of reading Kamal’s interpretation was in learning about Pakistani culture about which I’ll admit I was totally ignorant.
Chick-Lit, which is what this novel and its Austen ancestor is, often gets a bad wrap but, while it is important to learn about the history and the hardships around the world, I think it is equally important to learn about the ordinary, everyday lives that show us not only the cultural differences but how we are alike and Chick-Lit whether it is set in the US, the UK or Pakistan, does that.
If like me, you enjoy a good Pride and Prejudice update, Shannon Hale’sAustenland and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible are two of my favorites. Austenland is a fun romp through a vacation experience that places the Austen-obsessed protagonist into Austen’s world with the promise of a happy ending straight out of one of Jane’s novels while Eligible, part of The Austen Project is truly a modernization of Pride and Prejudice.
Poets, Artists, Lovers by Romanian writer, Mira Tudor, is packed with ideas and complicated relationships but short on actual plot. The look at intertwined, evolving relationships both romantic and platonic travels back and forth in time over the course of a decade or so. This back and forth timeline adds to the confusion or who is connected to who and when.
Despite its shortcomings, Poets, Artists, Lovers is a fascinating looking into the lives of young – 20s and 30s – creative Romanians. The youths of these characters if very different from my own.
It’s been nearly a week since I finished reading this book and I’m still undecided about how I feel about Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods in Alabama. While the novel is extremely well-written, I could never quite get comfortable with the main character/narrator or her story. And I’ve never been more uncomfortable reading anything as I was reading the *gags* roach scene. I seriously considered putting the book down then and there but my librarian friend loves Jackson’s books so I felt compelled to push through and find out why.
Like I said, Gods in Alabama is well-written. The author writes in such a way that the reader feels as if they are being “not” lied to by Arlene/Lena (even her name isn’t straightforward) along with the other characters. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot as the narrator tells and retells the story with strategic omissions. Even after it was all said and done, I’m still not sure I completely believe the truth.
If you enjoy Gods in Alabama perhaps you’ll also enjoy Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s The Book of Secrets, another novel full of twists and half-told tales.
3.5 stars because I can’t decide if I actually enjoyed it or if I just got sucked into the engrossing story.
On the surface, The Thorn Birdsby Colleen McCullough is a sweeping historical epic filled to excess with tragedy set against the extreme backdrop that is Australia. It is not, as I’d mistakenly assumed an epic romance but rather a study in human nature. Within its pages can be found themes of religion, feminism, the mother/daughter dynamic, the effects of a patriarchal society, what defines home, and even politics.
At its best moments, the novel paints a vivid portrait of Australia’s vast and varied lands from the drought-prone grasslands to the tropical rainforests, detailing life on a huge sheep station and in the cane fields. Based on McCullough’s descriptions, I wanted to escape Northern Queensland’s suffocating humidity as much as Meggie did – not that the dry expanse of on which Drogheda lay sounded all that much better. At its worse, the story is a tortuous battle, both internal and external, between the characters and God or the elements or each other or themselves.
As for those tortured characters, I didn’t like any of them with the possible exception of Justine. Meggie is bearable though often utterly idiotic (though that isn’t entirely her fault) and much too prideful. Fee is far from an ideal mother to all of her children – even her beloved Frank – but especially to Meggie. Mary Carson is, as she is described more than once, a manipulative spider and a heartless miser. She may have claimed to have loved Ralph but if she ever had been capable of love, I don’t think she was anymore. Then there are the men. The Cleary men, except maybe Stuart, are insensitive and blind to all but their own needs – only Frank seems to have eyes in his head not that it does him much good. Ralph is arrogant, self-absorbed (and selfish), ambitious, and like the other men utterly incapable of seeing beyond himself. And then there’s Luke who represents everything I would hate in a man. I could not wait until he was out of the picture. At least through Luke, we met Anne and Luddie and we have Justine.
I actually loved Justine. I loved her hard shell and sharp tongue and I loved her vulnerable core. But that love didn’t stop me from calling her an idiot a few times before it was all said and done, which goes for Rainer too. I liked him but he was a game player when it came to Justine. All of these deeply flawed characters caused more of their own problems than either God or the elements ever could. Which, of course, is what makes it a tragedy (I paid attention in my Shakespeare classes).
Then there’s the central love story for which The Thorn Birds is famous. Despite my being Catholic the priest thing never bothered me. Nowadays a priest could, if he truly wanted to, chose to leave the priesthood. Either they couldn’t in those days or (and this is more likely) Ralph was too ambitious to even consider it. Because unlike Dane, who seems truly devoted to his God and his faith, Ralph’s devotion to the church isn’t always based on a deep and profound as he claims it to be. If he ever loved anyone more than he did himself, he would’ve made the hard decision to leave. What did bother me was the age difference. Meggie was 10 and Ralph 28 when they first met and almost immediately he became obsessed with her. It may not initially have been a sexual attraction he had for her and he was able to rationalize his attentions to her for a while but he deliberately spent more time on Drogheda than necessary until she depended on him for any love she received. Only when it became uncomfortable for him did he separate himself from Meggie and the Clearys and even in doing that he did it in a way would hurt her. Then he still, in his cowardly way, strung her along and made himself her savior. Only in contrast to Luke did I ever grow to like (that might be too strong a word) Ralph. And liking the characters is key to my enjoyment of a book like this that requires much of its readers’ heart.
If you enjoy sweeping historical epics The Thorn Birds, I don’t think I need to tell you that you will probably enjoy Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.