Bellman & Black: Wordy Wednesday

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Bellman & Black: A Novel

Title: Bellman & Black Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Historical Fiction

Why Picked: Received from NetGalley for Review
First Line:

I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes.

Summary:

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born. [1]

Review:

Bellman & Black is labeled a ghost story and herein lays the story summary’s most hated feature for non professional reviewers. Where are the ghosts? They are there. They are just not quite so obvious so the ones in the plethora of urban fantasy on the bookshelves today.

This is the story of William Bellman, the boy who kills a rook and the man who pays the price. William Bellman and 3 of his childhood friends out playing one day, decide to see who has the best slingshot and the best aim. William, in a shot which is described throughout the book as beautiful in its arc and range, wins the day by shooting far enough to actually kill one the rooks the boys were aiming at. They then ignore all of the mythic legends about rooks and luck.

Set in the 19th century, this story is told much at the pace of the time is it setting not is writing. The slow and unhurried pace of its beginning, as you find out who our young William is, the abandoned son of the son of the Mill owner, the quick thinking young man with a mind for business, the young husband and kind father.

But the pace begins to pick up as the deaths begin and then as they increase. And at each one Bellman sees the Gentleman in Black, until he has lost almost everyone and everything, except his daughter Dora. It is at this point Mr. Bellman’s life changes. He believes he makes a deal to save Dora that he will embark on a new business which will benefit both him and Mr. Black. The rest of the story centers on the building of the Bellman & Black Empire and the unraveling of Mr. Bellman himself.

While I enjoyed this book I am baffled by many of the criticisms leveled against it. So many people are unsure at the end of where the ghosts are, and who the mysterious Mr. Black “really” is and how does the poor seamstress Lizzie know Mr. Black. I really want to tell them that they are firstly reading to much modern paranormal where everything is obvious and there is no more subtlety in their lives. And two, I want to tell them to read the book again because I think it is very obvious the answer to the last two questions. While there are some questions I would like to have answered, these are not among them.

I will admit to a bit of surprise at how much I enjoyed this book given its pacing and it Dickensian tone. I think the story would have been better for me if there had been less details about his retail life and and more details about the characters. I think once it was established that he was whip smart and ambitious (in the beginning) and driven and single-minded (in the middle) we could have had less mill/store detail and more character detail. And I would have cared more at the end. However, even without falling in love with the characters, I did have a driving need to find out what the resolution of the story was. And in the end Mr. Bellman’s debt was paid in full.

Wordy Wednesday: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel

Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2004 Genre: Fantasy,

Why Picked: A Friend’s Favorite

First Line:

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”

Summary:

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear. [1]

Review:

This has been on my TRB shelf for years. A favorite book of one of my dearest friends, recommended over and over again by so many people, yet every time I would try to read it I could not get anywhere. It was not for lack of trying, nor was it because I did not like it. What truly baffled me was I was easily able to read and adored Clarke’s book of short stories “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories .” So why could I not tackle the story of Strange and Norrell.

After years, I finally figured out it out. I found that since children entered my life I rarely have long, leisurely reading time. My reading is like an affair committed in hallways and cars. I read 5 minutes here and 15 minutes there and often am, like so many other American adults, so sleep deprived that if you put me in a warm car with a book I am asleep before I am 5 pages in. So a book rich in story and elegant in language? It didn’t stand a chance. These are the books that need time and chucks of it to be read and savored. This book was a commitment not an affair.

Jump forward to my discovery that, while I could not easily listen to audio books in bit and pieces, because my mind would wander into the never ending list of 100 things I still have to do today, I could listen to them during long drives alone to visit friends. Coincidentally one of them the friend who loves JS&MN so hard he never gave up trying to get me to read it. Fast forward again to my taking on a barter situation where I clean for someone about 6 hours a week and suddenly I am whizzing through audio books. So I finally broke down and I got an Audible account. I listened to all of the available Dresden files. I listened to all of the available Fairyland books. So what was next? I suddenly remembered that when I could not get though a book I loved called Chime, which is another story of how I learned to love the audio format, I tried the audio of JS&MN.  And I discovered that while I could not read it I absolutely could listen to it.

There were some bumps which I was concerned about. The major one was footnotes! How do you listen to a story with something along the lines of 180 footnotes and not lose the narrative of the story? For me this was not an issue beyond wanting to write down the books mentioned in many of them for future reading and then remembering the majority of them are made up and do not exist. Simon Prebble, the narrator, was able to handle these footnotes with smoothness and grace which made them a non-issue for me.

The story itself is a beautifully told story of magic and longing, of miserliness and need, of the fae and the folk. It is a story of Napoleonic Europe and an England which is undone by a handful of people and their need to see magic restored. It is a story of how friendship can drive you to madness and how love can do the same. It is a story of Otherness, and by that I do not mean the fae, but persons of color and women and poverty. For me it was these people who were the most intriguing. The wives and the street people, the servants and soldiers, these were the stories I was interested in. Strange and Norrell and their story is that on which all other hung. But tell me more about John Uskglass and more about Vinculus. I want to know about Emma and Arabella, Segundus and Martin Pale.

Overall, I am extraordinarily glad I finally got to hear the story of how magic returned to 19th-century England. And while I know no author owes their fans anything Clarke has hinted at more of this story. That would be wonderful.

Never Gonna Give You Up: Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday

Each week The Broke and the Bookish will post a new Top Ten list that one or more of their bloggers will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

Big Breasts and Wide Hips: A Novel (Arcade Classics)
Big Breasts and Wide Hips by Mo Yan

This was the first of my “Around the world in 80 Books” self challenge. It may have spoiled me. I really dislike almost everything about this book. I wanted to like it; I did. It took 4 months and everything I had to finish it. I since then I have barely touched this challenge.

(THE CELL ) BY King, Stephen (Author) Hardcover Published on (01 , 2006)
Cell by Stephen King

Gross and gory and not one likeable character. This was one King I could have passed on.

Chime
Chime by Franny Billingsley

I did put it down but than thankfully I picked up the audiobook. It is one of my favorites and gave me a newfound appreciation of audio. And that my friends led to Dresden.

Feed
Feed by M.T. Anderson

Meh. Dystopian science fiction is not my favorite. But everyone was raving about this book called Feed so I kept reading. Then I discovered it was this book: Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) which is 100% better.

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

Book club selection. We read this in January and February which I must say are not my finest months and this was a depressing read. I wonder if I would have been so tempted to put it down if it was June and a beach book.

Horns: A Novel
Horns by Joe Hill

Let me start with the fact that I loved Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts. But this one was a hard read. I know people are horrible but I really have no need to read about just how horrible they are on the inside.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell : A Novel
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

Another I put down at first. Actually this one I put down a lot. But it is the favorite book of a dear friend I could not give up on it. So I kept picking it up. But the language was such that my scattershot method of reading now never let me immerse myself in this story. This was another audio one for me. I usually only listen to audios when I am travelling or when I am cleaning so those are long chunks of time. I found a groove and fell in love.

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I have talked about this book over and over again. it is on lists titled things like “Bleak Books – the Top 10 Most Depressing Books” and “10 Devastatingly Sad Books – Flavorwire.” So yeah, I almost put it down. I recently read this review of the movie which describes reading the book perfectly.

This entire movie hurts to watch. It builds dread the way bricklayers build walls, and it surrounds you with it. Reading Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful novel is hard enough – I first read it on a plane, in one sitting, and by the end I felt as if I’d been stuffed into a sack and beaten while listening to my family get killed and eaten somewhere nearby. I was drained for about two weeks. The movie takes that theme and runs with it. It’s based on my favorite book, and it’s one of my favorite movies. But I’ve only watched it once.

[]

And No I have not seen the movie either.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer 

Read all of them. Wanted to gouge my eyes out. I know people love them. But I was weaned on real vamps and these are not real vamps. I kept going because the girl was such a reader and she was young when these were hot and I needed to know if they were OK to read. My answer – No because this models a horrible relationship and a worse reaction to breaking up.

Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard, #1)
Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard, #1) by James Patterson

Another I endured for the girl. I read this one out loud to her. I was pleased when she decided to read the rest to herself.

Line

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5 Deeply Unsettling Movie Scenes You Can’t Un-See

 

2014 Challenges 6-10

2014chall

Set number two of challenges and, FYI, I am starting with a lot of books that are Chunksters this year.

1. While I did not complete this challenge last year I did come close and it did make me step outside my YA/ fantasy niche. So I will try it again.

eclecticchallenge2014_300 THE ECLECTIC READER 2014 CHALLENGE

CATEGORIES

Award Winning
True Crime (Non Fiction)
Romantic Comedy
Alternate History Fiction
Graphic Novel

2. Here is a new YA challenge, no levels but since I read a ton of YA one that I would like to keep up with.

reading-challenge-button

 

2014 EVERYTHING YA READING CHALLENGE

3. Gotta continue with the fairy tale love.

2014 FAIRY TALES RETOLD READING CHALLENGE

Poor Cobbler: 1-3 books

4. OK Once more with a love I neglect.  Lowest level but trying to do more.

2014-Historic-Fiction-Reading-Challenge-SweetMarie83_zps26ece3fb

HISTORIC FICTION READING CHALLENGE 

1-5 books – Testing the bonds of time

5. I love horror and I am not sure I have ever done a horror challenge. So it is about time.

horrorbutton2014

2014 HORROR READING CHALLENGE

1-5 Horror Books – Running Scared.

 

 

Mrs. Poe: Wordy Wednesday

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Mrs. Poe

Title: Mrs. Poe Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Gallery Books 4star
Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Historical Fiction

Why Picked: NetGalley; Adoration of all Things Poe
First Line:

“When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump onto their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch.”


Summary:

A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife. It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve. She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married. As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late… Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures. [1]

Review:

I used to judge HBO historical shows likeRome and Deadwood by how many times an episode made me look up information on Wikipedia. The general rule was the more, the better. If this is applied here Mrs. Poe is a fine tale. I spent as much time researching the characters and the setting as I did the reading the story. I searched Wikipedia for secondary characters, like Horace Greeley, Rufus Wilmot Griswold and Elizabeth F. Ellet to name a few. And then there were the locations. I am a born New Yorker so I was so interested in the places of the story as well. But enough of my strange obsession with historical minutia, what of the story?

A small caveat, I adore Poe. As anyone who has been reading my blog for any amount of time knows I really, really adore Poe. So this review may be tainted by that. Much like my recent enjoyment of the movie The Raven which combined my love for Poe and my love for John Cusack. That said I found the story to be very slow to start. I opened it in my Nook a number of times and then found other things to read. However, as it was Netgalley book I feel obligated to press on and I am glad I did. The story of the relationship between Poe and Frances Sargent Osgood and his Virginia unfolded in a most interesting way. I find historical novels such as this fascinating if the author is able, as Cullen was, to draw me in and make me believe the actions of the characters are realistic both for the time frame but also for their humanness. There are certain people/authors who believe that because people live in different times they were different emotionally as humans. One of the most popular of these myths is the ever present “People had many children because so many died young. Therefore they did not love them as much as we do now.” I find things such as this difficult to believe and therefore difficult to read. I was glad to see Cullen able to make her characters believable as people regardless of time period.

Also I loved the mystery, without giving it away I love the fact that it addressed some of the strange mysteries surrounding Poe’s life and death. I love the fact that I was mildly surprised by the ending which rarely happens to me. This may, in fact, be why I am not a huge mystery fan. I love the fact that I am still, weeks later, mulling over the “facts” that surround the relationship between Edgar and Frances as well as between Frances and Virginia. And I envy the mid-1800s their salons. I want to be Margaret Fuller or Anne Lynch when I grow up.

Five Star february: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants: A Novel

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Summary: Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ‘ship of fools’. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. (GoodReads Summary)
Why I Loved It:  The setting, the characters, the time period, the love story, all of it.
Who would like this: I run to not walk to read this before they ruin it with a the movie.
Favorite Quotes:

When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I’m twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I’m–you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You’re thirty-five. And then you’re bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.”

 

“Dear God. Not only am I unemployed and homeless, but I also have a pregnant woman, bereaved dog, elephant, and eleven horses to take care of.”