Under The Covers and Reading

September 27, 2009

The Aviary Gate

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 10:21 pm

Aviary Gate

Katie Hicks’ novel, The Aviary Gate, was a change of pace for me.  I adore Historical Fiction but tend to read predominately Victorian era novels.  I enjoyed the exotic 16th century Turkish setting of Hick’s novel.  She uses a the convention of juxtaposing a contemporary graduate student (Elizabeth Stavely) doing research against that of an imagined historical ‘subject.’  In this caes, the subject under investigation is a young English woman, Celia Lamprey, presumed drowned at sea but actually alive and well and living as a slave in the Ottoman royal harem.  Her finance, a well to do English merchant/sea captain/scholar named Paul Pindar discovers her alive in the harem and seeks her rescue.  The story is actually told predominately from Celia’s point of view and is rich in courtly/harem detail.  I enjoyed this peek into an a world that was previously unknown to me.  I did not love the ‘modern day’ sections that place Celia’s story within a ‘to be discovered’ mode.  I found the contemporary graduate student rather vapid and was little interested in her failed romance.  I found her distracting and thought Celia’s story was strong enough to stand on its own.

One other issue with this book is that the characters and language in the novel are numerous and a foreign enough to become confusing.  Hicks has a short cast of characters and a glossary in the front of the book and I did find I had to continuously return to it.  There are enough names/ concepts that are new that it was a necessary evil.  I don’t like having to flip back and forth, but I got confused enough to have to paper clip the section for referral.  Don’t let this keep you from reading it, if the topic is of interest.  It’s definitely well written and an enjoyable read.

Despite my criticisms, I actually enjoyed this peek into harem life replete with scheming concubines, palace eunuchs, and astrology, and will happily pass this title on to other readers.
**Special thanks to Library Thing for giving me the chance to review this book!

September 24, 2009

Have I Got a Bookclub Two-fer for You!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 8:23 pm

give me the world

Eat Pray Love

Sometimes my book club friends just amaze me.  Amy is today’s case in point.  She chose a book that was a bit hard to find locally (not a problem on the internet) that has turned out to be a fabulous find.  She chose Leila Hadley’s 1957 book, Give Me the World.  It’s a travelogue extraordinare and chronicles Hadley’s post divorce trek across Asia and the Middle East with her 6 year old son.  Hadley’s writing is so rich and evocative that you can truly taste, touch, see, and smell the places and people she describes.

But here’s the best part– I asked Amy why she chose a 1950’s travelogue and was surprised when she brought up comparisons to Elizabeth Gordon’s, Eat, Pray, Love.  I would never have thought about that and yet as soon as she mentioned it the parallels were obvious.  Both books document restless post-divorce women seeking something to help them recover their balance and sense of purpose.  Some differences are obvious (Hadley is travelling with a child and it’s the 1950’s) but it made for a fascinating conversation.

Here are some of the things we talked about:

Why does Leila say she’s going to travel ‘to the Orient?’

Why does Elizabeth Gilbert think travel is the solution to her situation?

Are they in search of the same things?

What does it seem to be like to be a divorcee in the late ’50s vs. the turn of the 21st century?

What impact does Hadley’s son Kippy have on her trip?

What is Hadley’s view of men?  Gilberts?

What is Hadley’s view of other cultures?  Gilberts?

What is Hadley’s view of religion?  Gilberts?

Is Hadley a reliable narrator of her own story?  Is Gilbert?  What impact does that have on how you read the book?  If you’ve read about either woman before or after reading their books did that change your mind about their respective stories?

What do you think they’d say to each other if they were speaking?

Why is Hadley’s book considered a ‘classic’ travelogue?’

September 11, 2009

Flavia deLuce is the coolest 11 year old girl this side of Hermione Granger

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 1:22 pm

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I just finished reading Alan Bradley’s book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and it was one of the best books I’ve readin 2009. No question.

‘Sweetness’ is set in 1950 and introduces the reader to Flavia de Luce, a British 11 year old Chemistry prodigy, who stumbles onto a mystery when she finds a nearly dead stranger in her family’s cucumber patch. The dying man utters the Latin ‘Vale!’ and dies at Flavia’s feet. Instead of being frightened, Flavia sets out to determine the dead man’s identity and the reason for his trespass on her family’s extensive estate. Her father is eventually arrested for the murder, but Flavia is certain there must be a more logical (and happy) solution to the murder. She uses her vast chemical knowledge and insatiable curiosity in surprising ways to secure a predictably happy ending (the solution isn’t obvious, but the journey to the happy resolution will keep you on the edge of your seat).

I’m not sure how to do justice to the remarkable character that Alan Bradley has created. Flavia is 11 going on 65 at some points in the story (much to the chagrin of the police detective) and at others every bit the scheming and ‘put upon’ little sister to two older teenage sisters. She’s impressively brave and clever–Miss Marple-ish at times requiring refinement and a cool head in her interactions with adults, and Hermione Granger-esque when faced with overwhelming physical challenges. I loved the fact that Flavia did something unexpected on almost every page. She kept revealing new facets of her personality as the story unfolded.

Luckily for me (and other fortunate readers), Bradley has apparently finished a second Flavia mystery and may well be at work on book number three. I believe I heard this is to be a four book series. I hope it lasts much, much longer as I can’t wait to see what else Bradley does with Flavia’s character.

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