Tuesday, September 19, 2023

More Books About Books... and What I've Read Lately

It's been a season of mediocrity when it comes to reading, but I've spent quite a lot of time the last couple months reading books about books--so that's redeemable. Here's what I've read lately:

First up is one I really didn't care for: The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright.

Book Description: "In 1865, orphaned Daisy Francois takes a position as housemaid at a midwestern Wisconsin castle and finds that the reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress inside hides more than the harrowing tales in her novels. With women disappearing from the area and a legend that seems to parallel these eerie circumstances, Daisy is thrust into a web that may threaten to steal her sanity, if not her life. In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of American aristocratic family the Tremblays to help his matriarchal grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman's stashes of collectibles, a century-old mystery of disappearance, insanity, and the dust of the old castle's curse threatens to rise again, and this time, leave no one alive to tell its sordid tale. Fan-favorite Jaime Jo Wright draws readers into a seamlessly woven dual-time tale of suspense, mystery, romance, and redemption."

My Review: This book gave me plenty of reasons to DNF it, but I paid full price for it just a week ago and felt guilty for not finishing… so I did.

After reading all the way through to the end, I felt guilty for all the harsh notes I was keeping throughout. This story was on the heart of its author and I know what that's like. Because I care about the story being told, I'm considering bumping my originally planned 2 stars up to 3. The story is important --- its execution was not well done.

My notes at pg 108: I've never read a "Christian" suspense before but this seems kind of silly. Not really feeling the shivers I think I’m supposed to be feeling. Daisy definitely has Catherine Morland beat in the drama department. If Jane were here, she’d give this story a good roasting.

pg. 138-- I love this quote: "It is in the dark corners, in the places we avert our eyes from, where truth lingers."

Pg 262: Lots of repetition of thoughts and emotions but nothing really moving this story forward. Very little has happened—-not much story development. I lost interest a long time ago. Would have abandoned this 20 pages in, but I bought it at full price. Some books you spend the afternoon devouring because they’re fine chocolates and you can’t get enough. Others you force down like liver and onions so mom will finally let you leave the table.

Cleo’s story comes out about 80% of the way in, and her reason for running is so lame that it’s laughable. I was imagining she'd committed some kind of horrific atrocity. I literally threw the book down and ranted to my family about the nonsensical behavior of changing her name and fleeing her family, vowing never to return, over the ridiculous reason given. Part of the problem here is that nothing was done to develop this character to a place where her whole internal struggle finally coming out doesn’t just seem like a crazy drama train.

The last maybe 50 pages were actually interesting, but the author’s attempt to compare Virgie’s mission and Cleo’s mission was very difficult to believe since we knew almost nothing of Cleo’s until the book was almost over. The planning of this story is all out of whack.

But the real thing that has me most frustrated about all of this is that this is a story about escaping abuse, yet the two main men in this story are grossly manipulative yet supposedly irresistible. The women set out to make a decision and the men easily change their minds with affection and phrases like, "Don't leave. You can't leave. I need you." So we have women who are compelled to stay in situations that, while they might turn out for good in the long run, cause them to see red flags in the moment. They try to assert their own autonomy and critical thinking skills, they try to put some distance between themselves and these men as they're trying to sort out what they believe about the situation they're in, but the men are never called out for manipulating their emotions? Sorry to break it to you honey, but you can't write a believable story about getting out of abusive situations, while also making romantic some of the very behaviors that lead to them in the first place.

And dang it, I just can't bring myself to give this three stars after all.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge, The Historical Fiction Challenge, and The Victorian Reading Challenge

The Men Who Found America by F. W. Hutchinson. This is a history book for children featuring stories of explorers. Published in 1909. Probably not totally accurate, but it's been a fun read with my children and has sparked a few interesting discussions. I most recently read it with 13 year old Liam.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge and the Children's Book Challenge.

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (Heaven help us!!)

Book Description: Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy's secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James's wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy's predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen's wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters' beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that's been waiting for her all along.

My Review: I read this on the heels of the author's more recent book, The Printed Letter Bookshop. The quality of writing in her newer book is so much improved that I feel like I'm reading a completely different author. Honestly; that, and the fact that I'll read anything about England/Brontes/booksellers, kept me reading this really badly written book.

Apart from just a really convoluted jumbled mess of a storyline, and an author-created secretly schizophrenic main character, I found it really annoying that she mentions so many classics but doesn’t seem to know much about them. (It's not “Tenet”, but Tennant of Wildfell Hall; or that Tess of the d’Urbervilles is by Thomas Hardy; or that she’d have a rough time finding a “small squished copy” of Wives and Daughters since it’s over 700 pages long…) and her editors don’t know this either? Ascetic instead of aesthetic? Come on…

The dramatic (and really immature and whiny for Lucy) dialogue between her and James at lunch toward the end doesn’t work. Too much alluding to feelings and accusations that aren't explained. We need to get inside their heads more... or we could just turn the story into High School Musical and be done with it.

Meh. I'll probably read more from her but I'm not holding my breath on liking it...

This book meets The Alphabet Soup Challenge

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (1917)

Book Description: "Parnassus on Wheels is the story of a marvelous man, small in stature, wiry as a cat, yet Olympic in personality. Roger Mifflin is part pixie, part sage, part noble savage, and all God's creature. With his traveling book wagon, named Parnassus, he moves through the New England countryside of 1915 on an itinerant mission of enlightenment. Mifflin's delight in books and authors (if not publishers) is infectious. With his singular philosophy and bright eyes, he comes to represent the heart and soul of the book world.

In addition, Parnassus on Wheels is a roaring good adventure yarn, spiced with fiery roadside brawls, the most groaning boards in the history of Yankee cookery, heroic escapes from death, and a rare love story. In the course of his adventures Roger Mifflin shows how he makes bookselling one of the world's highest callings, one dispelling ignorance and causing constant delight and instruction. Mifflin is indeed the father of Bookselling's royal family.

When Parnassus on Wheels originally appeared, the Boston Evening Transcript said of it: "To read Parnassus on Wheels is to be glad there are books in the world. It is graceful in style, light in substance, merry in its attitude toward life, and entertaining in every aspect of its plot and insight into character."

My Review: I loved this fantastically fun and witty adventure! Great read!

This book meets The Historical Fiction Challenge

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (1919)

Book Description: "Aubrey Gilbert stops by the Haunted Bookshop hoping to sell his services as an advertising copywriter. He fails to accomplish his goal, but learns that Titania Chapman, the lovely daughter of his most important client, is a store assistant there. Aubrey returns to visit Titania and experiences a series of unusual events: He is attacked on his way home from the store, an obscure book mysteriously disappears and reappears, and two strange characters are seen skulking in a nearby alleyway. Aubrey initially suspects the bookstore’s gregarious owner, Roger Mifflin, of scheming to kidnap Titania, but the plot he eventually uncovers is far more complex and sinister than he could have ever imagined. A charming ode to the art of bookselling wrapped inside a thrilling suspense story, The Haunted Bookshop is a must-read for bibliophiles and mystery lovers alike."

My Review: I didn't like this one nearly as much as Parnassus, but I think a big part of that was because I had expectations of it being different than it was. Parnassus was so sweet and quaint and self-reflective. This is a different kind of story entirely, and I think it just took me awhile to realize that. I think I'll try it again in the future when I've not just finished reading its prequel and might find I like it better. Normally I'd give 2 stars to something I disliked so much, but this was very well-written so I'll add a star for that!

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge and The Historical Fiction Challenge


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