Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

sedaris

“A person doesn’t consciously choose what he focuses on. Those things choose you, and, once they do, nothing, it seems, can shake them.” ~~ David Sedaris in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

From Lauren’s Perspective:

Hilarious and insightful as always, Sedaris has another hit with Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  The stories found within its pages did more than just make me laugh, they made me think.  They made me question humanity and it’s current state, and whether its current state is positive or not.  And most of all they made me really want to know David Sedaris in the way it felt like I already knew him after reading this collection of essays.

Reading a book like this, one full of very personal short stories about a writers life, is always hard to critique.  I can’t do it in the way I would a novel, yet there is a lot to be said about Sedaris’ stories.  He manages to write about a world that happens to be his reality, while still making it seem outlandish in some ways, unbelievable in some ways, and hilarious in most ways.

He writes about normal, everyday things like what to get his boyfriend for Valentine’s day in his story “Understanding Understanding Owls”, and he writes about all the amazing trips he goes on in just about all of his other stories.  But even while travelling the world, seeing amazing things and experiencing life in a way everyone should, he manages to bring you with him.  Instead of talking about staying in expensive hotels, he talks about renovating a home and picking up trash at the side of the road.  Instead of talking about five star travel, and first-class lounges, he shares stories about a sea turtle that changed his life in Hawaii.

That’s not to say he tries to relate to everyone. That’s not to say he is trying to down play the amazing life he’s lived.  He still tells stories about buying homes in Paris and in West Sussex, about living all over the world; but rather than tell us stories about a lavish lifestyle, he relates stories about the mundane things that happen within that sometimes lavish lifestyle.  He makes you relate by showing you that no matter what, you will experience strange people in strange cities doing strange things, and sometimes those strange people will be your family and friends, and sometimes those strange cities will be the ones where you spend most of your life.

The best thing about Sedaris, in my opinion, is his ability to go off on a tangent while always bringing the story back home.  What starts out as a story about an inside joke turns into a story about a journey for the perfect Valentine’s day gift, which then turns into a story about his love of strange and sometimes disturbing objects.  But in the end, Sedaris brings his readers back to the importance of the owl, he brings his readers back to the reason he wrote the story to begin with.  It feels as though you are reading twenty stories at once, you wonder where he could possibly be going with his stories, until suddenly, you don’t have to wonder anymore and everything makes sense.  He always ends his stories perfectly, oftentimes throwing in a life lesson, or sometimes simply describing a peculiar life event, but always doing so with perfectly timed humour.

David Sedaris is a unique writer, in that he has spent most of his career writing about nothing but himself, even though he claims he hasn’t lived that extraordinary of a life.  To have the talent to write about sometimes mundane things that happen in everyday life and turn them into something meaningful and hilarious is a wonderful thing.  To give this to his readers time and time again is his gift to the world.

This book is perfect for anyone who claims not to be a lover of books, someone who doesn’t spend all their time reading.  The stories are short, easy to get through, easier to laugh through, and perfect for anyone looking to get into some great summer reading.

Rating

Plot – N/A
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – N/A
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 8/10

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

 

“To know ourselves and, in turn, to endure the perpetual reminder of our solitude. To be cast out. To wander alone.”  ~~Andrew Pyper in The Demonologist

From Lauren’s Perspective:

Oddly enough, it was the advertising for this book that drew me in.  This doesn’t usually happen to me, as I am not usually the type of person to notice advertising without it being thrown in my face.  But the truth was, this book was sort of thrown in my face.  The advertising wasn’t particularly clever, but it was everywhere.  Every time I walked onto the subway I would see this bright red book cover staring back at me.  Every time I walked into a book store I would see a poster exclaiming “coming soon from Andrew Pyper”.  So finally, after having been bombarded with images of this supposedly amazing book, I took the time to read about it, and in a simple blurb about the book, I knew I had to read it.  I even knew that I would love it.

The plot was perfectly complex without being too hard to follow.  The books premise is based around Professor David Ullman’s strange encounter with a “thin woman” who sends him on a journey that results in the disappearance of his daughter.  The premise is, of course, much more complicated then that, but that sentence essentially sums up the plot.  The intricacies that follow this story, including the ever present link to Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as the texts religious overtones are more than enough to keep you turning page after page after page.  From the first chapter, I couldn’t put the book down, which is exactly how I enjoy my books.  Intriguing, interesting, intricate.

The characters were as interesting as the plot.  Professor Ullman, our stories protagonist, was a doting father, studious professor who excelled in all things Milton while remaining a devout atheist, and a generally likable guy.  He suffered a few tragedies that sent him on a misguided mission which resulted in his whole world being turned even more upside down than it already was.  His faults gave him character and his strengths gave him charm.  Ullman’s main counterpart, O’Brien, was a likable know-it-all, who came off in a pretentious manner, but one that you could relate to and even wish to have as a friend in your own life.  She was the antithesis of Ullman’s cheating ex-wife, and the romantic undertones of their relationship was a pleasure to read because they didn’t detract from the books main message, but instead added to the depth of the characters and their need for comfort in times of fear, rather than their need to be loved.  Even the books secondary characters were well written.  Tess, though she appears very briefly before being lost to a mysteriously “unnamed” dark force, is a precocious eleven year old with a brain as big as her fathers.  She seems like the perfect daughter, if at times slightly moody.  My only complaint would be in the character of “the pursuer”.  He was mysterious to a fault.  His purpose in the story never fully grasped.  Who did he work for?  Why did he do it?  Was he human or other?  What made him care so much about the life of David Ullman?  These questions were skirted around but never directly resolved, so I found his presence slightly frustrating.  All other secondary characters in the book were well used and in some cases, incredibly creepy.  No one was there without purpose.

Moving on to Pyper’s writing style, I would call it more than adequate.  There was nothing spectacular or mind-blowing about it, but there was nothing disappointing in it either.  Sometimes a book can’t be all about perfecting the English language, sometimes it has to be about the story first and the words second, and in a book that entwines Paradise Lost with demonology with a cross-country spiritual journey to find a missed loved one, the story had to come first.  This is not a fault.  If the language had been too convoluted, the reader would have easily gotten lost among the words and been unable to follow this fascinating, and actually terrifying story.

Pyper’s tale has been related to Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, but I think this is doing him a disservice.  Pyper is a much better writer than Brown, in my opinion, although both can surely tell an interesting story.  To me, Pyper’s writing is more similar to that of Steven King, in style and in story line.  There was just enough horror and scenes of spine chilling terror that fans of King would feel right at home within Andrew Piper’s words.

All in all, The Demonologist was definitely a good book and definitely worth the quick read.  Just be prepared to sleep with the night light on.

Rating

Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 16/20

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A Brenner/Gowing Thought ~~ Part Seven

Well, here’s another thought instead of another review.  We’ve been busy as usual and I figured, better to post something than nothing at all.  We haven’t had time to converge on a book yet, but a new one is coming your way shortly, I guarantee.  If anyone out there has any suggestions for us, or books they’d like to see reviewed, feel free to let us know.

In the meantime, I thought we’d share some quotes.  These quotes inspire us to be writers, inspire us to be readers, and inspire us to respect the written word.  A good quote can do just as much as any good book can do.  It can make you stop and think, it can change your view or opinion, it can cause you to drastically change your life when change is needed.  I know a quote from a song was the catalyst that made me leave my home town and move to the big city.  Anything is possible with words.  Here are a few of our favourites:

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“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”  – Louisa May Alcott 

atwood

“I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise.” – Margaret Atwood 

bradbury

“Write!  So as not to be dead.”  – Ray Bradbury

bukowski

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Bukowski 

burroughs

“I myself am entirely made of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”  – Augusten Burroughs

Carroll

“”Have I gone mad?”  “I’m afraid so, you’re entirely bonkers.  But I’ll tell you a secret…all the best people are.”” – Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland

CS LEWIS

“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis

frost

“I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  – Robert Frost

Hemingway

“I love sleep.  My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”  – Ernest Hemingway

hemingway 2

“Write drunk; edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

john green

“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go.  It’s gonna hurt.  It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”  – John Green

kerouac

” Because the only people for me are the mad ones.” – Jack Kerouac

palahniuk

“Nothing of me is original.  I am the combined efford of everybody I’ve ever known.”  – Chuck Palahniuk – Invisible Monsters

poe

“I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.”  – Edgar Allen Poe

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“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  – J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter

rowling 4

“You do care.  You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” – J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter

rowling 5

“Words, in my humble opinion, are the most inexhaustible source of magic we have.” – J.K Rowling – Harry Potter

rowling 6

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”  – J.K. Rowling

Steven King

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  – Stephen King

vonnegut

“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”  – Kurt Vonnegut 

collins

“It takes ten times longer to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”  – Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

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“You never forget the face of the person who is your last hope.” – Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Do you have any favourite book quotes of your own?  If so, leave them in the comments, we love discovering new quotes and new authors, and maybe it will inspire our next review!

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A Brenner/Gowing Thought ~~ Part Six

wordsSome words of wisdom from the greats!

I came across this the other day, when considering what it means to read, to write, to edit, and to review, and just had to share.  Lauren and I have been enthralled with words our entire lives, whether they be words we have written ourselves or words in books from talented authors we aspire to be.  Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is an incredibly well-known author who was famous not only for his amazing literary works, but also for his eight tips on how to write a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

But as I was looking more into Vonnegut and the method to his madness, I found an assignment he gave to his class in 1965 at the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and found it to be brilliant.  The way he encourages students to analyze stories, to review them, edit them, and even grade them in a cynical way was just…. well brilliant!  I can’t seem to place another adjective with  it.  Read it for yourself.  What can we all learn from becoming editors following Vonnegut’s style?

FORM OF FICTION TERM PAPER ASSIGNMENT

November 30, 1965

Beloved:

This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all …”

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children …”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/11/kurt_vonnegut_term_paper_assignment_from_the_iowa_writers_workshop.html

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Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

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“Deep in her heart, she wasn’t exactly sure she deserved to be happy, nor did she believe that she was worthy of someone like him”  ~~ Nicholas Sparks in Safe Haven

From Krista’s Perspective

I should start this review raving about its intriguing plot, about the suspenseful concern you feel for Katie, or about how this book is yet another fantastically romantic tale told by the one and only Nicholas Sparks.  I should.  But instead I am going to complain quickly.

SMALL SPOILER ALERT!!!! Katie cuts and dies her hair.  I realize this is a small thing to complain about, but a large portion of the book goes into detail about the very emotional cutting and dying of her hair, the dire need for changing her appearance from blonde to brunette, how she was being hunted as a blonde, and how in order for her to change her identity she HAD to become a brunette. So why in every hyped up advertisement, commercial, or movie trailer is the actress playing Katie BLONDE?????

Safe Haven

Ok.  I just had to get that out and thank you for bearing with my OCD attention to detail.  That over my offense that a story be altered in order to sell more tickets to a movie.  Don’t get me started on Alex’s hair!

Safe Haven is yet another example of how skilled Nicholas Sparks is.  His stories are not overly complicated or written in an overly complex style.  Some may say they are overly simplistic, but when you are living an insanely hectic life sometimes its nice to pick up a book that keeps your attention in a simple way.  The characters easily capture your attention, you will find yourself thinking “Awwwww” about Alex, despising the sadistic Kevin, and fearing for Katie’s safety.  That being said, it is a fairly predictable plot so while Safe Haven will keep your attention, it may not WOW or shock you with the exception of a handful of surprising scenes.

What I really liked about the book was Sparks’ look into how love can fulfill you, consume you, or destroy you.  The story covers two complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to love: the pure romantic kind to the sadistic, evil, and twisted kind.  On one page you will read something sweet like, “This is what it feels like to really love someone, she thought, and to be loved in return, and she could feel the tears beginning to form. She blinked, trying to will them back, but all at once, they were impossible to stop. She loved him and wanted him, but more than that, she wanted him to love the real her, with all her flaws and secrets.”  This will make you feel like there is that one person out there who will sweep you away, that true love can find you at the most random of moments, and that it can only be a positive thing.

But then the next page you will read this, “He knew exactly how hard to strike and she wondered where he’d learned that, whether it was something that all men knew, whether there were secret classes with instructors who specialized in teaching such things. Or whether it was just Kevin.”  This will fill you with horror over how love can be so twisted that some can rationalize their violent actions and this will fill you with sadness that some people find themselves trapped in these kinds of situations.  The book transitions seamlessly between romance and violence in a way that keeps you intrigued with both the positive and negative sides of love.

Overall, another great Nicholas Sparks book that I really enjoyed and will be an easy and entertaining read for you.

Rating

Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 3/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 15/20

From Lauren’s Perspective:

I have to agree with Krista on this one.  The hair thing bothered me.  A lot.  Way more than it should have.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because it was made such a big deal of in the book, Sparks brought it up again and again; all I know is it was irksome, and while I will likely still go see the movie, Katie’s hair colour will bother me the whole time.  The movie directors seemed to have a problem with the very specific hair colours in this movie.  Even Alex’s hair is supposed to be Gray.  Couldn’t they have had at least given Josh Duhamel some sexy gray streaks?

Anyways, I’m done my rant and I will actually talk about the book now.  Because surprisingly, it is about more than the colour of the characters hair, and it was actually quite good.

The thing is, that despite it being quite good, I always have a hard time with fully enjoying books like these.  To me Nicholas Sparks isn’t a bad writer, you could even argue that he is quite talented, but he is also very obviously a formula writer.  All of his books follow a very specific pattern.  Someone suffers a tragedy, the tragedy seems to ruin their life until they meet someone and fall in love, the climax is usually something very dramatic and suspenseful, but all turns out happily in the end.  He uses this formula time and time again, with the Notebook, a Walk to Remember, the Last Song, just to name a few.  And if I’m being honest, it can grow wearisome, yet somehow it works for him.  Just as with the YA fantasy I enjoy reading, Nicholas Sparks is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.  He isn’t a brilliant writer, I would never say his books changed my world or made me think in some new and profound way, but at the same time, I do truly enjoy reading them.  They’re pleasure reads and nothing more, and that’s okay.

I unfortunately don’t have much more to say about this book.  The characters were well thought out, the plot was interesting and kept you reading, it was entertaining and a quick read that you could get through in a couple days easily, but there wasn’t much more to it than that.  As I said, it’s not the kind of book that will win any awards for it’s beautiful language or intricate plot, but it was good.  It was entertaining.  Nothing more.

I will end with one small complaint about the book.  The secret that was revealed at the end was a bit too much for me.  It seemed out of place in the novel and a bit unbelievable no matter what your spiritual beliefs may be.  The whole novel was put off as a dramatic novel where the strong and independent heroine falls in love and the bit of unrealistic magical realism thrown in just didn’t fit for me.  I would go as far as to say it almost ruined the book but because the truth came out in such a small way at the end, I was able to let it go.  I still think the book would have been better without it.

So, to close, if you want a nice, simple, easy read.  Read it.  It won’t take long and it is intriguing and fun.  But if you’re like me, and you’re unsure about your feelings on books like these and want something with a bit more substance, a bit more depth, then I’d say skip it.  With Sparks, if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

Rating

Plot – 3/5
Writing/Style/Form – 2/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 13/20

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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

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Everybody has a story.  It’s like families.  You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same.  You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them , but you can’t say you haven’t got them” ~~ Diane Setterfield in The Thirteenth Tale

From Krista’s Perspective:

I will start right off by just saying WOW.  I absolutely loved this book and barely put it down.  I read this book in just a few days and this story was positively captivating.  Ironically, the main character is an author who captures the attention of all her readers in a unique way, which has made her extremely famous, and here I was just as drawn in just as much as the fictional characters in the story.  I was actually disappointed if I had to put it down because it has been a good while since I have read something that kept me guessing from beginning to end.

The Thirteenth Tale is based on author Vida Winter, the mysterious and elusive author who never seems to tell the truth about her past to anyone, and Margaret Lea, a quiet nobody and self-proclaimed book nerd who works in her father’s bookstore and occasionally writes biographies.  Winters hires Margaret to write her biography after years of staying quiet about her past and it becomes a task that is just as enthralling as the books Winters had written.  At one point Margaret says, “I was so preoccupied by the story I was hearing, writing, that I had no wish for anything else.  My own life, such as it was, had dwindled to nothing. My daytime thoughts and my nighttime dreams were people’s figures not from my world but from Miss Winter’s. It was Hester and Emmeline, Isabelle and Charlie who wandered through my imagination and the place to which my thoughts turned constantly to Angelfield.”  Together these women spin together a story that is dramatic, suspenseful, constantly twisting, and rarely predictable.  The addition of sadistic Charlie, deceiving and manipulative Isabelle, the disturbing twins Emmeline and Adeline, the giant man Aurelius, and even John the Dig and Missus made this book complex but yet still easy to follow.

I am not quite sure what made this book so appealing to me.  Was it because it was the first book I read at the end of another brutal semester in university?  This is entirely possibly since I could finally sit and study something that didn’t require highlighting in a textbook.

Was it because it was based on a girl who loves books and writing and words in general?  Probably.  It definitely appealed to the book nerd in me.  At one point Margaret’s character speaks about her love of books and says, “I did not simply read them.  I devoured them.  Though my appetite for food grew frail, my hunger for books was constant“; a statement about books I’m sure most of us could agree with.

But a third thing that drew me into this book was how Setterfield incorporated a sense of grief into the book whether it be for a past life, lost family member, or simply mourning for something without fully understanding what was missing.  She writes, “We all have our sorrows and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all”.  With my own most recent encounter with tragic grief, I found her words really truthful and honest because grief is different for everyone and yet it is exactly the same.  Setterfield also wrote, “Grief was always present. It settled like dust upon the household. It covered everyone and everything: it invaded us with every breath we took. It shrouded us in our own separate miseries”; another simply written statement that stuck with me because of personally understanding how pervasive grief can be upon one’s life.

The story has an amazing flow to it and while you are being inundated with information/stories from the past and present it is still easy to follow.  It progresses through Vida Winter’s life, both past and present, it talks about Margaret’s own story, which Winters insists everyone has one, it follows the investigation of Aurelius’ abandonment, and even follows the research into how twins actually co-exist and function together.  It is a lot, but Diane Setterfield weaved it all together so seamlessly that you won’t even question for a second how many different stories are being told at once.

I will finish with one last quote which resonated with me when I read it and even now.  This is what anyone who writes aspires to and dreams of.  The bone chilling reality of what happens when we die compared with the lasting effect ones words can have on the world was something that really spoke to me and I hope they do for you as well.

“For someone now dead once thought these words significant enough to write them down.  People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. It is a kind of magic.”

Rating

Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 5/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5

Overall Score – 18/20

From Lauren’s Perspective:

I’m not going to lie.  It took me quite a while to get into this book.  I could put that down to many things.  It could have been the fact that I started reading it just before the holidays and got swept up in family time, the birth of my niece, and the death of my grandfather.  It could have also been that I spent the whole year reading and the whole month of November writing and I just finally needed a break from words, but that seems unlikely.  It could have also been simply, a book that was slow to start and didn’t hold enough interest for me to want to continue.

Krista had read the entire book before I even made a dent in it.  I felt close to giving up on it because I had no motivation to continue, but as its back cover had initially drawn me in  with promises from others of an old school gothic tale similar to the likes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I had no choice but to continue.  And I’m very glad I did.  Because even if the book simply did take a while to pick up, for me, as Krista told a much different story; it became intriguing, spooky, and absolutely beautifully written.  It became a beautiful story of truth, lies, and the importance of storytelling.  Setterfield writes, “My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself.  What succour, what consolation is there in truth, compared to as story?  What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney?  When the lightening strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails?  No.  When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid.  What you need are the plump comforts of a story.  The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.” And to me, this sums up the theme, the mystery, and the entire purpose behind the story.  Setterfield sets out to tell a story of truth, and the reader gets to go on the journey with her.

The book follows two characters, Margaret Lea, the books main narrator and biographer extraordinaire, and Miss Vida Winter, the mysterious author who is finally sharing the true story of her life, after hiding behind lies and stories her whole life.  This book is absolutely filled with suspense and tantalization.  It brings back the gothic charm of old literary favourites, introducing us to characters like the reclusive Uncle Charlie, the talented but over zealous governess, Hester, and the doting but slightly slow missus of the house, Miss Dunne.  The characters are all fully flushed out, with immaculate characterization that is both alluring and elusive.

Along with amazingly deep and satisfying character development, Setterfield draws the reader into the world with her beautiful descriptions of the gothic surroundings.  The story has three main settings, first is Margaret’s home, where she spends most of her time in her father’s old second hand bookstore.  You can practically smell the must on the books, hear the shuffling of the pages.  It is a place I would love to visit.  Then there is Miss Winter’s grand old mansion, filled with mystery in the unused rooms and a misty, rainy exterior that added to the chilling overall feel of the house.  Third, was Angelfield, Miss Winter’s original home, where she grew up and lived, but is now an old, dilapidated disaster ready to collapse at any moment.  The three main settings mingled perfectly with the feeling of the story and had the ability to give me chills just reading about them in detail.

The plot itself was incredibly well thought out and intricate.  It delved into worlds of the past while still keeping us interested in the present lives of the characters.  It wound a beautiful tale of deceit, mystery, secrecy, and the discovery of truth.  It was a story within a story within a story.  I have not read anything quite like it and it was wonderful.  It really is a story for lovers of books, lovers of story telling, and lovers of words.  And the words themselves were beautifully written, when Setterfield writes, “There is something about words.  In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.  Wind themselves around yourl imbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts.  Inside you they work their magic.”  This beautiful description of her obvious appreciation of the written word is felt by her readers as well as by the author herself.  You can feel the beauty in her words and her extreme passion for them throughout her intricate tale.

So I know it seemed as though I might not have loved this book.  It took me a long time to read, longer than I even care to admit.  But when all was said and done, Setterfield did an immaculate job of telling this story, this elusive Thirteenth Tale, and I would beyond recommend it to anyone who enjoys a beautiful gothic story like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  Give it a chance.  I’m very glad I did.

Rating

Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 5/5
Characters – 5/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 18/20

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A Brenner/Gowing Thought ~~ Part Five

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Well here we are again with so much time having passed since our last posting.  Time seems to get away from you when your workload at your job increases, when the end of a semester at school consumes all your time, when the holidays are fast approaching, and even when a sibling is about to have a baby.  Luckily a love of books is one consistent thing in life.  If you love books like we do then you can understand how welcome that feeling is when your hectic life finally cuts you some slack and you have nothing to do except curl up with a book and read.

I found this quote in the current book we are both working on and fell in love with it.  We have written before about why we write, but this one spoke to us even more.  The truth behind every author’s aspirations.  Writing commemorates life, either an imagined one or your reality.  It is a way to memorialize your life on paper.  Once the words floating around your mind become visible ink on a piece of paper, they are further committed to memory.  Published or not, experienced or amateur, those of us who write all crave the same thing.  To have our words remembered long after we are gone.

“For someone now dead once thought these words significant enough to write them down. People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones.  All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation.  For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you.  All this, even though they are dead. It is a kind of magic.”
~~ Diane Setterfield

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