book review

Flying in his shadow: a review of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

A proliferation of books has been published lately with titles like “The X’s Wife” or “The X’s Daughter.” These titles tend to irritate me a bit, as they define the main female character in terms of a relation to a man in her life. But in The Aviator’s Wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and mother of the missing Lindbergh Baby, defines herself continually by the role she plays in other people’s lives, never on her own terms.

The Aviator's Wife

“Were we women always destined to appear as we were not, as long as we were standing next to our husbands? I’d gone from college to the cockpit without a chance to decide who I was on my own, but so far, I was only grateful to Charles for saving me from that decision, for giving me direction when I had none. Even so, I suspected there were parts of me Charles didn’t understand; depths to my character he had no interest in discovering.

– The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

A proliferation of books has been published lately with titles like “The X’s Wife” or “The X’s Daughter” (take a look at this great article on The Millions). These titles tend to irritate me a bit, as they define the main female character (very rarely is it a son or father or husband) in terms of a relation to a man in her life. But in a book like The Aviator’s Wife, this strategy is a sound one. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and mother of the missing Lindbergh Baby, defines herself continually by the role she plays in other people’s lives, never on her own terms.

We first meet Anne and her vivacious older sister Elisabeth on the train to Mexico, where their father has been dispatched as the US ambassador. Anne is just about finished her degree at Smith, where all the Morrow girls go—even though she wanted to go to Vassar. Elisabeth is the beautiful one, younger sister Constance is still a child, yet to be slotted into a defined role, and Anne is the shy one, the unwavering one. She blends into the shadows and allows her life to be dictated by her family. . .and then she meets the most famous man in the world. The young Colonel Lindbergh is a media sensation, fresh from his flight across the Atlantic, and is visiting the Morrows for the holidays. Everyone assumes a romance will bloom between him and Elisabeth but in fact Anne catches his eye. He invites her for a solo flight and something awakens in her. It seems like true romance is in the air as he proposes, asking her to be his co-pilot.

Anne and Charles Lindbergh. Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Anne and Charles Lindbergh. Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Continue reading “Flying in his shadow: a review of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin”

book review

Cards, fans, and overthrowing a monarchy: a review of The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

Stockholm Octavo

“‘Madam Uzanne, I am of the belief that this geometry can create anything you can imagine. Anything,’ he repeated. ‘In short, you may build an edifice of your choosing, a palace or a prison.’

The Uzanne smiled at him in such a way that the casual observer might think that a passionate love affair was imminent. ‘I plan to make one of each.'”

– The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

An aristocratic, powerful woman known to all as the Uzanne wants Gustav deposed and his brother, Duke Karl, elevated to the throne. The apothicaire Johanna Grey will change her history, her name, and perhaps even her morals to avoid marriage to a violent older man. The seer and card sharp Mrs. Sparrow wishes to change the dire future she has foreseen for the monarchy. And sekretaire Emil Larsson, our wily and self-involved main narrator, just wants a life that provides him with a roof over his head, a game of cards, and the occasional shipment of confiscated goods through his job at the office of customs and excise.

Continue reading “Cards, fans, and overthrowing a monarchy: a review of The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann”

book review

Borrowing from the emptiness: a review of The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s Book-prize-nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya.

Garden of Evening Mists

“The first stone in my life had been set down years ago, when I had heard of Aritomo’s garden. Everything that had happened since then had brought me to this place in the mountains, this moment in time. Instead of consoling me, this knowledge left me fearful of where my life would lead.

I began to speak.

– The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s luminous, Booker Prize nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya. Teoh Yun Ling, a senior judge retiring from the Malaysian bench, is caught between different periods of her life, of remembering and forgetting.

Yun Ling has kept the reason for her retirement, and her subsequent return to the Cameron Highlands, secret from all but a few people: she has been diagnosed with aphasia, which means she will slowly lose her memories and her ability to process the meaning of words at all. Terrified but determined, she flees to the tea estate that once belonged to Aritomo Nakamura, a Japanese expatriate fabled for being the disgraced gardener of the Japanese emperor. This is not the first time she has made this journey. When she was 19, she and her sister Yun Hong were captured by the Japanese. The more attractive Yun Hong was pressed into service as a “comfort girl” for the soldiers. Ironically, her only escape came in the form of daydreams about Japanese gardens, an art form she fell in love with when the family visited Japan years earlier.

Continue reading “Borrowing from the emptiness: a review of The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng”

book review

Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be solved by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Mr. Penumbra's

 “He paused, then added, ‘Some of them are working very hard indeed.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘My boy!’ he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: ‘They are reading.'”

 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be figured out by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and, much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Clay Jannon is something of a slacker. After losing his first job out of graphic design school due to recession woes, he’s spending a lot of time on the couch, unemployed, ignoring the budding romance between his roommates. He’s waiting for something to happen, an amiable, aimless guy who is meandering through life. As he wanders the streets of San Francisco  he finds an extraordinary bookstore: open 24 hours a day, Mr. Penumbra’s is a store with “regular” books up front and strange tomes shelved way up into the storeys-high rafters. And he’s looking to hire. Clay applies and lands the job as the sole night clerk, mainly because he tells Mr. Penumbra that the books that have most influenced him are the (fictional) Dragon-Song Chronicles. Right answer, evidently. He begins work, and is tasked with the odd assignment of recording as much personal detail as possible about everyone who enters the store—and strangest of all, he is forbidden from reading any of the books. So of course, at the urging of old friends and his new love interest, Kat Potente (who has a giant brain and boundless energy, and works for Google), Clay opens the books and discover that they’re encoded.

Continue reading “Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan”

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To experience the art: A review of Girl Reading by Katie Ward

Seven women in seven different eras contemplate reading and art in Katie Ward’s ambitious debut novel Girl Reading. Each section introduces a new story, a new set of characters and circumstances, and a new work of art that was inspired by and includes the likeness of a girl or woman reading.

“I look through your notes again and they seem so delicate, dropped leaves. I like the unfinished poems best because it feels as though you have been interrupted momentarily, called away to make a decision about the horses or the baking, will be back shortly to shine them up.”

– Girl Reading, Katie Ward

Seven women in seven different eras contemplate reading and art in Katie Ward’s ambitious debut novel Girl Reading. Each section introduces a new story, a new set of characters and circumstances, and a new work of art that was inspired by and includes the likeness of a girl or woman reading. In doing so, Ward gets to create rich stories in different time periods while discussing the nature of art and the role of reading in women’s lives.

The Annunciation and Two Saints by Simone Martini. Image from en.wikipedia.org

While called a novel, this is, in fact, much closer to a set of seven themed short stories or very short novellas. They range in place, time, and context, while maintaining a similarity of tone throughout. First is Italian master Simone Maritni using an orphaned girl as his model of Mary in his Annunciation in 1333; next a deaf woman named Esther works as a maid in the household of Dutch artist Pieter Janssens Elinga in 1668; third, a celebrated female portraitist paints a likeness of a dead poetess for her grieving lover, a Lady in British society who has fallen into despair in 1775. Continue reading “To experience the art: A review of Girl Reading by Katie Ward”

book review

How to live with her dying: a review of The End of your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She has traveled widely, is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

“I guess if we keep reading books at more or less the same time, then it’s sort of like being in a book club,” I added….
“But you don’t have time for a book club!” Mom said.
“I have time to read. And we’ve always talked about books. So if we’re reading the same books, and talking about them, why can’t we call that a book club?”

– The End of your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She loves her grandchildren, and theatre, and Vero Beach. She has traveled throughout Africa, to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Burma, to Geneva and London, and many other ports of call. She is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

In this simple and moving memoir, Schwalbe details the last two years of his mother’s life, with sidetrips into the experiences of people Mary Anne has influenced or been influenced by. Returning home from a humanitarian trip to Afghanistan, Mary Anne becomes quite sick, and doctors diagnose her with a rare form of hepatitis, not surprising given where she’d come from. But as her condition worsens, the diagnosis changes: cancer, the kind that tends to kill in a matter of months. But while Mary Anne’s cancer isn’t curable, it is treatable. As Will and his mom sit in endless waiting rooms together, in sessions of chemo and waiting for scans and before speaking with doctors, they find themselves asking each other what they’re reading, and Will proposes a very special book club: why don’t they read the same books at the same time and discuss them?

Continue reading “How to live with her dying: a review of The End of your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe”

book review, graphic novel, Multimedia Mondays

Multimedia Monday: Goliath, by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel review

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier.

Multimedia Mondays is a new feature on EditorialEyes Book Blog, including reviews of graphic novels, theatre, ballet, movies based on books, and all things book-related in other media.

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier. He’s not a monster, a warrior, or even an expert fighter. He’s the “fifth worst swordsman” in his unit. But visually, he’s intimidating.

Meanwhile, the king of the Philistines is presented with an idea, a way to end the stalemate wih the Israelites at a cost of only one or two Philistine lives. The king okays it without a second thought, and before poor Goliath knows it, he’s being measured for impressive-looking but shoddily made armour and is pulled off admin duty, which he quite enjoys. He’s sent into a valley and given a script to shout out to the opposing army.

Continue reading “Multimedia Monday: Goliath, by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel review”