Book Reviews – A Rant

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What constitutes literary fiction? Most consider a work of literary fiction to be something which will stand the test of time. However, by definition high quality is quite subjective. What I may consider to be high quality may not be what you, my reader, will consider high quality. For instance, this blog.

There are a few characteristics of literary fiction that are worth mentioning:

There is a concern with social commentary, political criticism or human conditions;
It’s the type of reading that you do slowly. It’s meant to be savored as if tasting a new appetizer for the first time or an old bottle of wine (which even that is pretty subjective too right?)
It’s written to impress, it’s elegant and lyrical.
There is an introspection about the narrative. Something that lingers with the reader which can not be distilled.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “literary” as having its origins in the 17th century and it relating to the letters of the alphabet. It’s rooted in the Latin for letterarius or litters which literally (no pun intended) means letter. So ….. if we are referring to a book, doesn’t it mean that all books are literary? Is this distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction just a way for some people to feel more pompous? It is, in my opinion.

As I am sure you are aware by now, I enjoy listening to book reviews and book recommendations on YouTube as well as enjoying reading recommendations and reviews on various blogs….. I have quite the list. Recently, I noticed that some of the people whose reviews I have been reading or listening for some time have become quite the “professional critics.” To be sure, I mean this in the most unkind of ways. My life is serious enough without making a hobby feel like a chore.

A blog book review or a YouTube book review is being done for the benefit of the lay person reading a book. If my desire were to get a professional opinion (which you may very well be one) I would go find you on the New York Times Book Review or any other literary periodical available. We are not scholars, at least I am not and although I am interested in reading good books I am also interested in the everyday experience of reading those books. Not necessarily an escape but a diversion from my every day life. I do not want to know and I’m almost certain that most people listening to your YouTube Chanel or reading your blog are not interested to know that because there were too many commas or the grammar was not perfect (according to you) they should not pick up blah blah book (real book names have been disguised to protect the innocent and the guilty).

So, perhaps the book I’m reading is never going to be a classic. I will, however, remind you that it is a book and it is all made up of various words (litters) and because it’s fiction, I’m going to say that it is literary fiction.

Perhaps we should consider trying to stop putting so many things into their neat little boxes and we will be better off that way. We try so hard to divide and then complain when things (and by things I may also be talking about people) are divided. Let’s just say a book is either fiction or non-fiction and there are a variety of genres (another problem I have but we will leave this one for a different rant) where they may “fit.”

So, as for me. I will continue to listen to the non-sense about whether or not an author goes comma crazy or if the grammatical errors really were annoying (which they are and shame on the publisher) but only because I just want as many book options as I can get. I’ll overlook the craziness and decide for myself despite the grammatical criticism of the book, if it’s something I want to read. To that end, you can help me with that by just giving me synopsis of the book and I’ll skip your review. It doesn’t really matter to me anyway.

I’m done with my rant. This will happen from time to time.

Ana

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I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

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Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Kensington (September 26, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1496712528
ISBN-13: 978-1496712523
Price:  Amazon $11.10

Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars

By the publisher:

As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.

In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but also his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together.

My thoughts

coming to this novel knowing little else about Hamilton, other the duel with Burr and the fact that he started the Bank of New York, I was eager to learn about him and the woman who he chose to share his life with.

The author did a great job at setting the scene.  I enjoyed learning about the gowns, the house in which Eliza had grown up with her family and the love that surrounded the family.  The love which surrounded Eliza and her siblings was palpable and the author did a great making sure the reader understood that.  It was obvious that the book was very well researched and there were many “nuggets” that I walked away with which, had it not been for this book, I would have never found out.  Let’s just say they are not the things we learn in school.

Eliza, was a feminist in her time.  As a matter of fact, most of the women, it appeared to me, were feminists.  In their own quiet way these women influenced the outcome of many circumstance and there were many lessons to be learned from them on how to get one’s point across without being rude or obnoxious….. that fact was not wasted on this reader.

At times I was in awe of the friendship and love between Eliza and her sister but I also could not get past the fact that some of it may have been due to jealousy on Eliza’s part.  I don’t know if on purpose or not, but at times I couldn’t help but feel that Eliza regretted at times not having married a rich man.  It was obvious that their love was immense and they lived for each other.  However, at times there were flecks of jealousy in both of them.

Hamilton spent most of his time in the book going from turbulence to turbulence and trying to impress everyone while Eliza was either pregnant and using her pregnancy as a way to manipulate her husband — well at least twice.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her but it was not what I wanted to be reading about.

The first half of the book was great.  I flew through it devouring every word the author had to say.  Towards the middle of the book I became impatient.  It felt as if the same scenes were being repeated over and over again and there were things that happened through out and characters that were introduced and nothing came of them.  There were times when I felt Hamilton was being a spoiled brat and one who could not take any criticism and would go to any length to revenge people at the expense of everyone.  It’s not as if I felt he didn’t love her…. the fact that he loved Eliza was very obvious but it was not an unconditional love.  It was a dependent type of love.  I felt as if she would have been ok without him, it felt to me as if he would be lost without her.  I also started to get annoyed at how Eliza kept putting herself down.  For the love of God woman — grow a back bone and a sense of who you are.  It’s clear to the reader that Eliza was an amazing woman in her own right but when she kept putting herself down I felt angry instead of sympathy.

I am not sorry I picked up the book.  Perhaps I expected too much from this book considering the hype about Hamilton.  I gave it a solid 3 stars and would have given it 4 had it not been for a few typos and the repetitive issues I mentioned above.  I think that if the reader is interested in women’s issues and feminism this is a good book.  It’s quiet but it gets a point across.  It’s educational in a way that it goes through all the challenges of the wars and not just the battles.  There is hunger and disease to deal with.  There is discussion of how finances are bad and how Hamilton devised a plan to repair the United States’ credit and, although all these topics are discussed it’s still an interesting read.

I was given this book for review.

The Address by Fiona Davis

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The Address by Fiona Davis
Published by Penguin
Date of Publication: August 1, 2017
Hardcover

Publisher’s Summary:

Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City’s most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives —and lies—of the beating hearts within.

My Review:

This my first novel by Fiona Davis and I can promise you that is will not be the last. I saw this book on the list of “read for review” books on NetGalley and I immediately requested it for review. The cover, which I hope is the one the publisher settles on, drew me in and being that in the past few months I have been fascinated with the 19th Century in New York, this was a no brained for me.

The story revolves around one of the most famous or infamous buildings in Manhattan, one where many celebrities still live, the same one where John Lennon was shot…. One that still today stands tall and is visible from Central Park (see the cover). The Dakota….. it’s 1884 and it’s about to open and Sara Smythe came all the way from England to work and live there and found herself in love with one of the architects. But it’s more than the story of a woman and a man. This is the story of one family, of love and deception, of what secrets can do to a family and of forgiveness and the need we all have to belong and sometimes no belong.

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The author does a great job at working two stories in parallel. At the same time we are reading about the story of Sara and her architect in 1884-85 we are also being shown what is going on in future surrounding the descendants in 1984. The comparison of the Gilded Age and the age of Wall Street and material girls having fun, was not lost on me.

The twists and turns were plenty: throughout the book I felt like I knew what was going to happen at every corner and then the author would turn in a completely different direction and everything would be different. A few pages later, the same thing would happen. I would be feeling like I was totally in control of the scene and bam!!!!!! I was again slammed in a totally different direction. I was hooked. I couldn’t put the book down. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for my day to day job I probably would have read the book in one sitting. The language is not flowery or poetic as I have often mentioned in previous reviews. It’s instead raw and honest. The type of voice that hits you right in the core and you cannot help but pay attention.

If there was one part where I felt the book was predictable, was the very end. The hero gets the heroin and all is well in the world…… I’m a bit tired of that but, I cannot think of a different way bring the story to a close so I can’t fault the author for this one either. It’s our own fault for always wanting happy endings….. Yeah, I like happy endings even if they’re predictable.

Although the story takes place during the Fall/Winter and there is mention of snow, I feel as if this is the perfect Summer read. I gave this book a 4 1/2 stars only because as I mentioned the ending was predictable. I cannot wait to read more by this author and add this book to one of my favorites of 2017. Going to recommend it to everyone I know.

I hope you enjoy this review.  Until the next one…..

XoXo