Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The thing about being a writer is that you never have to ask, "Am I doing something that’s worthwhile?" Because even if you fail at it, you know that it’s worth doing.

—Richard Ford

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Morality is only for the middle classes... The lower class can't afford it, and the upper classes have entirely too much leisure time to fill.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Monday, February 18, 2013

An Ideal Man

She was going to have to find a husband soon. Some nice, sincere gentleman who would share her love of books. A man who wore spectacles, and liked dogs and children.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I would never be so bourgeois as to sleep with my own husband.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review of In the Kingdom of Men

The paperback of In the Kingdom of Men just came out this week, so I think it's about time I posted my review of the novel by my professor and major advisor.

In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

Gin is a young woman in the sixties growing up in the backwoods of Oklahoma under an austere and severely religious grandfather. She makes a bid for freedom by marrying handsome college boy Mason McPhee. Together they go to Saudi Arabia where Mason works on an oil rig and Gin must adjust to marble floors and servants, luxury within the strictly regulated confines of a gated compound. Gin must both adjust to riches and privilege as well as rules based on a racial and sexual hierarchy—Bedouins, Indian houseboys, white wives. And Gin must confront the secret vice and scandal of the Arabian American oil company, a secret that may cost Mason his life.

I'm ambivalent about this book. In some ways I really enjoyed it and thought it was very good writing, but in other ways I wish it could have been better and it didn't meet my expectations.

The beginning is fantastic. Gin growing up in the backwoods of Oklahoma with an austere grandfather were some of the best parts.

I feel like this book can't decide whether it's character driven or plot driven. For me, a book is best when it balances both. In the Kingdom of Men didn't balance the two very well for me. The middle of the book felt plot-driven, but the ending didn't live up to my expectations for a plot-driven work. I was disappointed with the ending until I reworked my expectations for something more existential and character driven. But if this were that sort of book, then I wanted the middle to set me up for that. I felt like the book didn't reveal it's theme until the last page, and the theme couldn't fully resonate with me because it hadn't been built up to, I hadn't seen enough hints of it throughout.

Gin is a hard-headed independent woman. But for all that, she has very little agency throughout the book. I thought in the ending she would claim her agency, but this turned out to be the story of a woman who has life happen to her. This is the story of, for all Gin struggles for independence, a woman who's life is dictated by the external and by other people's choices. There are times when she discusses with Yash (her houseboy) how hard it is to be a woman in a man's world (hey, just clue into the title), but I was still expecting our heroine to do something, to achieve something or change something. So maybe this isn't the traditional story of the hero/heroine saves the day, nor the story of a woman becoming a mature adult through self-awareness, agency, and sovereignty. Maybe this is a fiercely realistic story about how no matter how hard you try you can't often change things. Maybe this is the story of you only think you're in charge of your life. Those are depressing but valid topics, and the epilogue is written thoughtfully and beautifully enough to carry those ideas. But the rest of the book didn't feel like it was that sort of book. The prologue and epilogue almost feel like different books than the whole middle of the book. Or maybe I should says, the parts that take place in Saudi Arabia feel like a different story from the parts that take place in Oklahoma and Rome.

Beautiful writing, interesting and intriguing characters, but I would have liked a little more cohesiveness in plot and theme.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the Bookshelf—Review of the Madman's Daughter

Juliet Moreau is an orphan trying to survive in Victorian England, working as a maid in a labratory. Six years ago her father disappeared after a scandal—he was convicted of performing vivisection.

Juliet runs into Montgomery, once her father's servant and her own dear childhood friend. Montgomery has grown into a man, seemingly a gentleman, and has a frighteningly deformed servant of his own. But what is more—Montgomery tells Juliet her father is alive and living on an island, and Montgomery still works for him.

Juliet and Montgomery sail for her father's island, picking up a mysterious but attractive castaway named Edward along the way. Will Dr. Moreau welcome his daughter with open arms? Will the scandal about Juliet's father prove to be true? What experiments on the island is Moreau doing, and what's the deal with the odd and deformed islanders? Will Juliet be able to sort out her feelings about Montgomery and Edward?

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Young Adult
Gothic, Romance

Shepherd took on a steep task when she decided to remake The Island of Doctor Moreau into a YA with romantic subplots. It can be difficult not to like this book merely on principle. It's a fun read, but I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read the H.G. Wells original so recently. A few years between reading The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Madman's Doctor might have made me more receptive to Shepherd's version. And I admit, I may not be partial to this version simply because I've become weary of this type of YA and its tropes.

The further I got into the book the more I got caught up in suspense. There are several intriguing mysteries: What is Edward's past? What really caused the scar along Juliet's spine? What is the monster in the jungle tearing out the islander's hearts?

Montgomery is the most interesting and three-dimensional character in the book. He grew up as a servant but has the brilliance of a scientist. He is essentially kind-hearted, but has learned cruelty. Moreau is both master and father to Montgomery, and Montgomery is in the complicated and unpleasant situation of being servant, assistant, and like a son to Moreau while also being his equal in skill and intellect. On top of that Montgomery is quite handsome.

I would have appreciated a bit more subtlety and finesse, in characterization, in description of the islanders, in the reveal of who the islanders actually are (even though anyone who has read the back of the book will know. God, spoilers!). I thought Juliet's character—a Victorian woman with the violent blood of a mad scientist in her, curiosity and scientific intellect paired with compassion—could have been written more smoothly, more believably. Juliet's claims to being as mad as her father were rather weak.

The islanders in Shepherd's version take on qualities of Frankenstein's monster. Jaguar (Wells' Leopard-Man) gains intellect and self-awareness. Balthasar (Wells' M'ling) has gentleness and compassion. And yet Shepherd's islanders are also more (unnecessarily) physically animalistic than Wells'; they have tusks and tails. Despite Shepherd using sciencey sounding words, I find Moreau's creations in The Madman's Daughter to be less credible, less logical than the original. I can't get more specific without giving away spoilers.

The ending has quite the twist.

I do expect fans of YA (especially paranormal, fantasy, and romantic YA) will eat this up. Fans of the original Doctor Moreau will likely be critical of this reincarnation. For me it was fairly fun and enjoyable, and I kept thinking about it after I read it, but nothing special. I probably won't be reading the sequel, but you never know.