Life After Life

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WARNING: I shall try not to give anything away, but this is a difficult book to review without comments that could be spoilers for some readers.

While this isn’t a perfect book, the difference between 4 and 5 stars for me is that I would read (or listen) to this book again. Maybe even right away. It wasn’t what I expected – girl living life over and over until she gets it “right.” Who is to say what is right? She make choices, she is given a sense of deja vu in the next life and is able to make different choices when that situation comes up again. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes to break past a certain point – the Spanish flu epidemic for example. So I expected a final lifetime in which all the right things happen to break the cycle, sort of like the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. Instead, it turns out to be more like the image of the snake eating its tail, the ouroboros, which is also a symbol of infinity. We end up right back where we started. Or do we?

Philosophically, there is a lot to ponder here. I happen to be someone who believes in reincarnation, and in the idea that maybe we do have a number of parallel lives where our “soul” experiences something like Ursula does – different versions of life according to what choices we make. If we die in one parallel, the lessons get absorbed in the others and life continues, with different threads breaking off and coming back together again over and over. In previous books by Ms. Atkinson, I have commented on her talent for taking multiple plot threads and weaving them together in the end (Case Histories), or taking an event and then spinning off plot threads (One Good Turn). So this is yet another exploration of the same kind of thing. And I think she does it brilliantly.

There is also her magical way with words, with painting scenes and characters. Even with so much built in repetition, I did not lose interest. Something is different each time. How will she avoid getting the flu this time, how will she avoid getting raped, how will she survive the London Blitz?

This is definitely a book to be savored, and a book to be reread.

Book description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. Ursula dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on toward its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can, will she?

Audiobook narrated by Fenella Woolgar.

The Hollow City

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, #2)Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll continue to be generous with this series and give it 3 stars, which is still a huge drop from the first book. I didn’t dislike it, but it had none of what made the first book such a memorable experience. I suppose for one thing, the world-building has been established, so we don’t have the mystery of figuring out what is going on. And while I still find the odd photos intriguing, the story is too much contrived by the photos instead of being an accompaniment to the story. While Jacob seems a little older and wiser in this book, there is not really any character development. The whole love story angle is very flat. I’m not a fan of cliff-hanger endings. It worked in the first book, and despite being a cliffhanger there was a sense of completion. This book just feels like “filler” material to me – enough to make a movie out of, but a pretty shallow plot for a book. Ransom Riggs writes well enough, and the historical setting is good, but I hope he will give more attention to plot and characters in the 3rd installment.

Description: Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom.

The Hand That First Held Mine

The Hand That First Held MineThe Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sound recording narrated by Anne Flosnik. This was a very interesting dual-timeframe story. The author’s prose evokes detailed images. I loved many of her descriptions, especially the minutiae of motion. It was like reading a film or a screen play, if that makes sense. It fits the story, since Ted is a film editor. Things move back and forth in time, sometimes you get a kind of slow-motion sequence, scenes cut back and forth and somehow all ends up as a satisfying whole. I will admit that I expected the ending to be more dramatic somehow. As you move through the story you wonder if it is going to turn into some kind of gothic horror or murder mystery, and hopefully, it isn’t a spoiler to say that in the end it is really only about motherhood and the power (both for good and bad) of the mother/child connection. (Which really I should have figured out from the title, and the picture on the audiobook cover of a child’s hand holding a woman’s hand…but I didn’t.)

The author, Maggie O’Farrell, was born in Northern Ireland in 1972, and grew up in Wales and Scotland.

Description:
Lexie Sinclair is plotting an extraordinary life for herself.

Hedged in by her parents’ genteel country life, she plans her escape to London. There, she takes up with Innes Kent, a magazine editor who wears duck-egg blue ties and introduces her to the thrilling, underground world of bohemian, post-war Soho. She learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. She creates many lives–all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t hesitate to have the baby on her own terms.

Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. She doesn’t recognize herself: she finds herself walking outside with no shoes; she goes to the restaurant for lunch at nine in the morning; she can’t recall the small matter of giving birth. But for her boyfriend, Ted, fatherhood is calling up lost memories, with images he cannot place.

As Ted’s memories become more disconcerting and more frequent, it seems that something might connect these two stories– these two women– something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.

The Hand That First Held Mine is a spellbinding novel of two women connected across fifty years by art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood. And it is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.

View all my reviews

Lord John and the Private Matter

Lord John and the Private Matter (Lord John Grey, #1)Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

Book description:
The year is 1757. On a clear morning in mid-June, Lord John Grey emerges from London’s Beefsteak Club, his mind in turmoil. A nobleman and a high-ranking officer in His Majesty’s army, Grey has just witnessed something shocking. But his efforts to avoid a scandal that might destroy his family are interrupted by something still more urgent: The Crown appoints him to investigate the brutal murder of a comrade-in-arms who may have been a traitor. Obliged to pursue two inquiries at once, Major Grey finds himself ensnared in a web of treachery and betrayal that touches every stratum of English society—and threatens all he holds dear. From the bawdy houses of London’s night world to the stately drawing rooms of the nobility, Lord John pursues the elusive trails of a vanishing footman and a woman in green velvet, who may hold the key to everything—or nothing.

This was delightful! I’m giving it a 4.5. Lord John Grey is a character from the Outlander series. As with that series, the strength of Diana’s books is in her characters, not the plot. The mystery is fairly light-weight, but spiced with an almost slapstick kind of humor. Even the “bad” guys are quirky and almost lovable. I will say, that since this started out as a short story that grew into a full-length novel, the plotting and pacing is considerably tighter than the sprawling Outlander books. Those looking for more “Jamie and Claire” will be disappointed. There is one brief and non-explicit scene with a male prostitute. The focus is mystery rather than romance. The author has done her homework into the gay world of 18th-century London, but the reader is not overwhelmed by historical details.

I listened to this book alternately with reading it, and the slapstick humor really comes alive with narrator Jeffrey Woodman. Otherwise, the book is written in a fast-paced but rather dry style, which means a lot of the details get lost. I recommend the dual approach – listen to a chapter to get the overall picture, then read it to pick up on the more subtle details.

Lord John is one of my favorite fictional characters, honorable, dedicated to family, highly intelligent, well-read, and cultured. His homosexuality makes him something of a loner, but it also allows him access to the more marginalized social elements of society. I look forward to reading more of him.

Croeso!

Welcome to The Welsh Bookworm! I hope you will enjoy my thoughts on books and reading, with an emphasis on my particular interests: Wales, British history, medieval history, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction,  cozy mysteries, and occasional forays into sci fi and fantasy.

I have thought about starting a dedicated book blog for a long time. While I do have a page about books on my blog Laurel Singing, it is a static page, and not one that I remember to update with any frequency. I also have a Goodreads account, but it doesn’t really provide a vehicle for commenting on books in progress, or for following the connections from one book to another.

I wish that I had started this when I began War and Peace over a year and a half ago. It led to discovering many other books, and I even did a staff presentation (aka book report) on my researches. I never did finish the book, setting it aside for other projects, but I do intend to come back to it. It’s just that, well, there are so many books to read, and so little time! Contrary to popular opinion, librarians do not sit around and read books all day long. I wish! I am lucky if I can finish two books in a month.

My current “project” seems to be revolving around Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but more about that in its own post.

For now, and to break in this blog, I feel obligated to start off with something Welsh! So here it is, and it isn’t even a book:

The Edge of Love

A John Maybury Film

starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy, and Matthew Rhys

From the case: In the bohemian underground of World War II London, a stirring, unconventional love story ignites among legendary poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) and the two extraordinary women who inspire him. Sienna Miller is Caitlin, Thomas’ free-spirited wife, while Keira Knightley is Vera, the long-lost teenage sweetheart who reconnects with Thomas. The trio have the time of their lives until jealousy erupts with the return of Vera’s husband, a handsome soldier (Cillian Murphy) damaged by war.

I learned of the film’s US release last week, and went out to buy it straight away. It was released in the UK in 2007. I don’t know anything about it. Amazon’s customer reviews give it 4 stars. I don’t plan to watch it immediately, since I have a number of DVDs from the library due within the week, but I hope to get to it soon.