Sunday, June 18, 2017

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell
Northbridge Rectory
Angela Thirkell
4/5 stars

This 1941 novel focuses on the Rector's wife, Mrs. Villars, and the village relationships that surround her.  In her usual charming way, Thirkell dishes out humor, sometimes biting, as she writes about the local consequences of war, an atypical relationship triangle, and a lieutenant's chivalric infatuation with Mrs. Villars.  Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, at others, poignant, Northbridge Rectory is filled with characters that the reader will be concerned about and root for till the end.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The Making of Jane Austen
Devoney Looser
5/5 stars

In this nonfiction book, Looser shows what influenced Austen's popularity down through the years. Her main point is that Austen's reputation has "shifted with the times and with the needs and desires" of the various audiences, from Suffragettes to modern cosplayers, from gentlemen's club members to National Lampoon readers.

This is not a quick read; it is an intellectual study that requires thought to both consume and digest the material.  (I would compare it to a college textbook.)  Janeites expecting a brief pop culture look at Austen fans will not find it here.  What the reader will find, though, is an exhaustively researched, well noted and documented, look at the history of Austen's popularity.  I recommend this work highly, but only to the serious, scholarly reader.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Dr. Minor
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon Winchester
4/5 stars

This book follows the lives of two men influential in the preparation of the Oxford English Dictionary: Dr. W. C. Minor and Professor James Murray.  Dr. Minor, convicted of murder and sentenced to a life long stay in an institution for the criminally insane, became a volunteer for Professor Murray as Murray oversaw the creation of the OED.   Winchester tells the life stories of both men, a brief history of lexicography, and an also brief account of the making of the OED.  This is a fascinating tale, highly readable and generally entertaining.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
Detective Inspector Jack Whicher
Kate Summerscale
4/5 stars

Summerscale tells the true story of the murder of 4 year old Saville Kent, and of the effect it had on his family and the Scotland Yard detective (Jack Whicher) sent to unravel the mystery.  Whicher's accusation didn't hold up in court, and as a result his renown and career took a slow but steady decline.

Summerscale uses mainly primary sources to give information from the broad spectrum of public opinion, down to the minutiae of the Kent family daily life.  The amount of information is fantastic, and the details give the reader a full picture of the times.  Her prose does not sparkle, nor is it lively; at times it is down right dull.  Regardless, this is a fascinating look into Victorian detection in general, Whicher and the Kent case in particular.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder

a young Burton
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon 
Mark Hodder
4/5 stars

In this third installment of the Burton and Swinburne steampunk/alternate history adventures, we follow two timelines of Burton.  One, in his present as he sets forth to find the African Diamond, and two, when he finds himself transported in time to the Great War.

This is an ambitious plot, but Hodder pulls it off well, bringing both timelines together nicely, then adding one of his breath-taking twists to leave the reader gasping at the end.  As in the first two novels, this world is amazingly detailed, and the technology, science, and literature imagined by Hodder is perfectly believable.  The characters are well-fleshed, the plot gripping, and the overall story a fascinating read.

(my reviews are here and here)


Friday, June 2, 2017

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

Four Weeks, Five People
Jennifer Yu
3/5 stars

Five teens with various emotional disorders are grouped together in a four week summer camp.  As they come to know each other, they reveal more about their difficulties and learn more about each other and themselves.

Told from all five perspectives, this is an ambitious novel, but the fact is that none of their problems could be solved in a four week summer camp.   For that reason, the plot, while engaging, isn't fully believable and is possibly more dangerous than beneficial. This book contains a wide range of potential emotional triggers, and unintentionally glamorizes eating disorders, underage drinking, and emotional disorders in general.

I've no doubt that Yu intends this novel to give hope to teens with emotional disorders, and for some I'm certain it will.  Emotional disorders are very individual, though; I would advise that parents or teachers read this one before recommending it to their teen.