Tag Archives: victorian lit

The Quick by Lauren Owen

!cid_7632B38A-3219-488D-B2F0-718CD8CC5991Format: E-book galley

Length: 544 pages

Publisher: Random House

Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

From the publisher:

London, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.

Here’s what I thought:

I was really glad to get the chance to read and review this book as there is nothing I love better than a chunkster of a novel set in Victorian England. In particular, I love neo-Victorian fiction, and thus The Quick seemed to be right up my alley. The writing is immediately engaging and I quickly become involved with the main character of James Norbury.

The story opens when James is a child growing up in the countryside with his sister Charlotte, then transitions into his life as a young man in London. He has gone to the city to try and make his way as a writer of poetry and plays. There is a bit of a twist to the story that involves James’ love life, and I was very hopeful for how this angle of the story was going to be explored in the context of Victorian social mores.

Then an even bigger twist happened, something that I was not expecting AT ALL, and it completely threw me off my reading game. The novel become something that I was not sure I actually wanted to read and I spent some time regretting that fact before I could push on with the story. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just use a code word for what this book is about. Let’s call it ‘pickles’. (All you Gilmore Girls fans may get the subtle reference here).

You see, there have been lots of books written about ‘pickles’ in recent years. And while many people are into the idea of pickles, I’m not one of them. While I appreciate the somewhat unique situation in which the pickles are placed here, it wasn’t enough to bring me around to reading about them. I also got the feeling that Owen was not 100% certain of her choice to write a book about pickles, either, as she seemed very concerned about not using the actual word ‘pickle’ to describe what were, obviously, pickles.

Enough with the pickle analogy–I think you get the point. There is a lot of good stuff going on in this book, including historical detail and world building that it seems a shame to waste on the chosen subject matter. I would have much preferred a more straightforward neo-Victorian novel that delved into the characters and their circumstances rather than all this silliness with the pickles.

I think Owen has a lot of talent and potential as a writer, but I would have liked to see it used to greater effect on a different subject. However, this may just be a personal preference thing–I’ll let you judge for yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the novel and thought it had a very strong ending, and I look forward to reading more by Owen in the future.

!cid_CE6D408E-6191-4995-AE79-2361686312F4About the author:

LAUREN OWEN studied English Literature at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, before completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she received the 2009 Curtis Brown prize for the best fiction dissertation. The Quick is her first novel. She lives in Durham, England.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.

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April Wrap-Up and May Reads

8679306970_18d7faeb91_mHow is it already the end of April? Big sigh. As you may have noticed by the relative radio silence, it’s been another busy month in Too Fond land. Or rather, in non-Too Fond land, aka the rest of my life. Anyway, I only managed to finish two books this month, but since I enjoyed them both I will consider it a successful month nonetheless.

It’s all relative, right?

In April, I finished:

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been working by way though The Quick by Lauren Owen, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog in early May. This book has thrown me for a loop because I was expecting it to be one thing and it is most definitely another. It started off great and all of a sudden BAM! What the heck was that? I had to regroup before continuing to read, so it is taking me longer than I expected to finish it.

Brona is hosting a Wharton reading event during the month of May, so this may just be my chance to tackle one of the Wharton novels I have on my Classics Club list. I’m thinking Ethan Frome as it’s quite short. Can one properly read Ethan Frome in the springtime? Hmm. Other than that, I’m going to try to keep the month open to catch up on review books, including the follow-up novel by Hemmings which is out this month, The Possibilities.

How was your reading month? I hope everyone has some good books lined up for May. And did I mention that I leave for London tomorrow? Guess I’d better start packing. Photos soon!

March Wrap-Up and April Reads

jackson-squareMarch was a whirlwind, with my trip to the U.S. taking up most of the month. I read quite a bit but not exactly as I had planned, and my regular reading habits got a bit off-track. I was able to attend a great talk given by Chimamanda Adichie in Atlanta, and I marveled over the difficulty I had finding bookstores in the U.S.–crazy! Luckily my trusty favorite used book store was still there, and I scored some books for my daughters as well as one for myself.

During the month of March I read six books:

I LOVED both I Capture the Castle and Where’d You Go Bernadette, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about in there. I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk since finishing Bernadette and I really need something good to get me over it. Any suggestions?

Here’s what I’ve got lined up for April:

  1. The Quick by Lauren Owen – I’m looking forward to digging into this one, a sprawling debut novel set in Victorian London.
  2. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass – This upcoming release picks up on characters from Glass’ first novel, Three Junes, which is one of my all-time favorites.
  3. When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon – This novel centers around the life of the daughter of Greek immigrants and her relationship to her homeland.
  4. The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – I was lucky enough to win this one in a giveaway recently, and I’m hoping to read it before I tackle Hemmings’ latest novel for review next month.

I’m participating in Carl’s Once Upon a Time reading event between now and June, and I will probably do some reading for that this month. There is also a Dewey’s coming up on the weekend of April 26th, so mark your calendars!

What are you reading this month? Do you have any other exciting plans for April?

February Wrap-Up and March Reads

Afternoon sky during a walk with my daughters in February.

I’m a bit behind as it has been a crazy week, work-wise, and I’m trying to get ready to leave for the U.S. this coming week. Busy, busy! Anyway, during the month of February I read five books:

The best of the bunch was probably The Crane Wife, although I really enjoyed Lost Lake as well. I was not too impressed by Mad About the Boy, which is a shame considering how much I liked the previous Bridget Jones novels. This one just kind of made me roll my eyes.

Here’s what I’ve got lined up for March:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I’ve been planning to read this one for a while now, and I just found out that Adichie will be speaking in Decatur on the evening I arrive in town.  Of course, I’m not going to let a little thing like jet lag get in my way, and I’d like to have read this one (if not her latest one, Americanah) before hearing her talk. This book also counts towards the Africa Reading Challenge.
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – Because I’ll also be visiting New Orleans, I decided it would be the perfect time to read this one from my Classics Club list. Chopin was a local Louisiana author and this is an early feminist work, which means it would count towards the Feminist Literature in March event, too.  Double win!
  3. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith – I’ll be hosting a book tour stop for this collection of short stories in late March. Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales, these contemporary stories deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I’m really looking forward to this one.
  4. And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life by Jane Christmas – I’m a bit behind on my review books, but if I manage to catch up I’ll read this one during March as well. It’s the non-fiction account of a woman who tries her hand at being a nun. I’m not sure whether it’s meant to be a laugh or if she actually has any real religious convictions, but the premise was enough to make me want to read it.

I’ll certainly be reading more than these four books, but because I’ll be traveling during most of the month, I want to leave myself plenty of time to read things that I choose on the spot.

What are you reading this month? Do you have any other exciting plans for March?

February Reads

februaryHappy February, all! This posting my to-read list once a month worked well for me in January, so I’m going to continue the tradition.

Here’s what I’ve got lined up for February:

1. Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen – Another work of historical fiction, this time set in India in the 1950’s. I meant to read this one last month but it didn’t happen, so I’m going to try again in February.

2. Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen – The latest from a writer who mixes elements of light magical realism with contemporary Southern fiction. This would have been a good choice for Southern Literature month in January, but instead I’m reading it now.

3. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness – I don’t know why I haven’t read this one yet, considering my love for Patrick Ness. I haven’t heard a lot about it, but the title reminds me of The Decembrists’ album.

4. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead – Part of the reason I hosted my Middlemarch readalong back in December was in anticipation of reading this book. I read this article by Meg Wolitzer on npr a few days ago, and I’m looking forward to reading Mead’s book even more now.

5. Paris Letters by Janice Macleod – I have a hard time resisting people’s stories of how they moved to France and fell in love (even though in my own story, things didn’t exactly happen in that order).

6. Something from my TBR Challenge Pile – TBD

February is time for the Month of Letters Challenge, one of my favorite events in the year. This will be my third year taking part in the challenge, in which the goal is to write and send as many “real” letters as you can. I’m doing this is conjunction with The Estella Society’s Start 2014 Write! letter exchange, so some of you out there in blogland may be receiving a letter from me this month (wink, wink).

I’m looking forward to spending the last full month of winter with some great books and plenty of time writing. And because I’ll be traveling to the U.S. in March, I’ll also be spending time planning my trip–particularly what I want to bring to read, what I want to read while I’m there, and what books I might splurge on to bring back with me!

What are you reading this month? Do you have any other exciting plans for February?

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

the-frozen-deepI’m not sure I would have picked this book up on my own, but luckily the Wilkie in Winter gang are hosting a readalong which gave me a reason to read some Wilkie in good company. The Frozen Deep is a cross between a novella and a play, and it tells the story of an Arctic expedition, a young woman with the second sight, and an embittered man seeking revenge. What’s not to like?

Because it’s so short (right around 100 pages), it’s very doable to read the book in one sitting. While I didn’t do so, I can see the advantages of it, as it would keep the reader caught up in the drama and suspense right until the last pages. There is a LOT of drama, melodrama to be more precise, and while it might not be every reader’s cup of tea I really enjoyed it. I could easily picture the actors on stage, with lots of bosom heaving and sudden exclamations and the brooding anti-hero twirling his moustachios.

I also liked the shift in setting from proper London society to the bleak landscape of the Arctic. I read elsewhere that the story was inspired by Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845, in which he attempted to traverse the Northwest Passage. While I don’t want to give away the ending of the story, suffice it to say it’s not quite as tragic as the true life tale.

If you’re looking for a few hours of escapism and some entertaining Victorian melodrama, I can definitely recommend The Frozen Deep. Thanks to Andi, Heather and Amanda for hosting this readalong for Wilkie in Winter, and I look forward to reading The Woman in White with you in a few weeks!

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The Classics Club Readathon

ccreadathon2Today I’m participating in the 2nd annual Classics Club readathon. I joined in the first one and really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to once again spending the day with some great classic literature. This readathon comes at just the right time of the year for me, when it’s cold outside and I’m still lazy from the holidays and want nothing more than to settle down with a good book. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for today:

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins – I should be able to finish this one today, as I’ve already started it for Wilkie in Winter and it’s quite short. Update: FINISHED!

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – I started this one for a readalong a few months back and the timing just wasn’t right. I’m hoping to make some progress on it today. Update: 28% done 

Collected Stories by Eudora Welty – Though I’m from the South and love its literary tradition, I will admit to having some gaping holes in my Southern reading pedigree. Welty is one of those which I hope to fill. Update: 5% done

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – This one is on my Classics Club list and represents yet another famous Southern writer whose work I have never read. For shame!

So it’s going to be a 50-50 split between Victorian thrills and Southern drama. Should make for a great readathon!

Are you joining in the readathon today? If so, what are you planning to read?