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Book Review: “Paper Woman”

Well, this week was a lovely one spent visiting family, reading by the pool in the Florida sunshine while my parents chased my kids around, and feeling generally well rested and refreshed on some much needed vitamin-D (it’s been a long, gray, dreary winter). Speaking of reading by the pool…

In keeping with March’s “Month of Women” theme for March, this week I read Suzanne Adair’s historical fiction novel, Paper Woman.

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Paper Woman follows Sophie – a 33 year old widow living in Georgia during the American Revolution – as she faces redcoats, rebels, Native Americans, and dangerous Spaniards on an exciting journey from Georgia to St. Augustine, where she hopes to find the man who murdered her father. Sophie comes face-to-face with fear, love, and her true self, all while keeping herself, and her companions, alive.

What a great novel! Not only is it exceptionally well-written and a real page turner (I had a hard time putting it down), but Sophie is, quite possibly, my new favorite female heroine in a newer book. Contemporary authors have this desire to make their female characters either wilting flowers, or infallible, rough, tough women, and I always have a hard time relating to one or the other. Sophie is a wonderfully balanced combination of both. She is strong, determined, stubborn, and smart, but also sensitive and full of faults – characteristics I feel that any real woman can relate to. The supporting cast of mostly male characters are richly described and just as realistic, contributing to Paper Woman being one of those historical fiction novels that you can picture being based on real people and real events. They seem to come out of a journal entry, rather than a work of fiction.

Adair surely does her research. The historical backdrop is so acutely tuned and deeply developed – you feel like you have been there – seen the sights, smelled the smells, experienced the action first hand. The characterization of Sophie and her comrades, coupled with Adair’s well-defined setting makes this novel a joy to read. I may be a little partial to this novel – it has a great female lead, is about one of the most fascinating (in my opinion) periods in American history, and is historical fiction (my favorite genre) – but I think this one is a must read for sure. There’s enough romance for the romance readers, loads of history for the historian, and a female character that will make you either fall in love or feel empowered. The book is exciting to no end, and a wonderful way to learn facts about American history you didn’t know before (for example: I had no idea the Spanish were involved in the American Revolution – shame on me)! The best part, however, is that this book is the first in a series. You can count on seeing another of Adair’s Mysteries of the American Revolution Trilogy.

If I’ve piqued your interest, you can find this book in a really well formatted eBook version at the following sites (just click the links). You might also find a hard copy on one of these sites if you prefer a book in your hands (I usually do).

Amazon  |  Smashwords  |  Barnes and Noble  |  iTunes  |  Kobo

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, visit her website: http://www.suzanneadair.net – her blog is updated frequently, and her posts are always interesting, informative posts about the American Revolution (generally), and give an insight into her research process!

So what about you? Have you read any of Adair’s books? What are your thoughts? Do you appreciate a well-written female lead? Do you like American Revolution novels? Mysteries?

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Book Review: Frankenstein

Happy October! Halloween is my favorite holiday (hands down), and in my house, the entire month of October is dedicated to the big day. So it goes without saying that my book choice would reflect my love for Halloween! This week’s book was a classic horror novel that has inspired multiple movies and thousands of nightmares – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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I’ll be honest, I was not expecting the story I read!! I’ve only ever seen the movie (the 1931 classic) and let me tell you – Shelley’s story is completely different. Shelley’s novel is told through the point of view of three men – a sea captain, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature. The sea captain, traveling through the arctic, stumbles upon a freezing and starving Frankenstein, and listens to the terrific story Frankenstein tells him – one of creation, destruction, love and horror. Frankenstein tells of his upbringing – the eldest son in a happy household, Frankenstein is deeply struck by the death of his mother. His passion for science becomes more and more inspired as he grows older, and Frankenstein eventually moves away from home to pursue his studies. Frankenstein goes on the mad mission of creating life – something he succeeds at. His success, however, is muddled by the horrors the creature causes in his life, and Frankenstein’s greatest achievement becomes his downfall.

The most shocking part of the story is the creature – Frankenstein’s monster. Shelley’s character is like a baby born into a grown body, and develops through his “infancy” and “adolescence” without the guidance of a parent. This, coupled with his frightening appearance, causes the creature to receive the worst of human traits, and contributes to him being angry at the world – especially his creator. The creature looks to Frankenstein to help him in his solitude, but Frankenstein sees only a monster needing destruction. The creature, embittered by his mistreatment by the one person who should love him, returns the favor and destroys Frankenstein’s life from the inside out.

Shelley’s story is filled with classic Romantic Era themes – the importance of childhood (both Frankenstein’s and his creature’s), man’s struggle with God (seen in Frankenstein seeking to become “Creator”), man’s constant struggle with self (seen in both characters’ desires to change themselves), and the everlasting debate between science and nature. Frankenstein shows the innate struggle between man trying to overcome Nature, while at the same time relying on Nature for solace. Frankenstein seeks to overcome Nature and God by creating life, and creates something completely unnatural. Yet, whenever Frankenstein needs to seek some kind of happiness, he looks to Nature as a way of healing his broken soul. One of my favorite passages in the novel was when Frankenstein is recovering after being rescued by the sea captain, and the captain observes

Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

The real theme in the story, however, is the true nature of man – every man can be a monster. While learning the history of Europe, the creature learns of the crimes of humanity. Having struggled with his identity and definition, the creature realizes that all men are monsters, and so aptly sums it up, saying

Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

This felt to me a true turning point. Shelley recognizes the duality of man, and comments on how all men have the capacity to be a monster. The monster was defined as such because of the way he looked, when in reality he was innocent of any crimes. By identifying himself as other men would identify him – as a monster – his belief becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, and the creature fills his role as a monster.

I found Shelley’s story insightful and terrifying – but not because of the creature. Shelley’s commentary on the true nature of mankind was very realistic and very disheartening. We define ourselves and others based of their appearance – fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, black, white, or “monster” – but do not look truthfully at ourselves. The truth of the story, of course, is that Frankenstein was the monster, while his creature was simply the unfortunate byproduct of Frankenstein’s hubris (overwhelming pride). Frankenstein is the classic “tragic hero” – exalted by his abilities, and destructed by his pride.

I greatly enjoyed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I think it was an excellent choice to kick off our Halloween Theme for October reading! I hope you’ll consider picking it up during the month to get into the Halloween theme. Now it’s time to find what movie adaptation that Shelley would recognize!

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Week 5 Reading: Frankenstein

Well folks, this week starts week 5 of our book challenge, and brings around our fifth book! This should be an interesting one, because this week overlaps two months – September and October – and therefore overlaps two themes. I wanted to incorporate September’s theme – books that have been made into Movies/TV Shows – but also start off our Halloween month with a bang! What could be a better choice than Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein?!

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I have, to my great embarrassment, never read this book!! I’m really looking forward to diving into the Romantic Era novel, and discovering one of the most renowned classic horror novels! I spent 8 weeks over the summer taking a Romantic and Modern British Literature course for my BA in English, and we read a lot of Percy Shelley’s (Mary’s husband) work, but never even touched on Mary’s work – arguably the most famous of the Shelley pieces.

This book has been made into multiple movie adaptations, featuring everyone from Bela Lugosi to Robert De Niro as Frankenstein’s monster. My favorite adaptation, however, was Mel Brook’s parody “Young Frankenstein.”

I hope you get inspired to pick up Frankenstein for a read along this week, and start getting into the Halloween spirit! Decorations go up around my house on the first for a full month of Halloween, and Frankenstein is a great way to start it all off!

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Book Review: Serena

Well it happened again, despite my belief that it wouldn’t. Two books down – 50 to go (in as many weeks). This week’s reading was Ron Rash’s historical fiction novel Serena. In keeping with our monthly theme of books that have been made into Movies/TV Shows, Serena is a movie (starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), which is set to release this fall!

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Wow! What a shocker of a novel! This book was not, in any way, what I expected!! Please be advised that this book review may contain some SPOILERS, but I will do my best to avoid giving away any major plot points that will ruin the shocking ending to this book.

Ron Rash’s novel, Serena, takes place in the late 1920s in the woods of Western North Carolina. The novel is about a wealthy timber family, the Pembertons, who own controlling shares in the Boston Lumber Company. The story has many intricate plot lines, including the daily business of a lumber company, the tension between the company and the US Government, which is seeking to acquisition the property for a national park, and the life of Rebecca Harmond, a young girl pregnant with (and later mother to) Pemberton’s child.

When we first meet Serena Pemberton, her sorted past, un-lady-like demeanor and shrewd business sense drive the plot lines along. While she’s not a particularly likeable character, you find yourself rooting for her, much in the way of the stereotypical anti-heroine. It isn’t until midway through the novel that we begin to wonder about her history, and by the end of the novel, you’re begging for her demise. Her charming disposition covers up a multitude of well-hidden sins. She is able to seduce people into her power, bend them to her will, and then discard of them in the most terrifying of ways.

Rash does a beautiful job telling his story. His characterization makes the novel seem less like a story, and more like a realistic event. As a reader, I felt like I knew the characters – from the power-hungry Pembertons, to the pitiable Rebecca, to the minor workers at the lumber company. The time and attention Rash gives to secondary characters – like the workers – creates the sense of belonging, and helps give an alternative perspective to the story. Sarcastic Ross, philosophical Snipes and religious McIntire all contribute to the feeling of being part of the lumber company – we know these men, and trust their judgments. I had expected the story to be told through the title character’s point of view, and yet we never enter her mind throughout the whole novel. The novel is spent exploring the points of view of everyone she comes into contact with – contributing to various opinions and conflicting ideas about our protagonist (is she a beautiful woman? a witch? the devil herself?).

It’s hard to describe this story and do it justice. Essentially, a whole lot of nothing happens in the first two-thirds of the book. Rash spends his time developing his characters and the plot – so much so that we can identify with them, and understand their actions. It isn’t until we begin to truly comprehend what Serena’s actions are leading to – and we do, even if we choose to ignore it – that we realize how brilliantly Rash has set up his story. He plants seeds of doubt, seeds of distrust – and when the seeds bloom, they run wild.

Serena is beautifully written and captivating – I was left feeling surprised, thrilled and vindicated. Rash hit the ball out of the park with this one. I happen to be a fan of historical fiction, so this book was right up my alley, but if you’re not necessarily a reader of historical fiction, give this one a chance! It has enough intrigue, mystery and action to keep anyone on their toes!

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September 14, 2013 · 11:56 am