Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys

First line: They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

Review: My first read for 2016, and ohemgee, what a stunner.

This brief but sumptuous novel -- originally published in 1966, but reissued this year by Norton with a lovely introduction from Edwidge Danticat -- imagines the life of Bertha Mason, the "madwoman" from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Shifting viewpoints between Antoinette, as she prefers to be called, and a young Englishman we assume to be Rochester, we see a vivacious young woman pinned down by society, powerless and frustrated, pushed to her emotional limits. Is she mad? Rhys suggests she isn't, but her husband -- perhaps a little mad himself -- feels otherwise, and he has the power to punish her and declare her such.

I have to confess that Jane Eyre is not one of my favorites books, so I was predisposed to like Antoinette and hate Rochester. Yet Rhys managed to make Rochester sympathetic, in a way: he's a young man who has to marry for money, and worse, a "Creole" rather than a proper Englishwoman. For a moment, he's even taken with Antoinette but his conservative mores and twisted attitudes about sex and desire transmute his interest into disgust.

Worse, the Caribbean landscape -- hot, wet, and wild -- seems to give Antoinette strength, which repels him:
I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it. (p156)
This is a quick read -- about 170ish pages -- but it invites deep lingering and re-reading (I ended up reading it for a second time a few nights after finishing!). Rhys' writing, as seen above, is lush and evocative, and she can, in a handful of words, paint a scene vividly.

I was strongly reminded of stories like "The Yellow Wallpaper" -- could women's madness be the way men and society cage them and tell them they're mad? -- and while I felt fury toward Rochester, I didn't loathe him as I anticipated. I felt terrible for them both, these passionate people who couldn't connect and were oppressed, in different ways, by society. I was also struck by a similarity to Rebecca, especially with women in both books dreaming of returning to their beloved burned estates.

This edition has a lovely introduction by Edwidge Danticat which reads like an argument for why #WeNeedDiverseBooks. It's a love letter to a story about oppression, colonialism, and solidarity, and might be one of my most favorite introductions to a classic novel ever.

By accident, 2016 might shape up to be my year of (inspired by) Jane Eyre, in a fashion. In my queue for this year was this book; Catherine Lowell's novel about a Bronte descendant, The Madwoman Upstairs; Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele, a murderous retelling, of sorts; last year's Re Jane;  the short story collection Reader, I Married Him; and a poetry collection, The Jane and Bertha in Me. I ought to just put Jane Eyre in as a reread and see if my feelings for it change!

A must read -- not just for fans of Jane Eyre -- but for anyone who enjoys feminist literature, or novels fraught with unspoken sentiments and explosive desires.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Caribbean / Jane Eyre / Marriage / Cultural Clash)
Publisher/Publication Date: W. W. Norton & Company (1/25/16)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: The Classics Club, Historical Fiction, Read Harder!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wordless Wednesday, March 30

A Wordless Wednesday...and as with all these memes, I'm breaking the rules, and offering some words today.

Some time ago, it turns out I lost my domain, and it was being held hostage for about $3000. Grrr! I finally took the plunge and registered a new domain,, which I hope won't confuse things too much. (hopehope)

I lost my blog roll in the process of adopting this new domain (it unlinked from my blogspot blogroll) so if you don't see your blog listed in one of the two blog columns, would you mind leaving a comment with a link? I'm trying to get back into my commenting routine, and I am heartbroken at missing anyone!

Just started Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel and Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women's Rights by Diane Eickhoff. And my new joy has been my milk frother, a cheap splurge that has stopped me from spending an excessive amount of money on fancy coffees from the fancy coffee shops by my work.

Tell me about a joy today, your Wordless Wednesday, current read, or anything else!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Midweek reads and stalling out...

I probably should have arranged my side table (or at least, cleaned up the used tissue) but I wanted to blog honestly about where I am right now.

This is the same stack I've had since January. I'm sure there are some amazing reads here (and there's my e-reader, too, which is loaded up with ARCs, too), but I just can't...

I'm sick, and the baby is sick, and my wife is sick. So I'm tired and cranky. But even before we all got sick, it seems I can only manage to mainline The Great British Baking Show (and we've watched the whole season something like three times, and there's only one season available!).

I've only had one year of a reading funk this bad, and it was a year of terrible personal turmoil. So far, I have no excuse as 2016 is just fine, nothing dramatic or too challenging, so why the seeming disinterest in reading? (And the blogging and reviewing, oh, I am so behind on reviews!)

What do you do to get out of this funk? And is there a point when one should just give up? (On blogging, at least?)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Title: The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig

First line: It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

Review: I was pretty desperate to get my hands on this book as soon as I read the description: a young woman who time travels to both real and imaginary worlds with her father, a man consumed with the desire to return 1868 Hawaii just before her mother dies.

This was probably the first book of 2016 that I just didn't want to put down; it was a combination of the intriguing premise, charming heroine, and unique setting that made it so compulsively readable for me.

Nix was born in Honolulu in 1868; her mother Lin died while her father Slate was at sea. Slate, born in the 1980s, has the unique ability to travel to any time or place if he has a hand drawn map of that location. With this skill, he's managed to assemble a ragtag crew who travel with him. They make money in their travels but Slate's obsession is with returning to Honolulu in time to prevent Lin's death -- an event Nix fears might erase her existence.

What complicates things is that maps can only be used once, meaning Slate is consumed with trying to find an authentic map of Honolulu penned at just the right time. For years, their attempts have been fruitless, until one perfect map falls into their hands...and embroils them in something with devastating result.

I'm not sure I'm capturing the premise well; the world-building is a bit complicated and I don't want to give away any of the fun details that had me swooning with delight. There's a dramatic and ludicrous event Slate and Nix must participate in, and I was stunned to discover in the Author's Note that it was a historical event. (This is why I adore historical fiction -- I learn so much!)

At the heart of this story, despite the flash bang of time travel and cool historical ambiance, is the push-pull tension between Nix and her father. In my experience, YA is full of heroines with absentee and/or appalling parents, and Slate falls into the latter category; delightfully, however, he doesn't get off the hook for his behavior and he's no mere foil for our YA heroine to get into mischief. His struggles with addiction and his love for Lin force us to consider the limits we'd go for the things we want. Nix has to grow up before her time and yet she's still a young woman who wants desperately to be valued and loved, too -- sentiments I can still appreciate.

This is the first in a duology, I believe (and based on upcoming releases, it seems like duologies are the new trilogies, le sigh) but there's enough conclusion that this can be read as a satisfying standalone. But I loved this one and am very happy there's another book detailing Nix's further adventures -- my only challenge will be in waiting for it!

It's early to say, but I suspect this one will make my top ten of 2016: escapist, intriguing, empathetic, adventurous, and unique!

Genre: Fiction (YA / Historical / 19th Century / Time Travel / Hawaii / Father-Daughter Relationships / Nautical)
Publisher/Publication Date: Greenwillow Books (2/16/2016)
Source: Edelweiss
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Release Spotlight: America’s First Daughter

One of my most anticipated reads of 2016, America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, is out today!

Tackling the supremely complicated Jefferson through the viewpoint of his devoted daughter Patsy, this novel represents what I adore about historical fiction: the humanizing of distant figures. I've been sharing some tidbits about Patsy Jefferson from America's First Daughter, and now I'm especially delighted to be able to share a rather juicy excerpt below! Be sure to enter the giveaway to win a signed copy, too!

by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
William Morrow, March 1, 2016

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

“And what of our future . . . ?” I asked.

Mr. Short smiled. “If you could give up all thoughts of the convent, our future depends upon the orders your father is awaiting from America. Your father has asked that in his absence, I be appointed in his place as chargé d’affaireswith commensurate salary. If I receive such an appointment, then I can present myself to your father as a worthy suitor. Otherwise, I’m afraid he’ll consider me a wandering wastrel without employment.”

“He would never!”

Mr. Short chuckled mirthlessly. “You think not? I have in my possession a letter from your father lecturing me on the need to build my fortune. The most memorable line reads: This is not aworld in which heaven rains down riches into any open hand.

How churlish of Papa, but had I not, from the youngest age, also received letters filled with his lectures? “You mustn’t worry, Mr. Short. If my father requested your appointment, then it’s sure to come. But until it does, how can I be sure of your intentions in asking for my love?”

I didn’t expect him to laugh. “You’re Jefferson’s daughter, to the bone. You want evidence. Well, give me the chance and I’ll give you the proofs you require—both of my love and of the world you should love too much to abandon even for God. I wouldn’t have you enter a convent, much less love, in ignorance.”

“What do you think me ignorant of?”

With mischief twinkling in his eyes, he stopped, drawing me into a grove of trees. Beyond us, in the ditch, we heard boys playing a ball game in the dim lamplight. Somehow, in the dark, Mr. Short’s fingertips found my cheeks, and his mouth stole over mine. This first kiss was soft and tender. As if he feared frightening me. Nevertheless, it shocked me. It was like my heart was a loaded cannon he’d held fire to, and it threatened to shoot out of my chest. But I wasn’t frightened and I didn’t pull away. Instead, it seemed quite the most natural thing to kiss him back, mimicking what he did, glorying in every soft, sweet sensation.

At the feel of my lips teasing softly at his, he groaned and pulled back. “Oh, my heart . . .”

The sweet taste of him still on my lips, our breaths puffing in the night air, I asked, “Have I done something wrong?”

He held my cheeks in his hands. “The error was all mine. I’d beg your pardon if I could bring myself to regret it, but I never want to regret anything with you, so tonight I must content myself with one kiss.”

Only one? I wanted to lavish a thousand kisses on his face. His lips, his cheeks, his ears. The desire was a sudden hunger, a desperate plea inside me echoing like the cry of peasants for bread.

“What if I’m not yet content? Wasn’t kissing me meant to be the proof of your intentions?”

“No, Patsy. Kissing you, then stopping before satisfaction, is the proof of my intentions, which I hope you’ll see are honorable and directed toward your happiness.”

a Rafflecopter giveaway