Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Happy Amateur Reviewer!

These are some of the reviews that will be posted on my blog in the next few weeks.  I have been lucky to have been granted access to these, and many other great books.
I welcome all comments and suggestions!
Cynthia McArthur

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Freud's Sister (Goce Smilevski)

This book will be published on August 28th.  Translated from Macedonian.

Adolfina Freud was one of many children, and was a sickly child.  Her only comfort as a child were the special times she would spend with her older brother Sigmund.  He helped rid her of the torture of her mother's cruel words of regretting her birth because of her strangeness, her sickliness. As time went on and the family's golden Siggie began to grow apart from them all, and Adolfina finds her own introspective view point constantly at odds with the rest of the world, still she finds that her world somehow revolves around her brother, or his maybe around hers.  Adolfina has friends, a lover, dreams and conversation but is always unfulfilled, empty, longing.  Her mother continues to tell her that she is an oddity, an unhappy spinster.  But Adolfina is full of her observations, thoughts, philosophy.  And when it become too much, she retreats to the Nest, a madhouse.  Years of thoughts, observations, strange contentment, slip by, almost without notice, until she finds that her friends are old, her brother and his works are not immortal afterall, and life is everchanging, yet remaining the same.  The Nazis come when Adolfina and her sisters are elderly, frail and unable to defend themselves.  Golden Siggie has the documents to take himself and his family to London and safety, but he chooses to leave his sisters' names off the list, though he did include his dog.
This was an extremely poetic book. It includes a lot of philosophical conversations between characters, and of course, a lot of psychology.
 Although the entire book was thought-provoking and eloquent, the final chapter, the final pages put this book into the 5 star category. Wonderful read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adèle

This novel is billed as Adèle Hugo’s personal memoir, written only as Adèle could write it: scattered, sometimes tortured, passionate and very much told from inside her own head. It begins with her early childhood, when her mother is banned by her jealous and overbearing husband – Adèle’s father, Victor – from visiting her best friend because they are in love, and continues through the joy of Adèle’s relationship with her older sister, Didine; the ambivalence she held for her brothers (who get away with anything because they are men); her somewhat extreme promiscuity from an early age; her antipathy for her on-again, off-again and angst-filled fiancé; and her middle-of-the night escape from her controlling father’s chains. Adèle tells us her story via anecdotes written in the third person, but from her personal point of view, as she was so introverted as to almost never see another person’s perspective. As she writes her memoir, Didine reminds her every few chapters that it didn’t happen that way at all. Adèle’s response? She doesn’t want to bore the reader.
In her time, Adèle was considered mad, and as I read this book and became intimately attuned to Adèle’s story, I found myself constantly wavering between considering her sane but repressed and believing her completely out of touch with reality and those around her. The author does an excellent job of presenting Adèle to the world as a woman ahead of her time yet held back by the social conventions of the era. A very enjoyable read.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

The Queen's Pleasure (Brandy Purdy)

The Queen's Pleasure

This is the tale of the classic, often-imagined love triangle between Robert and Amy Dudley and Elizabeth Tudor. The story opens on the much-speculated-upon morning of Amy’s death. The story alternates from Amy’s current point of view and her flashbacks and remembrances of her relationship with Robert and, of course, Elizabeth’s pragmatic point of view on the situation.
Throughout Amy’s story, I really sympathized with her as a cuckolded woman, unable to give up the cherished dreams she and Robert once shared, and possibly going mad. Robert is the ambitious villain blaming Amy for his perceived failures; Elizabeth is the Virgin Queen, finally free and living for the pleasure of the moment until she and Amy meet in the garden, Robert standing by.
This book was extremely well written: the author was meticulous in her descriptions of people, places, things, right up to and including the terror, shame and suffering women in Amy’s time would have gone through with her “malady of the breast.” Pay close attention to her meeting with the notorious Dr. Dee.
I felt right at home in Elizabethan England. This story was a tragic learning experience from which no one could turn back. Highly recommended.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

The King's Damsel (Kate Emerson)

The King's Damsel (Secrets of

The Tudor court during Henry VIII’s reign was a dangerous place to serve, as Thomasina (Tamsin) Lodge discovers when her father and brother die, leaving her a wealthy, underage heiress. She becomes the ward of the odious Sir Lionel, who sends her away from the only home she has ever known to serve the Princess Mary and to advance his own prospects at court. Though Tamsin has never lived amongst nobility, her gifts for storytelling and secret card playing soon make her a favorite with the Princess Mary and her other ladies. Tamsin and the others enjoy a few years of quiet happiness, interrupted only occasionally by the unwelcome Sir Lionel, who has in the meantime forced Tamsin’s gentle stepmother to marry him.
Tamsin’s loyalty to the Princess Mary knows no bounds, so when she hears from the silkwoman’s son that the King is planning to divorce Mary’s mother and marry the Lady Anne Boleyn, she takes the news straight to Mary. Mary and her ladies are thrown into more and more turmoil as Lady Anne advances and Mary falls, until Sir Lionel yanks Tamsin from Princess Mary and thrusts her into service with the Lady Anne, suggesting that he would be a happy master indeed if Tamsin were to get to know the King a little better. But Tamsin has her own ideas about what she will be doing in Lady Anne’s service, and she and the silkwoman’s son set to work immediately.
This was an entertaining book. It was fast-paced and well written, and Tamsin was very likeable, as were most of the characters, save the irascible concubine. I would have liked to see the story tie up a few ends that seemed to be left loose. All in all, an enjoyable read.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.