Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Historical Fiction - not Biography

Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Pages: 320
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345521315

This is clearly a book club type book – written to generate discussion between women about the value of marriage, the importance of trust and respect in a relationship, and when to call it quits. 

I struggled at first to connect with the main character, Hadley Richardson, who became Ernest Hemingway's first wife, known as the Paris wife because that is where they lived for most of their marriage. This is not a biography of Hadley, but rather it is classified as a historical fiction. The author researched Hadley's life, read the letters between Hadley and Hemingway, and then imagined what their lives together might have been like. Hadley is portrayed as mousy, insecure and struggling to fine her own purpose in life. She is totally dedicated to Hemingway's career, but doesn't feel like she fits into his circle of friends. After losing Hemingway's packet of written stories, the bond between them is broken, as Hemingway no longer trusts Hadley, and the rest of the book is the slow moving train wreck of their marriage, as Hemingway has an affair with a mutual friend, who eventually becomes his second wife. 

 I guess people speculate about Hemingway's true feelings and regret about Hadley, because his last story before he died was in tribute to her. The story also explores the difficulties Hemingway had as revolutionary writer.There is a brief explanation from the author about why and how she wrote the book along with a list of book club questions.  In many ways, I found Hadley much like Bella (in the Twilight series - yes I read it, I'm a middle school teacher).  Both were in love with volatile men, didn't understand their effect on people, and didn't feel worthy of being with the men or included in their circles. (And both are whiny.)  However, from reading this book, I am more interested in learning about the real Hadley and hope to pick up some of the real biographies to see how close the historically documented one is to the fictional one.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Small Packages Can Fulfill Big Destinies

Title: Dragonlight
Author: Donita K. Paul
Pages: 377
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
ISBN: 1400073782

I've enjoyed McCaffrey's Dragon series for years – unfortunately, I've read all of them. No one can create a world like McCaffrey did, full of great characters and amazing creatures. But, as I was browsing through PaperBack Swap and found another series – The DragonKeeper Chronicles. It is not as well-written as McCaffrey's but still engaging. However, I was only able to find Book 5 – Dragonlight, on PaperBack Swap. So, I'm reading them out of order.

The main character, Kale is happily married to Bardon and Dragonkeeper of her castle. However, Bardon takes Kale on a quest as evil begins to invade the world. The story follows the group on the quest as they discover the destinies for each member – from the smallest, Toopka, to the blind boy and guardian, Sittiponder. Many themes pervade the book – from the importance of faith and having respect for fellow creatures on the earth. Bardon, a former knight, trained in the ways of the Tomes, continues to quote “principles” which sound like a combination of Christian proverbs and Confucian sayings. After a little surfing around, I found that The DragonKeeper Chronicles are being marketed as Christian speculative fiction. It is a bit ironic that this particular book is about a splinter cult that twists the teachings of the god Wulder to gain power in this world. As a science fiction book, it was a fun read, but as a Christian book, I would not endorse it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

We All Need a Little Inspiration

Title: Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper
Author: Harriet Scott Chessman
Pages: 164
Publisher: A Plume Book
ISBN: 1583222723

I love Susan Vreeland's books about the fictionalization of artists' worlds. I stumbled on this title while browsing for any new work from her and I'm glad I did. It is a quick read, but gives an interesting perspective of Mary Cassatt's work. The Impressionists have been growing on me lately, mostly because of Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party which illustrated the process of Renoir's collecting and posing the various characters in his painting.

In this story, the perspective is Mary Cassatt's older sister Lydia, who for most of her life, has lived in the shadow of her vibrant sister. In addition, Lydia has a chronic disease that confines her to her bed frequently. But, what Lydia doesn't realize that her calm mindfulness and observation of the world inspires Mary's work. Throughout the book, Lydia struggles with her perception of herself and the splintering of her life. The book also has some nice prints of the paintings that Lydia actually modeled for. I would like to re-read this book just to savor it again.