Becky’s Two Hundred and Twelfth Book Review: “The Golden Bowl” by Henry James

“The Golden Bowl” by Henry James was a Wall Street Journal book club pick earlier this year. It took me much longer than the designated six weeks to get through because it was not an easy read. That being said, I did enjoy it. The book is split into two parts, the first half of the novel revolves around The Prince. The second half of the book follows The Princess, Maggie who marries The Prince at the beginning of the book. “The Golden Bowl” is a deep study into the marriage between these two individuals and what happens when that trust is betrayed.

Within the first few pages I knew that this was going to be a challenge for me, Henry James writes poetically, but that does tend to make his sentences take forever. “Miss Verver had told him he spoke English too well – it was his only fault, and he had not been able to speak worse even to oblige her. ‘When I speak worse, you see, I speak French,’ he had said; intimating thus that there were discriminations, doubtless of the invidious kind, for which that language was the most apt. The girl had taken this, she let him know, as a reflection on her own French, which she had always so dreamed of making good, of making better; to say nothing of his evident feeling that the idiom supposed a cleverness she was not a person to rise to. The Prince’s answer to such remarks – genial, charming, like every answer the parties to his new arrangement had yet had from him – was that he was practising his American in order to converse properly, on equal terms as it were, with Mr. Verver. His prospective father-in-law had a command of it, he said, that put him at a disadvantage in any discussion; besides which – well, besides which he had made to the girl the observation that positively, of all his observations yet, had most finely touched her.” (The Golden Bowl, pg 5). I think this is a great example of what makes “The Golden Bowl” so beautifully written and so trying a read. It also sets a good example of how The Prince is a smooth talker. He drowns his wife in romantic language and ideas, which in turn allows him to betray her trust without suspicion…at least for quite a while.

In the second half of the novel, Maggie grows up quite a bit. She slowly loses the naivety she had when she first got married and in turn, learns more about herself and her husband than she ever expected. The Prince realizes that his wife is much more than he initially thought as well. “She troubled him – which hadn’t been at all her purpose; she mystified him – which she couldn’t help and, comparatively, didn’t mind; then it came over her that he had, after all, a simplicity, very considerable, on which she had never dared to presume. It was a discovery – not like the other discovery she had once made, but giving out a freshness; and she recognized again in the light of it the number of ideas of which he thought her capable.” (The Golden Bowl, pg 549).

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. It isn’t a book that can be picked up and lightly perused. The language that Henry James uses throughout the novel is heavy. There were times when I felt like I was doing a homework assignment, because who would pick up a book that challenging unless someone else was making them? But I am glad that I read it. I think that it is a book that would be a great pick if you’re looking for something a little more difficult, something a little denser than what you usually read. It isn’t a beach read, and it isn’t for everyone, but it is well written and a fine piece of literature in my opinion.

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Becky’s Two Hundred and Eleventh Book Review: “Akarnae” by Lynette Noni

I honestly cannot remember how it was that I came to follow Lynette Noni’s blog, but I found out about her book “Akarnae” (Ah-kar-nay) through it. Having enjoyed reading her blog posts I thought it was worth investing in my very own copy. I don’t pick up a lot of fantasy novels, but when I started to read “Akarnae” by Lynette Noni I felt like I was in a cross between the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia. The more I read though, the more “Akarnae” really evolved into its own magical place.

At the beginning of “Akarnae” we meet Alex Jennings whom is being shipped off to a boarding school while her parents go study under a famous archeologist in some remote region of Russia. Having spent most of her life jumping from school to school as a result of her parents’ work, Alex is rather apprehensive about spending so much time on her own and how to form friendships at the age of sixteen. “It wasn’t like she could just go and sit beside someone in the sandpit, eat dirt with them, and declare a state of ‘besties forever’. She was too old for that now. People would just look at her strangely.” (Akarnae, pg 3). I liked this quote because I think it illustrates the comedic approach that Lynette Noni takes to her writing. Forming friendships becomes the least of her worries however, when Alex opens the door that should lead her to the admissions office at her new school and instead walks through the door into a whole new world – one that is filled with wonder, magic, and danger. Alex finds herself embarking on a crazy adventure in this new world, Medora.

I enjoyed all the little quirks that could be found throughout “Akarnae”. It was quite clear from the beginning that Lynette Noni has an active imagination and a healthy dose of creativity. I think that she did an excellent job developing the different characters as well. Soon after arriving in Medora, Alex meets Jordan and Bear and quickly develops a strong friendship with them. Their playful banter frequently made me laugh aloud.

““You know, where I come from, most teenage guys avoid libraries,” Alex said. “If you’re not careful, people might start to think you’ve become nerds.”

“Hey, now,” Bear said, feigning hurt. “We prefer the term ‘library folk’. It’s much less derogatory.”” (Akarnae, pg 174).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that “Akarnae” is such an intriguing book that it could appeal to a wide range of readers. It is young adult, which I know sometimes puts people off, but it is a very entertaining read. While I wouldn’t consider the entire book to be a page-turner, there was a place in the book that once I reached it I had to read through to the end. My only regret is that this is the first book in the series and the other books have not been released yet. But Lynette Noni assured me the next book was in the works and should be released early next year. If I were to offer up one piece of criticism it’s that the book description on the back goes into too much detail. As a rule (and because I’ve noticed this in the past) I do not read the book description until I’m done the book so as to not have any major plot points exposed. Although the description does not give a ton away, it does reference things that do not occur until the end of the book, and I think that’s not the best. Still loved the book and still planning on getting my hands on the rest of the series as soon as I can, but I would recommend avoiding the book description.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Tenth Book Review: “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith

“Strangers on a Train” is the second book by Patricia Highsmith that I have ever read. The first book was on the Wall Street Journal Book Club list about a year ago. When I read “Deep Water” I instantly became a fan of the psychological thrillers that Highsmith is known for in her novels and quickly added all her books to my wishlist on amazon. I knew the basic premise going into the novel, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

There were two important characters in “Strangers on a Train”, Guy Haines the protagonist and Charles Anthony Bruno the antagonist. Guy and Bruno meet on a train and after extracting details from Guy about his unfaithful wife, Bruno leads a discussion on exchanging murders. Bruno wants his father dead and tries to convince Guy that it would be the perfect murder, Bruno could kill Guy’s wife and Guy could kill his father. Guy doesn’t take him seriously, which is his second mistake after unwillingly befriending Bruno in the first place. He then finds himself in a psychological game of torture with Bruno. Every time he tries to swat away the fly, Bruno comes back more determined than ever before. I enjoyed their back and forth and the broad spectrum of their personalities. Guy possesses a calm demeanor whereas Bruno is wild and unpredictable. You feel bad for Guy, but at the same time, you almost want to cheer for Bruno. I really enjoyed how different Highsmith made these characters seem and how similar they really end up being. The only drawback I found in “Strangers on a Train” was that there were some parts that got a little boring.

This was one of my favorite passages: “He remembered her telling him that all men were equally good, because all men had souls and the soul was entirely good. Evil, she said, always came from externals… But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in different proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative. The splitting of the atom was the only true destruction, the breaking of the universal law of oneness. Nothing could be without its opposite that was bound up with it. Could space exist in a building without objects that stopped it? Could energy exist without matter, or matter without energy? Matter and energy, the inert and the active, once considered opposites, were now known to be one.” (Strangers on a Train, pg 180). I wanted to include it so that you could experience her writing firsthand.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to everyone. There are times when Patricia Highsmith’s writing gets to be a bit tedious, and if you’re simply looking for a light read that you can pick up whenever, this might not be the book for you. That aside, I really enjoy Patricia Highsmith and I am glad that there are more books out there that she has written that I have not read yet.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Ninth Book Review: “A Handful of Dust” by Evelyn Waugh

“A Handful of Dust” by Evelyn Waugh was a really weird book. It was the Wall Street Journal Book Club book a few weeks ago, and it was really weird. I’m not even sure what else I would say about the book beyond that. There were a few parts of the book that I found amusing, such as this quote: “I like just to curl up like a cat in front of the fire, and if you’re nice to me I’ll purr, and if you’re cruel I shall pretend not to notice – just like a cat.” (A Handful of Dust, pg 114). I just thought this was an amusing declaration.

At the beginning of “A Handful of Dust” we meet Beaver, a sad guy that no one really seems to like. At first, I felt bad for him, but that dissolved rather quickly. He is the kind of guy that doesn’t get invited to many events or social gatherings, so he invites himself. One day, he invites himself to Tony Last’s house for the weekend and this is where he meets Brenda, Tony’s wife. Tony spent as much of the weekend as possible away from Beaver leaving Brenda the responsibility to entertain him. I thought it was strange how often Tony Last avoided his hosting duties. It was true that he hadn’t really invited Beaver to stay with them at all, but his disinterest in everyone around him made it really challenging to feel bad when his wife started having an affair with Beaver. I felt like saying, well, what do you expect? Not that I think that cheating is acceptable under any circumstance, but I can understand why Brenda strayed. What I can’t imagine is why she married him in the first place.

Brenda and Beaver started seeing more and more of each other: “And Beaver, for the first time in his life, found himself a person of interest and, almost of consequence. Women studied him with a new scrutiny, wondering what they had missed in him; men treated him as an equal, even as a successful fellow competitor.” (A Handful of Dust, pg 76). Beaver definitely benefited from the affair, and Brenda got some excitement in her life. The book kind of just went along like that and then there was an event that made me realize this book is on the darker side. It is a satirical comedy, but there are some very dark things that the book deals with. On the off chance you may read this book, I’m not going to reveal what those things were.

Would I recommend this book? Probably not. The writing was good, and the story was interesting, and really weird. But I didn’t feel any sort of connection with any of the characters and, in my opinion, reading a book without that becomes more of a chore than anything else. I was indifferent to “A Handful of Dust”. I don’t wish it any harm, but I don’t feel like my life is any better or worse for having read it – which isn’t a great endorsement. I’m sure there are some people that would wholeheartedly disagree with me, it did get picked for the WSJ Book Club, but I did not find myself enjoying it all that much.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighth Book Review: “Running Blind” by Lee Child

“Running Blind” by Lee Child is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series. It starts off the same as the rest of the Jack Reacher books – you are immediately pulled into the story. I like how the book opens with the bad guy narrating. “Suppose you wanted to kill people. You would need to know ahead of time how to do it. That part is not too difficult. There are many ways. Some of them are better than others. Most of them have drawbacks. So you use what knowledge you’ve got, and you invent a new way. You think, and you think, and you think, and you come up with the perfect method.” (Running Blind, pg 2). I liked how cold and detached this person was when describing killing people. It was evident from the start that this was a very intelligent – albeit fucked up – individual.

SPOILER ALERT: I’M GOING TO DISCUSS EVENTS THAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF THE THIRD JACK REACHER NOVEL, “TRIPWIRE”

In the last book, Reacher was reunited with a woman that he had grown to love when he was younger but always looked at as untouchable. They finally got over the idea that their feelings were one-sided and the book ended on a ‘happily-ever-after’ note. Reacher even found himself with a house that her father left him. He went from being out of the army for a few years and living the life of a drifter, to someone with a house, a girlfriend, and a life that he wasn’t sure he really wanted. It is a difficult thing to connect with, at least for me, to not want to be attached to any one place. I think this quote helps to show how Reacher feels about the house: “…but it represented a big problem. It anchored him in a way which made him profoundly uncomfortable. Being static disconcerted him. He had moved around so often in his life it confused him to spend time in any one particular place. And he had never lived in a house before. Bunkhouses and service bungalows and motels were his habitat. It was ingrained.” (Running Blind, pg 63). It’s something I’ve never really thought about, but if that is what you’ve known your whole life then it makes sense that you might not want anything different.

While dealing with the idea of owning a house and everything that goes along with it, Reacher finds himself pulled into yet another mess. I found this whole situation infuriating. The FBI pulls him in to help investigate women being murdered, and they threaten him until he agrees to help. The way that they went about everything just made me so angry, and the fact that no one would listen to him just added to that. At the same time, Reacher certainly made sure to push their buttons whenever he got the chance.

I really like how we are learning more about Reacher in each book. His character continues to develop as we follow him. “Reacher made no reply. It was a technique he had perfected half a lifetime ago. Just stand absolutely still, don’t blink, say nothing. Wait for them to run through the possibilities…wait for them to start worrying.” (Running Blind, pg 375). There are aspects that we as the readers already know and come to expect – such as this quote where Reacher is utilizing his perfected patience to get answers – but Lee Child continues to develop Reacher beyond that, which I really enjoy.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that there are many great things about the Jack Reacher series. One of them is that the books are a thrill ride that will hook just about any reader. Then there is the fact that the books, so far, continue to develop Reacher as a character and keep things interesting. Just when you think you know the direction the book is going to take, Lee Child throws a curve ball at you. “Running Blind” kept me hooked and once again, I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series.