Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Member Since 2011
McWhorter's short book is obviously aimed at the public at large and in the audio version at least, he is a narrator who is engaging and fun and obviously doesn't take himself too seriously, which kept me going even the more arduous bits (I've always had a hard time with grammar). He uncovers some links in the English language which are surprisingly overlooked by most linguists, among others, the connection between the spoken languages of the Celts as well as the Welsh and Cornish who had populated Britain before the invasion of the Germanic tribes, pointing out that not only words, but grammar itself was influenced by these origins. Why historians have ignored these particular linguistic connections is anyone's guess, and he advances some theories which are interesting.
A noteworthy reminder for the modern reader is the fact that language was transmitted purely orally and on the fly, with no formal schooling in existence and was almost never put in writing, with the bulk of the population being illiterate, besides which written and oral versions of languages were often vastly different (for example, Latin exclusively in many Mediterranean countries for written matter, and Arabic, even to this day different in daily speech and printed matter).
He also goes over quite a bit of ground in this section about the use of "unnecessary do" in the modern English language, as in "do you think this is a good idea?" It took me a while to understand this concept, because we use (unecessary) 'do' so much in our regular speech that we don't even think about it, but it seems no other Germanic languages use it this way.
The end section was of particular interest to me, because having studied in grade school in Israel, I learned how Hebrew was a semitic language which at one point evolved from Phoenician, and here McWhorter makes the argument that even the proto-Germanic language, from which modern languages such as English, German and Dutch evolved, through the sea travels of peoples such as the Phoenicians, probably had similar influences as well.
An overview more than anything, but fascinating in parts.
On the day of her retirement from the sweets factory where she has been working for over 40 years, Miss Jean Hawkins has resolved this to be the last day of her life, and she had made all the necessary preparations to that end. Then she goes in to her last day of work and is given as a cheap retirement gift a five-year diary, and she takes this as an order from above that she's been given a five-year sentence to live, and that furthermore, she must fill a page from the diary every single day. Miss Hawkins has had up till then a rather sad and uneventful life, growing up in an orphanage, from which she took away mostly unhappy memories of the nasty Matron, who held her back from being adopted into a foster family because she was a good helper around the orphanage, and properly trampled down on any sense of self or individuality, among other minor horrors, and also of finding young Morris's body, a fellow orphan girl who took her life by hanging herself with the rags used as sanitary napkins, shortly after beginning her menstruation, after which Matron had convinced Miss Hawkins she had had a nasty nightmare and the event never took place, even though Morris was never seen again. In short, nothing since then has come into her life to make her forget these sad events, and nobody in all her decades at the factory has ever even bothered to find out what her first name was beyond the 'Miss', so that she has little to say for herself in that diary, until the day she has a sudden inspiration to give herself orders which she must follow up on and then tick off once they are accomplished. At first she starts with easy to accomplish things, such as "watch tv" or "take a long walk", and eventually she becomes more daring till she works her way up to "meet a man" then once that's accomplished, "have the man kiss you", no small thing for a woman who is still a virgin by her mid-sixties.
Rubens's writing is excellent, and her black humour just as excellently mordant as I enjoyed it to be in The Waiting Game, my first book by her, but somehow I couldn't enjoy this novel as much. For one thing, Miss Hawkins is such a pathetic character and so self-deluded, which in and of itself wouldn't have been so bad and might have been very amusing to me if there hadn't also been a man present to take advantage of her foolishness and rob her of all she had, a situation which I couldn't help but find unbearably sad. There's the way in which she goes about finding a man, which is initially very pathetic yet quite funny. It's mostly in the details, but in essence, she goes to the library and stands in the religious texts sections and there tries to grab the first man she sees by calling out to him "isn't it a nice day?!", and sure enough, eventually she does bump into a man and run her line by him, even though it happens to be raining by then. That he happens not to seem particularly interested and then shortly establishes that he lives with his mother who never lets him out of her sight other than to go to the library to get her lurid thriller novels which he picks out purely by how graphic the covers look doesn't deter our heroine, nor does the fact that he turns out to be a perfect cad who expects her to pay for everything. No self-respecting woman would give a man like that the time of day, but our poor Miss Hawkins has no notions of self-respect, so instead she finds him all the more appealing for it and is willing to enter into a little game with him, and furiously expends her frustrations in an endless scarf knitting project, where she puts all her anger about Matron, which has never abated, even after all these years, into every stitch, never once considering that the man who has been taking advantage of her and stealing her savings should be the target for her anger instead of all the girlish fantasies she indulges in over several years to come.
While I'm able to see the humour in the situation, it also cuts a bit too close to the bone. How many times have we women deluded ourselves to make untenable situations seem rosy just in order to keep going? In that sense, this book is truly brilliant, which is probably what garnered it a shortlisting for the Booker Prize in 1978, but I rated it based on the reading pleasure it did or did not give me, and in this case, while I enjoyed it, I was also rather looking forward to getting to the end of a difficult ordeal. All the same, recommended—Rubens does have such a great wicked sense of humour—but with some reservations of course.
The narrator Nicolette McKenzie was excellent on this audio version, but there is a very minor glitch, with one 3-second bit that was obviously intended to be edited out and left in by mistake.
This is without a doubt among the best books I've read this summer, and indeed, all year. I've been meaning to read Bernice Rubens's books for several years now, ever since a reviewer on a book site I frequent brought her to my attention. Until then, I wasn't really aware of her work. I'd heard of the movie Madame Sousatzka, based on her novel, because Shirley MacLaine had played the lead role, but had it not been for this reviewer, Rubens might have gone on being completely unknown to me for decades longer, which would have been a sad loss. As it is, I've slowly been accumulating some of her books, and was delighted to discover Isis Publishing had recently put out audiobook versions of a number of her novels, all read by very good narrators.
The Waiting Game of the title takes place at Hollyhocks, a distinguished home for the aged close to Dover, where only the gentry need apply for admission. Matron, who keeps things well in hand, has always seen to that, and she has always been able to sift the scent of class from the other less pleasant effluvia of aging. Lady Celia is queen among the patrons, being the only one of the residents holding a title, and all the other residents defer to her in all matters. Of course nobody has any idea she makes a comfortable living with a thriving blackmailing concern which she runs with the help of a partner and Mr Venables, aka The Ferret. Yet, though they all show her respect, most of the residents dislike Lady Celia because their instinct tells them she will outlast them all. Jeremy Cross has more reason than most to hate her as he's made outliving everyone his one and only obsession. He keeps a constantly updated list of those who have passed away before their time and has every intention of outliving all the other residents at Hollyhocks, especially Lady Celia.
Each resident in the house has his or her secrets and when newcomer Mrs Thackeray arrives, she and Mrs Green become friendly and embark on seemingly harmless fantasy-ridden retellings of the past. After all, Mrs Thackeray had endured a miserable and sexually abusive marriage which isn't fit to talk about, while Mrs Green, well.. she perhaps has more reasons than most to wish to reinvent herself. Of course, for the most part, only the reader is privy to everybody's secrets, though in the end a very big surprise is revealed to everyone. I admit I saw it coming, but this didn't take away from my pleasure one bit.
I'm not sure why it is I enjoy reading about elderly people so much (and here I should specify when I say 'elderly', I do mean old and frail enough to need to be in retirement homes!)—it probably has to do with the fact that having lived so long, and lived through many generations, they've inevitably accumulated life experiences, have fully blossomed into the unique individuals those experiences have forged them into, and invariably have stories to tell, and in the hands of skilled writers, these characters can yield pure magic. Two of my all-time favourite novels feature men and women who are in the winters of their lives: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark and All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. Both gems which I intend to revisit often and heartily recommend.
I can see lots more Rubens in my future, and this was a great place to start. Narrator Anna Bentinck does this novel full justice. Much recommended.
At the head of the Elliot family is the baronet Sir Walter, a widower and a vain man who lives beyond his means and makes up his mind about people solely based on their appearance and station in life. His eldest and his youngest daughters take after him, to great comical effect, but Anne Elliot, his middle daughter, is quite different. She's a great reader of poetry and has never forgotten her first romantic attachment to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a romance which took place eight years before the story begins. But like all well bred young ladies of her day, she let herself be persuaded by a close friend of the family, Lady Russell, to break off the engagement because of Wentworth's apparent lack of fortune and prospects. But Wentworth is back, now having acquired great wealth and looking for a wife, and anyone will do, as long as she is fond of the navy. Anyone that is, but Anne.
This, the last novel Austen wrote as she was dying, is a story imbued with a sense of loss, missed opportunities and regret, but of course in the end, love must conquer all and hope wins the day.
This audio version by the ever-perfect Juliet Stevenson was quite a treat.
Gwyneth and her entire family has always believed that her much more beautiful, better poised and much better educated cousin Charlotte had inherited the time travel gene, as Isaac Newton had foretold. The onset of the symptoms first appear during the gene-carrier's teens; headaches and dizziness and then out of the blue he or she is transported sometime in the past (never the future since it hasn't happened yet) for no longer than a couple of hours. Charlotte has been meticulously prepared all her life for this, but when Gwen suddenly discovers the hard way her mother has held back secrets from her and she lands in another century much to her surprise, the family is forced to accept this reversal of fortune.
There's some allusion to an alchemical secret and a circle of 12 which Gwyneth completes with the confirmation of her genetic capabilities which I guess gets worked out in the course of the next two books. Of course, she has a love interest, in the shape of a fellow time traveler and distant cousin, Gideon de Villiers, who at first seems to despise her and to show a marked admiration for the ravishing Charlotte, but soon comes to appreciate Gwen's spunk and ability to handle situations on the fly.
I don't always appreciate YA literature, often finding it too fluffy and predictable to my liking, but this summer my teen self seems to be enjoying the diversions I'm offering it, and this first book in the trilogy was so much fun that I'll be looking for the next two books soon to find out how Gwen fares in the end and what the 'ultimate secret', which one of her cousins is working hard to kept hushed up—supposedly for the good of all—is.
Many readers must come to this book having read quite a few Alan Furst WWII spy novels. After all, as the NYT stated in a recent review, "Mr. Furst has long since carved out this turf and made it his own", and while I've long wanted to start on his Night Soldiers series, I jumped at the occasion to acquaint myself with this novelist with his latest one-off.
Cristián Ferrar is a Spanish émigré living in Paris and has some clout as a lawyer working for a prestigious American law firm representing an international clientèle. When the novel starts in December 1937, the Spanish civil war is ongoing and the Republicans, fighting against General Franco's fascist army is in desperate need of munitions. Ferrar, with his skills as a negotiator and diplomat is recruited to help in the arms deal negotiations with dangerous criminals and to ensure the shipments actually get into the proper hands. A man of not inconsiderable charms and an amorous disposition, Ferrar quickly falls for the charms of a prim and proper potential client, the Marquesa Maria Cristina. Beneath her chic veneer is a woman all too willing to fall for Ferrar's charm, but is she who she claims to be and does she have ulterior motives? Ferrar is too clever to be played like an innocent in these dangerous times, but he also doesn't miss a chance to enjoy the bounties beautiful women and life in Paris have to offer, as the novel takes him from exclusive swank nightclubs and the famous Parisian landmark, restaurant Lapérouse, to wine and dine, and potentially bribe a necessary contact. From there to negotiations with Bulgarian gangsters in Istanbul brothels and uncollaborative train-yard inspectors in Poland, he and his collaborator, ex arms dealer Max de Lyon, must use all the finesse they can to deliver the arms to Spain or else see the republicans lose to the Fascists in the bigger war that is looming ahead. It took me a while to sink into the story, in which many characters are introduced in the beginning, but once I got in the groove it was a smooth, satisfying ride with plenty of zing.
I read and listened to quite a few fantasy YA novels in June, and while fantasy and YA aren't usually in my comfort zone, ended up enjoying all of them. This particular trilogy only came to my attention because I've fallen in love with Samuel West's voice and narration style, and so have bought most of the audiobooks he's recorded that are likely to be of interest to me (16 of them so far). Twin sister and brother Kestrel and Bowman Hath are living peacefully in their now egalitarian society after having endured a totalitarian regime most of their lives (this is covered in book 1 of the Wind of Fire Trilogy). However this state of affairs doesn't last long when an ambitious young soldier decides to capture the entire town as slaves for the people of the Mastery. The methods used to keep captured slaves compliant are incredibly cruel, so the people have no choice but to let themselves be led to their new masters. While the raid takes place, Kestrel and Bowman are separated, with the boy and other family members taken in captivity while Kestrel is left behind to make her way to safety. Along the road, she meets a young and extremely beautiful princess travelling in great pomp who takes her under her wing. The twins each use their great intelligence and special skills to get their family back together again while also doing all they can to overthrow the oppressive regime, with the girls also having to fend off the advances of dangerously enamoured men. And exciting adventure story which is rather unique, as was the first book. Both are highly recommended.
I became very keen to learn all about the Tudors after reading Hilary Mantel's excellent Wolf Hall, followed by Bring Up the Bodies not long after. At that time I had very little notion about British History, and none at all about Henry VIII and his time, other than the fact he was an oft-married tyrant who had a couple of his wives beheaded. This book was just what I needed to fill some of the biggest gaps in my understanding of a) the reasons why H8 married so often b) who his wives were, with their backgrounds and personal stories and c) why he killed off two of his wives and divorced two more. I also learned in greater detail about d) how and why the break from Rome and the pope occurred, and why there were so many reversals back and forth from Catholic to Protestant beliefs, resulting in the deaths of uncounted masses of people for heresies which were determined according to ever-changing priorities and whims of the great monarch.
I felt I got quite a thorough overview of each of Henry's six wives, and also that Alison Weir seemed to greatly dislike Anne Boleyn, who came across as quite an unlikeable woman, though I gather this is a widely agreed upon opinion. Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, predictably enough, came across as a saint. Ann of Cleves and Catherine Parr, as the two clever ones who survived marriage to a vile brute. And of course, plenty of information about the monarch himself and his time.
Recommended for those who like me have an interest in literature about that period with little background on the topic, as I imagine a lot of the material is familiar to those who have a better grasp on English history.
While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, March Violets earlier this month, I can't say I felt quite the same about this one. We are now in the Berlin of 1938 and Bernie Gunther is asked to rejoin the police force to work on a serial murder case. Several young girls have gone missing and been found defiled in the most gruesome manner: raped, tied by their feet and drained of their blood exactly like slaughtered pigs. All the girls were around 15, blonde and blue-eyed; the perfect Arian stereotype. Another private case has him uncovering a man blackmailing a wealthy widow, a publisher whose son is a homosexual who (inadvisedly in this age of Nazi power) kept up a correspondence with his lover, some of those letters now being in the hands of the blackmailer. Two very different cases, and no apparent link to the question of the oppression of the Jews in this year which is marked by Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, an organized attack against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria which took place on the 9th and 10th November 1938. But of course we eventually learn that no crime in this time and place could occur without the aim of further oppressing the Jews.
While I liked the way the case started resolving itself two-thirds of the way in, I've developed a serious dislike for forms of entertainment which centre on serial rapes and murders of women, and the details in this case were truly horrendous. Perhaps because of this, I focused more on little things that bothered me with the first book; endless questionable similes and a main hero who is a typical macho male, which is accurate enough for the period portrayed and amused me the first time around, but here set off against the background of these female victims was distasteful to me. Is that reverse sexism on my part? All the same, solid writing overall (except those similes—why?) and a crime story which places the reader firmly in the heart of Nazi Germany just before WWII. I'll be listening to the third book to see what trouble Bernie gets into next.
My first Philippa Gregory, picked up partly because it was on sale here at Audible, and partly because I was interested in learning more about the mother of the Princes in the Tower and that particular period of British history, which especially came to my attention when I listened to Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time (narrated by the fantastic Sir Derek Jacobi). Reading Tey's book, I was both impressed and frustrated. Impressed because Tey is such a great story-teller, but frustrated because at that point I knew little to nothing about the main characters involved in this political drama and I resolved to find out more about it so I could read it again eventually and feel I had a better grasp on the events and personalities described.
In that sense, this book has delivered the goods very well. Why go to a work of fiction rather than a no doubt more reliable work of non-fiction? Because I can retain facts much better when they are told to me as a story with interesting characters moved by complex motives. Gergory's work is obviously very well researched and she has a skill for writing compelling stories. Certainly she is never likely to win a literary prize, and I was slightly annoyed when certain details were repeated twice and three times. But otherwise the story of Elizabeth Woodville, who became Queen consort when she married King Edward IV for love—of all things, in an age when marriages were nothing more than political pacts (it was the cause célèbre at the time)—, is here very well told, and from her own perspective so that we get to hear how much influence the women likely had over these great men of power. The story begins in the 1460s, when she first meets the King and compels him to fall in love with her with a combination of charm, great beauty, brains, and if we are to believe the persistent rumours that have always surrounded her, witchcraft as well. She had two sons from a previous marriage to John Grey of Groby, who died fighting for the Lancastrians during the ongoing Wars of the Roses. Her own parents were also Lancastrians, so that while her alliance with a Yorkist King was certainly calculated to promote her and her children's welfare by aligning with the clan in power, it seems this ambitious woman truly loved King Edward and bore him 10 children, including Edward V of England, who was King of England for less than 4 months, and Richard, Duke of York, both Princes in the Tower who disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their uncle Richard III (King Edward IV's youngest brother) kept his nephews imprisoned in the Tower of London in his political machinations to take over the crown. Elizabeth Woodville's oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, married King Henry VII, and King Henry VIII was one of three surviving children from that union, so that the heroine of this novel is the ancestor of every English monarch since Henry VIII and every Scottish monarch since James V of Scotland through her daughter Elizabeth. A really great read with plenty of political intrigue and romance as well as a good lesson in history. I checked many facts against wikipedia and found everything to be completely in order.
I only wish I'd checked the chronological order of the stories, as would have probably started the series with The Lady of the Rivers, which is third in publication order but tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville's mother, who sounds like a fascinating lady. Jacquetta of Luxembourg had a scandalous second marriage with a man far inferior in rank, Sir Richard Woodville, who served as her first husband, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford's chamberlain. Believed to be a descendant of the river goddess Melusina, she also allegedly practiced witchcraft, the knowledge of which she passed on to her daughter. I'll probably be moving on to that one next.
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