Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

Source: Goodreads

Catherine Morland is the second of four children of a small town vicar, and after befriending the wealthy and childless Mr. and Mrs. Allen, is invited to go to Bath with them for a few months. While there she makes the acquaintance of the Tilneys and the Thorpes, wherein her adventures in polite society begin.

A few of my classmates and I have decided to create a Jane Austen Book Club, and we’re reading them in the order they were written, so we’ve begun with Northanger Abbey. This novel is often touted as being a gothic novel making fun of gothic novels, and while Catherine is certainly obsessed with the genre, but having never read any true gothic novels, I can’t say that I see the humor in any of it.

To be perfectly honest, I hated almost every. single. character.
Nearly everyone is completely self-absorbed and focused solely on the possibility of their own personal happiness. The never ending prattle of these characters would be exhausting if let loose upon society. Austen herself breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader constantly, explaining why she did some such thing or left something else out, and I really think getting rid of all the fourth wall breaks would make the story at least 15% more interesting.

It feels as though John Thorpe’s entire reason for existence is to be a bigger wierdo than Henry Tilney, thus making Henry look good by comparison. Tilney even admits at the end that he only ever gave Catherine the time of day because she seemed to be into him, and he didn’t have anything else going at the time. And Catherine was only into him because she only had two options and John is John.

I’m pretty sure everyone I know has met at least one Isabella Thorpe in the course of their life. She gaslights everyone, is petty, jealous, and a compulsive liar. She thinks she’s a big fish in a small pond, even though she’s not an interesting human at all, and keeps jumping from relationship to relationship because the grass is always greener on the other side. She’s exhausting, and not a person you’d ever want as a friend, but when you have no friends, she’s an easy one to keep. The worst part is that her younger sisters are perfectly nice humans and are going to get treated like trashy, tiny versions of her for the majority of their lives just because she and John are awful people.

Captain Tilney was interested in Catherine in a creepy way. Not letting them tour the house or garden without him? I’m just going to come on out and say loudly that this makes him sound like he’s eyeing up Catherine for himself. Every time he talks about Henry’s home, he makes sure to mention something he built with his own two hands. He’s very obvious about the house needing a lady’s touch, embarrassing everyone. An not letting anyone into Lady Tilney’s rooms is just strange.

The things I did enjoy about the book were the parts where Catherine was off in her own imagination. Her walk with Henry and Eleanor, the tour of the house, the story Henry tells her on the way to Northanger, and her first night there. I loved how those papers played out at the very end, and I think the novel would have actually been better and more well rounded if the story were told from Eleanor’s POV. Could you imagine having a friend come to visit who believes that your house is haunted and that your mother was murdered most foul? Having a gullible friend like Catherine would be fairly entertaining. All these bits and pieces of delight were not enough to outweigh the mostly awful characters and the fourth wall breaking, however, and I was very happy to be done with it.

HHC Rating: 2 Stars.

Other reviews in the Jane Austen Book Club:
Sense & Sensibility (August Book)
Pride & Prejudice (September Book)
Mansfield Park (October Book)
Emma (November Book)
Persuasion (December Book)

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark

Source: Goodreads

In Cairo, 1912, Agent Hamed and his new partner Agent Onsi, of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, have a case on their hands. The Superintendent of Tram Safety and Maintenance at the largest hub in the city – Ramses station – insists that one of his tram cars is haunted. Ever since the space between the human world and the spirit world of the Djinn was perforated, The Ministry has been in charge of dealing with any uncanny police matters, which also, occasionally, includes hauntings. But Tram Car 015 is no normal haunting, and it will take all of the agents’ faculties to find a way to exorcise this spirit.

The steampunk-like setting for this story is beautifully imagined, and the suffragist movement created added depth to the world and its characters that I didn’t know I needed, but which absolutely made the story what it is. Deeply engrossing and mysterious, I was sorry it ended so quickly, but was 100% satisfied with the story. I think I just really want this to be a series? and maybe eventually a television series? Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but this story seems like it would adapt well to the screen and be just as captivating so long as Clark were at the helm. Personally, I can’t wait to go out and read more of Clark’s stuff, like The Black God’s Drums because this was just so, so good.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

Ghosted – Rosie Walsh

Source: Goodreads

Sarah Mackey visits England every June in memoriam of the car crash she and her sister we involved in as teenagers. This year, as she wanders the hills alone, she meets a man named Eddie, and they have eight blissful days together before he leaves for a long-planned vacation and Sarah goes to London to visit friends. They promise to stay in touch. They’ve fallen in love, after all.
And then Eddie never calls. He doesn’t post online, he doesn’t show up for his futbol matches, and he seems to have vanished off the face of the earth entirely. But Sarah can’t help feeling that something is not quite right, and her search for Eddie is just the beginning thread in the unraveling of life as she knows it.


After hearing about this book on the No Thanks We’re Booked Podcast, I found out my roommate had gotten it from Book of the Month Club, so I swiped it. The first 150 pages were pretty slow, and I worried I just wasn’t into the book. BUT THEN. Page 151 blew my socks off. And everything was the best kind of twisty and complicated and mysterious after that. I didn’t see anything coming, and I was late to more than a few appointments I had last week because I just couldn’t put it down. I can’t even tell you any of the rest of the characters’ names because I would undoubtedly spoil something, but trust me: this is a good one.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Source: Goodreads

Slaughterhouse-Five is a lively, if strange, jaunt across time through Billy Pilgrim’s life. In the middle of World War II, Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time. Although the rest of the world experiences Billy’s life linearly, Billy himself – his soul, if you will – hops around his own timeline. Sometimes he is in the forests of Germany, sometimes he is at his daughter’s wedding, sometimes he is on the alien planet of Tralfamador, and sometimes he is in his bunk inside Slaughterhouse Five just before the bombing of Dresden.


The overarching theme of this book seems to be the question of whether Billy is actually unstuck in time like he seems, or if he is suffering severe PTSD from the bombing of Dresden that makes him feel that way. The reader is never given an explicit answer. Whatever the actual reason for Billy’s obsession with the Tralfamadorians, there is no denying that this book is written in a confusing way. Billy even has a run-in with the author which just lends to the meta-filled non-plot.

I’ve been hearing about this book in school and in the book world for years, but I didn’t pick it up until a friend of a roommate recommended it based on what he saw on my shelves. I think I had a look of consternation on my face the entire time I was reading it, and ultimately I think I got exactly nothing out of it except for the fact that I can now say I’ve read it. If unreliable narrators are your jam than you might like it, but I can’t steer you in any particular direction regarding it.


HHC Rating: 2 Stars.

The Lido – Libby Page

Source: Goodreads

Kate Matthews has lived in Brixton, London, for a year and knows no one. She’s a writer for the local paper, and she loves interviewing people, but she’s yet to be assigned anything she can sink her teeth into.
Rosemary Peterson has lived in Brixton all her life. She’s seen the neighborhood change as wars, love, and businesses came and went, and every day she swims at the lido (an outdoor pool), where some of her dearest memories were made.
Kate and Rosemary’s worlds collide the day it is announced that the lido will close. Kate has been assigned to write about the closure and it’s effect on the town, and she starts her story by interviewing Rosemary. A single meeting changes both of their lives, and the two women come to realize they will do everything within their power to keep the lido from closing.

I picked up this book by accident. My friend Hannah and I went to the movie theater to see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and they were handing them out for free at the ticket counter. Why, I may never know. Hannah and I went home and devoured the book. It was heartfelt, deep, and shockingly real. Rosemary deals with the loss of her husband, and Kate deals with crippling anxiety. They both find their focus and community by swimming at the lido, and it’s threatened closure sets their lives in downward spirals. The two women find meaning in their mutual friendship and build new lives in a town they thought was falling apart around them.
I still can’t believe Page is a debut author. Her writing speaks of years of experience, and the way she gets into characters’s heads is enchanting. I had trouble putting this book down and nearly started it over again when I finished, it was that good. I for one can’t wait to see what Page writes next.
Stay tuned for a live video discussion between Hannah, myself, and our friend Hallee once she finishes reading it. We’ll talk plot, writing style, and marketing strategies.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

The Collector’s Apprentice – B.A. Shapiro

The-Collectors-Apprentice-B-A-Shapiro
Photo Courtesy of Algonquin Books

The Collector’s Apprentice takes readers into the whirling world of art collecting in the 1920s. Paulien Mertens is only nineteen when she meets the dashing George Everard, but when things mysteriously fall to pieces she finds herself exiled to Paris alone and nearly penniless. Drawing on her education and previous work in the art world, Paulien pieces together a new life as the assistant to Edwin Bradley, an up and coming American art collector who seeks to open a museum near Philadelphia. As she weaves her way through Parisian society, Paulien meets wonderful people like Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. When George finally turns up, things are not as they seem, and Paulien is sent into a tailspin that nearly ruins everything she has built.

Shapiro’s new work tells the story of how one girl came back from the brink stronger, smarter, and braver than ever. It is part coming-of-age, part mystery, part heist novel. Paulien and George provide intriguing lenses through which we discover the events of the story. Indeed, all of the characters’s colorful descriptions paint a picture of Europe and America in the 1920s that is lush and many-layered. The plot thickens gradually, and the shocking finish does not disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into the art world and adored returning to 1920’s Paris, which, if you’ve read my reviews for Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, you’ll know I have a bit of an obsession with. While it did not always grip me the way Z and The Paris Wife did, I simultaneously identified and sympathized with Shapiro’s characters, and her storytelling is top notch. The nuggets of information are there for you to guess the ending, though I must confess that I did not, which a refreshing turn of events! I would recommend The Collector’s Apprentice to anyone who enjoys a good historical coming-of-age story or enjoys con artists as main characters.

HHC Rating: 4.75 Stars

The Collector’s Apprentice hits shelves today, and Shapiro will be on tour through December promoting it. You can find the local stops on her tour schedule below, and find the book on Goodreads as well. A huge thanks to Brittani at Algonquin books for thinking of me when it came time for reviews and provided me with an e-ARC to read in exchange for my honest opinions. I loved it! But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some of the advanced praises for The Collector’s Apprentice:

“Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel.”

Publishers Weekly

“Dazzling and seductive, The Collector’s Apprentice is a tour de force—an exhilarating tale of shifting identities, desire, and intrigue set between 1920s Paris and Philadelphia. Shapiro is a master at melding historical and fictional characters to bring the past alive on the page, and in The Collector’s Apprentice she has forged an exquisite, multilayered story that maps the cogent and singular fire of a young woman’s ambition and the risks she will take for the sake of art.”

—Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Georgia

“I was engrossed in every twist and turn in this compulsively captivating page-turner, all the way until its astonishing denouement. Shapiro has done it again!”

—Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us

Shapiro, Barbara (c) Lynn Wayne_HR

B. A. Shapiro is the New York Times bestselling author of The Muralist and The Art Forger, which won the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Boston Authors Society Award for Fiction, among other honors. Her books have been selected as Community Reads in numerous cities and have been translated into over ten languages. Shapiro has taught sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. She divides her time between Boston and Florida along with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Sagan. Her website is www.bashapirobooks.com.

The Collector’s Apprentice Press Tour
Stops in New England

Tuesday, October 16 — 7:00pm
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard St.
Brookline, MA 02446

Wednesday, October 17 — 7:00pm
Odyssey Bookshop
9 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Thursday, October 18 — 6:00pm
Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, VT 05255

Friday, October 19 — 7:00pm
Wellesley Books
82 Central St
Wellesley, MA 02482

Wednesday, November 7 — 7:00pm
RJ Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Rd
Madison, CT 06443

Thursday, November 8 — 7:00pm
Print Bookstore
273 Congress St.
Portland, ME 04101

Tuesday, November 20 — 7:00pm
Point Street Reading Series
Alchemy
71 Richmond St, 2nd Floor
Providence, RI 02903

Monday, November 26 — 3:00pm
Titcombs Bookshop
432 Route 6A
East Sandwich, MA 02537

Tuesday, November 27 — 7:00pm
An Unlikely Story
111 South Street
Plainville, MA 02762

Wednesday, November 28 — 7:00pm
Savoy Bookshop & Café
10 Canal St.
Westerly, RI 02891

Thursday, November 29 — 7:00pm
Belmont Books
79 Leonard St
Belmont, MA 02478

–Author Bio, Advanced Blurbs, and tour dates courtesy of Michael McKenzie and Brittani Hilles at Algonquin Books.

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction #1

Estelle awoke to the sound of one of her neighbors clattering down the stairs. She rubbed her eyes, trying to think of a reason someone would make such a noise upon descending a perfectly normal staircase, before realizing that it must have been David and his dog, Roger. Two sets of feet, one large, the other small, could definitely have made the racket which dragged her out of her dreams. She finished ridding her eyes of sleep and pulled back the duvet.

 

Coffee was a wondrous thing. Some days the only thing that got her out of bed was coffee. Not today though, she thought as she sipped from a steaming mug while gazing into her closet. It was smaller than the one at her last place, but she hadn’t decided yet how to pare down her wardrobe. The mountain of laundry peaking out from the bottom of the closet pointed to there being a hefty donation to the secondhand shop in her future. She sighed, choosing to put off the decision until the weekend, and pulled out a pair of grey slacks and a forest green sweater.

 

Hair, check. Makeup, check. Estelle picked out a set of simple pearl earrings and spritzed on her favorite perfume before giving herself a final once-over in the hall mirror. They had hung it on the outside of the bathroom door so they would stop fighting over the actual bathroom, and the arrangement had worked out remarkably well. Estelle shuffled back into her room to grab her shoulder bag and pick out shoes. Low, chunky, everyday black heels made the outfit complete, and she smiled knowing her mother would approve of the choice. Her mother insisted that flats made her walk like a duck. The image was unattractive enough that Estelle almost always chose heels when she had the opportunity to do so. Running with Miles tomorrow would hurt when her achilles was all scrunched up from today, but occasionally a little beauty was worth a little pain. She slid her bag onto her shoulder, called goodbye to her roommates, and headed for the stairs, turning the lock behind her.

 

 

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction by Amanda Woods