Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Circus of Ghosts (Barbara Ewing)

Title: The Circus of Ghosts
Author: Barbara Ewing
Published: 2011
Publisher: Little Brown Paperbacks
Pages: 416
Source: Library
Genres: Historical Fiction
Goodreads  |

Circus of Ghosts is the sequel to Barbara Ewing's fantastic novel The Mesmerist. The Mesmerist was set in London in the 1830s and follows the story of Miss Cordelia Preston, a beautiful, ageing actress who, faced with poverty, reinvents herself as a Lady Phreno-Mesmerist, a practice of entrancing patients for healing purposes that has captivated the city. I read The Mesmerist two years ago and found it an incredibly captivating read. I have always enjoyed Ewing's novels for their strong female character leads and in depth research.

Circus of Ghosts follows Cordelia Preston over 10 years later as she has taken her daughter Gwenlliam and her misfit collection of "family" across to New York and set themselves up with Silas P. Swift's circus. Unknown to them a venomous duke from their past plots with an unscrupulous lawyer against the mother and daughter; to kill one and to abduct the other.

The amount of research that would have gone into this book must have been quite substantial as the descriptions of New York during that time; of the gangs and the docks and the police and the stark contrast between poverty and high class society are simply stunning. That coupled with the incredibly detailed picture of San Francisco during the gold mining era was fascinating. I would love to read more about this time in America's history so if anyone knows some great books to dive into let me know.

Unfortunately that was the best thing I liked about this book. Unlike many of her other books this one simply lacked something in the character relationships that should really engage you into a novel. I found many of the character interactions and drivers to be surface level, the story jumped all over the place and was quite disjointed and it lacked the pace of the first book. This made it just an okay novel instead of a great one.

Skip It

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Originally Published: 1939
My Edition Published: 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 536
Source: Book club
Genres: Classics
Goodreads  |

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family during the Great Depression as they are displaced from the land they work in Oklahoma and follow thousands of others as they head west to California with the promise of work and a better life. What they find there is anything but.

This is the first Steinbeck I have read and I think he is an incredible writer. The writing is so vivid and descriptive that you can't help but be transported into the lives of this family and the struggles that they go through. The story is quite simply one of the most harrowing I have read. Tom Joad is released from prison (there because he killed someone defending himself in a fight) and heads home to reunite with his family only to find his family have been kicked off the farm they work due to ecological disasters and the hunt for more and more profits from greedy bankers. There begins a journey across America with 11 other family members and an ex preacher in the back of a truck with all their worldly possessions. They join thousands of others heading west due to the promise of work, a lie used to drive down wages as more and more people demand work on the cotton and fruit fields. Anger, death, hunger, and violence await them at the end of their journey.

This book is not for the faint hearted but it is an incredible story and well worth the read. Steinbeck has been able to capture the human spirit of determination and will to survive when all else is lost, the need to battle and fight no matter what, and the bond that will hold a family together no matter what hardship is thrown at them. It is also a very realistic depiction of what life during the depression would have been like. Steinbeck also tries to overlay the families story with information about how the country ended up in the mess that it was in, and why the families were all on the move. This really helped put a lot of things in context across the story. Steinbeck wrote character speeches phonetically allowing you to pick up accents and colloquialism of various people throughout the story. Some chapters were also written in a stream of consciousness style which can be difficult but I think did enhance the overall story.

I want to talk about the ending but I better not give any spoilers away but I will just say that I found the abrupt ending very difficult to digest and it left me wanting more. I'm now really looking forward to reading some of Steinbeck's other novels as I think he's one of the greatest writers I've had the pleasure of reading. If you haven't picked up The Grapes of Wrath yet I urge you to do so.
"And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow. ...and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."

The Grapes of Wrath was read as part of my 100 book challenge of must read novels.
(22 read. 78 to go!).