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Posts from the ‘Jen’s Reviews’ Category

A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale

perfectly good

A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
First published: 2012 (most recent edition released 2016)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it/buy it here: A Perfectly Good Man

Set  in the heart of Cornwall, A Perfectly Good Man is a novel about faith, morality, and what it means to live a good life. The protagonist, Barnaby Johnson is a parish priest who is summoned to the home of a paralyzed young man named Lenny. When he arrives, he learns that he wasn’t called to provide comfort but rather to witness and provide last rites for Lenny who ingested poison while the priest was in his home. Barnaby witnesses the young man die, helpless to do anything other than pray for him. Lenny’s death has impacts for the whole community and Gale draws in various characters to highlight these far-reaching effects.

The novel is told in a nonlinear style with chapters centering around various stages of Barnaby’s life and the final chapter in the book takes place when Barnaby was a child. Barnaby is not a perfect man. He has moments of weakness, crisis, and doubt. Yet despite these moments, he is a good man (hence the title).  The nonlinear style is clever in building up suspense and providing a few moments of shock when the reader realizes how some of the pieces of his life come together. The emotional impact of various events only gain true meaning when certain facts are revealed in later chapters.

I had never read anything by Patrick Gale prior to this book. The publishing house contacted requesting a review stating that they thought I might like it because I had indicated preference for Colm Toibin’s work. There were definitely some similarities in style between the two authors and there is no question that Gale is a supremely talented writer. I enjoyed many things about the book including the writing style, the non-linear style, and the rich character development. The book is heavy on the religious themes — the main character is a priest after all. It’s certainly not heavy-handed or preachy and in fact the major conflict in the novel is a crisis of faith. However, the author has something to say about the power of prayer. I am not a religious person and I don’t particularly care for books with heavy Christian themes. In fact, I explicitly state (on our review page) that I won’t take requests for Christian fiction. I wouldn’t classify this as Christian fiction but it is an exploration of faith: faith tested and faith restored. So it’s a testament that I actually enjoyed it as much as I did.

This book will appeal to those who like beautifully constructed novels that tackle questions of faith. It is a heartfelt novel that is emotionally engaging and interesting. It will also appeal to those who enjoy reading books about ordinary people living in small towns.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Does it appeal to you? Why or why not? Have you read others by Patrick Gale?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


I just so happened to snag a signed copy of this book at book expo this year. This book is getting hyped all over the literary community. It comes out today in bookstores all across the U.S. Is it worth the hype? Read more

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

city of mirrors

The City of Mirrors may not seem like a book we would review on this blog, but it’s part of a trilogy that I have really enjoyed. I was thrilled to get an ARC of the final installment of Cronin’s Passage Trilogy. Here’s what I thought… Read more

The Pier Falls and Other Stories by Mark Haddon

pier falls

Out today, The Pier Falls is Mark Haddon’s latest book. Although I was cutting it down to the wire, I was able to finish and review the book before leaving for Book Expo America. Hope to see some of you there. Here’s what I thought of the book: Read more

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami


I’m finally back on track! After close to a month of reading very little literary fiction and too much “escapist” fare, I finally got around to reading a book that I can actually review for this blog. Today’s book has been sitting on my TBR shelf at home for a while so it’s about time. Keep reading to see what I thought, although those of you who know me well can probably guess. Read more

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell


The Madwoman Upstairs
by Catherine Lowell
Published: March 1, 2016
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Jen
Find it here:The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley and Simon and Shuster in exchange for an honest review.

The Madwoman Upstairs is Catherine Lowell’s debut novel and was released on March 1st by Simon and Shuster. It has been described as “a modern-day literary scavenger hunt” and centers on clues related to the Bröntes.

When Samantha Whipple’s father dies, she becomes the sole living relation of the Bröntes. Rumors surround Samantha about a mysterious Bronte estate. Many scholars speculated that her father had hidden away a vast fortune of unpublished works and Bronte memorabilia.  Five years after her father’s death, Samantha travels to Oxford to study literature. She is housed in an old tower and when copies of her father’s old books (books she had presumed destroyed in the fire that killed her father) start appearing in her room, she starts to wonder if there is any truth to rumors of vast estate. What ensues is a sort of literary scavenger hunt where Samantha uncovers clues to her father’s life and a potential literary treasure. Read more

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

on beauty

I think I was the only person in the world to dislike Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I read her debut when it first came out and I actively disliked it although I don’t remember exactly why I disliked it. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to give Smith another try. I picked up this book for our winter scavenger hunt since it fulfilled item #21: A book with no images on the cover. Here’s what I thought… Read more

Indiespensable Subscription #57


The Indiespensable subscription is Powell’s subscription club. Boxes ship out every 6-8 weeks at a cost of $39.95 per box including shipping. The website advertises these boxes as featuring “the best new books with special attention to independent publishers.” The boxes include a signed first edition, a booklet that explains the items, and a few extra goodies. I started the service in October 15. Last week I received my third box. Here’s what we got this month and my review: Read more

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor


Last November I attended the Book Riot Live convention (read my review here) and while I was there I signed up for the book match by Brooklyn library librarians. I listed my favorite authors as David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Chimamanda Adichie, and Margaret Atwood. and I listed my favorite genres: literary fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and international literature. Finally I mentioned that I particularly like books that focus on cultures and traditions that are different from my own. One of books they recommended was Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. I don’t typically go for children’s books so when I was looking for a book published in 2010 (for a reading group I belong to called Play book tag) and I came across this one by the same author, I thought I would give it a shot. Read more

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter


Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
First published in: 1984
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it here: Nights at the Circus

Picaresque, whimsical, sassy, irreverent, and magical are a few words that come to mind as I try and describe this novel. Nights at the Circus was a magical ride that centers on the life and escapades of circus performer Sophie Fevvers. Sophie is an famous aerialist who claims she was hatched from an egg and abandoned by her parents, raised in a brothel, and sprouted fully fledged wings.

The novel is broken into three parts. Part one is set in London in 1899. Walser, a young journalist who is skeptical about the powers and reality of Sophie, decides to interview her for a newspaper entitled “Great Humbugs of the World” in an attempt to prove her to be a fraud. Yet, after meeting her he becomes enchanted with her and the circus. In part two, we find Walser working as a clown in the circus in order to become closer to Sophie. This section takes us deep into the heart of the circus and centers on an array of colorful characters and scenarios. The final section takes place in Siberia. The circus troupe is headed across Siberia to Tokyo but the train derails and a number of events ensue (I will leave it at that rather than provide spoilers). The novel is filled with magical moments, irreverence, and humor.  Carter leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Sophie is really magical or just an excellent con-woman.

Nights at the Circus has a strong feminist message and is a blend of genres with magical realism being central. The heroine is strong and not the sort to require male rescuing. In fact, she is often the one who does the rescuing. She’s crude but in an amusing way and she is constantly defying stereotypes.

Why oh why did I discover Angela Carter so late in the game?  I knew very little about Angela Carter before reading this book and when researching her found out that she had taught at Brown University (I have personal ties to the school) for several years. She died from cancer at the age of 52 and was named one of the “50 Greatest British writers since 1945” by The Times. Carter was known for her whimsical and feminist writings.

I really enjoyed this book yet I am struggling to adequately describe or review the book. It’s smart and funny and wonderfully quirky. I will be adding Carter as an author whose works I want to explore in depth. You’ll enjoy this book if you like magical realism with a feminist twist.

Favorite quotes:

As we say in our country: ‘tomorrow never comes’, which is why you’re promised jam tomorrow. We live, always in the here and now, the present. To pin your hopes upon the future is to consign those hopes to a hypothesis, which is to say, a nothingness.

“Perhaps…I could not be content with mere contentment!”

“We must all make do with the rags of love we find flapping on the scarecrow of humanity.”

He would have called himself a ‘man of action’ He subjected his life to a series of cataclysmic shocks because he loved to hear his bones rattle. That’s how he knew he was alive.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Nights at the Circus

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Angela Carter? What do you think of her works?