Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in Auel’s prehistoric epic is, at times, slow with plenty of exposition about the Ice Age world, Neanderthal clan life and traditions, and character backstory. But all of it ends up being important to the story as Ayla strives to belong and to make a place for herself within the clan that has adopted her.
At its best moments, the story is an absorbing adventure tale that piqued my interest in the Paleolithic Era and human evolution. I particularly enjoyed the allusions to the Ice Age fauna. I’ve always been intensely interested in the mega-fauna of the period.
While all of this is thrilling, it is the novel’s feminist themes –

Men believed that a woman’s smaller, weaker physical form that allowed them to dominate her was a compensating balance and that no woman must ever be allowed to realize her full potential.

– and its exploration of humankind’s divergent evolution (or lack thereof) that really stuck with me. Throughout I wondered how much of the descriptions of clan life found in the pages came from intense research and how much was the author’s imagination. I mean, how can we possibly know their traditions, religious beliefs and rituals, and how they interacted with each other within the clan? Do we actually have fossil evidence of many of these details? I’m anxious to read the rest of the series but I hope the subsequent novels move a bit more quickly.

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”
― Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

I found myself referring back to this (frankly sick) nursery rhyme, which the killer used as a theme to his diabolical scheme, throughout the book in an attempt to guess who was next to die and how it would happen.
Agatha Christie is brilliant! I’ve read a couple of her Miss Marple mysteries before and enjoyed them but And Then There Were None is something entirely different. This novel is no mere mystery; it is a psychological thriller filled with suspense and second guesses. I was on the edge of my seat throughout and by the time the number of guests/victims remaining was down to four, I had to put the book just so I had any hopes of sleeping soundly that night (I’m not particularly brave). It didn’t help. Like with Blore, every sound I heard as I lay in bed that night was some villain coming to murder me in my sleep. Thank you, Agatha Christie!

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Fantasy, Reviews

Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is there anything better than discovering one of your favorite movies is based on a novel? The wonderful thing about The Princess Bride is that it has all of the qualities that make the movie so classic only more. The characters you love are even more lovable – and the ones you love to hate or even more detestable – (Fezzik, if possible is more wonderful!), the quotable lines are all there plus so many more moments of wicked humor left me smiling long after I finished it, and there is even more edge-of-your-seat action. Even though I knew how it was going to go, I still couldn’t put the book down because I had to know how our heroes would escape the many dangers.
If I have one complaint, it would be the interruptions by the author. The plot of The Princess Bride is exactly the kind of story that a reader can disappear into until they are one of the Florinese witnessing tale first hand. So when Goldman breaks in to explain things he’s cut out or the publishing experience, he drags you back into reality. It is bad enough that I had to come back to reality when the book ended. Which brings me to another semi-complaint. WHY ISN’T BUTTERCUP’S BABY A REAL THING? I read the 25th-anniversary edition in which the first chapter of a long lost sequel to The Princess Bride was included. It seems like it could have been amazing. But these are petty complaints. If you love the movie version of The Princess Bride, read the novel!

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Biography/Memoir, Reviews

Review: Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I typically stay away from non-fiction and I had no previous interest in horse racing so I probably wouldn’t have read Laura Hillenbrand’s fabulous Seabiscuit: An American Legend if I didn’t absolutely love the film version with its edge-of-your-seat action and subtle, intelligent humor. Those qualities came from the book. Even though I know (a version of) the story, I found myself tearing through the passages about the races with rapt attention as if I were sitting in the grandstand and laughing out at the wicked humor, especially that of Tom Smith. Most importantly, though, I learned so much about the sport, about the people that are a part of the sport, and the history of our country at a tumultuous period.
The first part of the book moves a bit slower than the rest of the book as Hillenbrand introduces the reader to a multitude of characters with an intimate focus on Charles Howard, Tom Smith, Red Pollard, George Woolf, and, of course, Seabiscuit. So at first, I was afraid that my preconception about non-fiction, that it is dull and minutely detailed, might be true of Seabiscuit: An American Legend. I am so glad that I was wrong.

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Biography/Memoir, Reviews

Review: Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I learned a few things about myself while reading Under the Tuscan Sun. I’m not a fan of non-fiction most of the time. I need a story to immerse myself into. What I learned is that that is particularly true for road trips. I thought that Mayes’s unique descriptions of Tuscany would transport me while I was transported to my destination. It didn’t always work but I did find myself seeing my surroundings differently. With more of a writer’s eye, I hope.
Mayes’s descriptive language was transportive. I could smell the fresh earth and all the life it supports; I could see the ultra-saturated colors of the sunflowers, poppies, clothing, and building materials; I could feel the intensity of the summer sun making siesta time so necessary; I could taste all of the incredible dishes made only with fresh local ingredients. And it left me wishing that my seventeen-year-old self had been capable of appreciating all the sensual delights of Italy while I was there.
Under the Tuscan Sun, despite all the descriptions of hard labor Frances and Ed went through to restore Bramasole, left me feeling romantic about Italy, especially the Tuscan and Umbrian regions, and longing to return. To spend long days just exploring the beauty hidden in the details.

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