12

Literary Wives: The Stars Are Fire

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

stars are fire

In post-war Maine, Grace Holland seems to have the perfect life. She has two young healthy children, her husband has a great job as an engineer and they own their own bungalow in a small beach-side town in Maine. But when fire breaks out after a summer long drought, pregnant Grace loses everything in one night and must find a way to build a new life for herself and her children. After going to help fight the fires, her husband Gene doesn’t come back.

After being hospitalized for the loss of her baby, Grace is reunited with her mother and children and they make their way to her late mother-in-law’s home. Reasoning that the home is Gene’s and as Gene’s presumed widow, the home is now hers, she sets to making the house habitable for the family. She finds work as the office manager for a doctor new in town, she learns to drive and buys a car.

And when everyone is happily settled into this new reality, not-really dead Gene returns badly injured with a different personality, like a bomb ready to tear everything apart.

My Thoughts

I spent the first half waiting for Gene to return – it wasn’t a ‘twist’ that was particularly well hidden. The stage was already set for him to be a horrible person – their third child was conceived after a forcible encounter, something that deeply shamed Grace. Although her life before the fire looked like one that would be envied, it was clear from the first page that it was all a facade. Gene drank a little too much, their life was rigidly structured, and socializing too much with the neighbours was frowned upon.

I liked reading this book. It could have been incredibly saccharine and heavy handed but Grace has enough hardness to her that she doesn’t become a stranded damsel. She is more than capable of handling the challenges that have been sent her way. I appreciated that we got to see Grace rebuilding her life on her own before the reappearance of Gene – it showcased her strength, her abilities and served to foreshadow how Grace could react should her life fall apart again.

This time Grace isn’t content to live the life that other people think should be good enough.

What does the book say about being a wife?

For a lot of the book, Grace isn’t a wife. She navigates her life in the aftermath of her marriage, when a natural disaster has robbed her of all of the material possessions and status she was supposed to want. In many ways, Grace is freed from her status as a wife. When she is married, she is unsure of what she wants and there is a certain inevitability to her days.

Her and Gene’s marriage is not a love match, they met and her mother urged her to marry him as he would be able to give her the kind of life that would be easy. Her mother also feels a certain relief in her widowhood, her husband having died in the course of his work as a fisherman. Grace’s mother doesn’t understand why Grace questions her life at all. For her it is simple: a husband provides and a wife makes a nice home.

I think Grace was traumatized by the death of her father and the withdrawal of her mother and she saw Gene as a way to have her own life. But that life isn’t what she thought it would be, probably because it was missing any kind of affection. Freed from the constraints of her marriage (albeit under fairly tragic circumstances), Grace is able to learn who she is and what she wants.

When Gene returns, he destroys all of that. He is horribly disfigured, angry, violent and crass. The aggressive tendencies he had already displayed towards her in the Before, are no longer disguised and in an effort to protect her children, Grace allows Gene to take his anger out on her. Mostly it seems like The Stars Are Fire is saying that being a wife is suffocating and horrible and one shouldn’t get married young to people who are virtual strangers. It is only once Grace gets to live her own life as a single person that she finds any kind of happiness.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in February when we read They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple.

Advertisements
13

Nonfiction November – New to My TBR

I can’t believe that it’s the end of November already! Not only are we thisclose to Christmas, but it’s the end of Nonfiction November, a month-long celebration of all things nonfiction hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction). A huge thank you to all of you that hosted and work to make this event such a success every year! I’m already looking forward to November 2019 (even though I will be back at work – boo).

For this last week, Katie @ Doing Dewey is hosting the final prompt:

New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Reading through so many great posts, getting to chat with a bunch of nonfiction lovers, my instinct was to add ALL the books to my TBR. But, I actually want to read some of these by the time this event rolls around next year so I’ve had to be selective. Here are the ones I actually wrote down with links to the blogger who sold me on it.

And every single book on this Janeite list from I’d Rather Be At Pemberley

So that’s that! Thank you to every one of you that participated this year – it’s always so much more fun when lots of people get into it.

18

Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction

November used to be one of those months that draaaaaaaaaaagged for me. But in the three years that I’ve been participating in Nonfiction November, it just flies by!

This week Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction? is asking readers to think about nonfiction books that read like fiction!

I’ve been reading nonfiction for a long time – I have clear memories of biography reading as young as 11 – and I’m not super fussed if my nonfiction reads like fiction. Sometimes it makes the reading easier, sometimes it’s more engaging, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker for me if nonfiction doesn’t have a narrative spin to it.

I think if you’re only reading fiction-like nonfiction, you’re closing yourself off to incredible possibilities. That said, it can be a great way for folks to get interested in nonfiction when they thought it was stuffy, boring and lame.

So if you’re looking for some nonfiction that reads like your favourite novel, here are some of my favourites:

Erik Larson

If you’re talking about narrative nonfiction, Erik Larson is part of the conversation. The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts are probably his most well-known books (and they are both excellent) but Isaac’s Storm, and Dead Wake (read that one in a day) are also fantastic. I was less interested in Thunderstruck if I’m being totally honest but I’ll still read anything Larson writes.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

This infamous tale of the hunt for Ted Bundy from the woman who worked right beside him at a call centre is insanely horrific and strangely personal. Everything I’ve read from Ann Rule feels personal – she has a knack for inserting herself in her books that doesn’t feel intrusive (no small feat given what she writes about). Because of this, her books have a fiction-like feel to them. Unfortunately, they are all too true.

How To Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

This memoir of a troubled youth and stumbling into a dream job in magazine publishing felt like watching a glittery but ultimately doomed romcom. Marnell puts it all out there but the way she writes makes it all seem like bubblegum and sunshine. A portrait of a deeply troubled human just trying to make it in the world.

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

If you’re looking to have your heart ripped out for your next read, may I suggest A Train in Winter? Caroline Moorehead expertly tells the tale of 230 women who were a part of the French Resistance and the price they paid for their involvement. It is devastating, emotional, horrific and more people really should have read it by now!

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more titles I could add to the list. There are lots of nonfiction books that fall into the storytelling bucket for me. In fact, here’s some more (bullet form for all our sanity)

There you have it, some of my favourite narrative nonfiction. Make sure to check in with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction? for links to other blogs participating this week!

27

Nonfiction November: Be The Expert

Just like that we’re in the middle of Nonfiction November – a month long celebration of all things nonfiction! It’s been an absolute joy to participate again this year, collecting new titles to read and chatting with other nonfiction readers! It’s been so liberating to just get to focus on nonfiction for a whole month.

Nonfiction-November-2018

A huge thanks to all of you hosting this year: Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)

This week Julie at Julz Reads is hosting Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert so be sure to hop on over to her post to find links to everyone else’s post!

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Since I am pathologically incapable of not pretending I know everything when it comes to books, I’m choosing to Be The Expert for the third year in a row. Insufferable right?

This year I’m choosing a to focus on one of the reasons we’ve all become readers: authors.

A caveat before we begin: in my experience, author biographies are the most fun if you are familiar with most of the author’s work.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud

It should honestly be mandatory that all Canadians have to read Anne of Green Gables. Since it’s not and I’m constantly shocked by all the Canadians who have “always meant to read them” I thought I’d spotlight her creator, L.M. Montgomery. In particular, Mary Henley Rubio’s masterful biography Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Please do not be put off by the title, this book is brilliant. I grew up loving Montgomery’s work but knew next to nothing about the woman. This book changed that.

Roald Dahl

roald dahl

Another author that had a massive impact on my reading life is Roald Dahl – guys I have a kid named after one of his characters. But while Roald-Dahl-the-author understood children in an incredible way, Roald-Dahl-the-man could not have been more irritated that he was known for his children’s books instead of his serious man work. Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock isn’t afraid to get at the man behind the myth. This isn’t one you should read if you aren’t ready to have any illusions about him shattered but it is an incredibly thorough and interesting portrait of the man who created some of the most memorable stories.

Charlotte Bronte

charlotte

Whenever I think about Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman I just get really sad. Not only was she a talented woman who had to hide her gender to have her work taken seriously, or had to outlive every one of her five siblings, but when she finally found happiness on her own, she died. I will always think of Charlotte Bronte sitting down to write Shirley, alone, at the table where she and her sisters used to work on their stories together every evening. This is a dense biography but it really served to help me better understand her work. This one isn’t for those of you that have a more casual relationship with nonfiction!

Charles Dickens

charles

The granddaddy of English Literature, Charles Dickens was kind of an a**hole. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin doesn’t shy away from the truth. He really did care about the plight of the poor and did his best to use his work to illuminate truly horrific living conditions in Victorian England. But. The treatment of his wife and children was completely abhorrent. If you have a love affair with his work, this biography is a must-read.

If you want to go further, I definitely recommend the biography of all of his children, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb. This one is short too so it’s an easy one to pad those reading stats if that’s where your head’s at!

Have you read any great biographies of writers that I should get my hands on? Let me know!

And make sure to visit Julie at Julz Reads to find links to even more great nonfiction!

26

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

It’s week two of Nonfiction November and I’ve already added a bunch of great sounding books to my TBR!

Nonfiction November is a month-long celebration of nonfiction, a genre that just doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as fiction! This year, Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)  are all hosting.

Nonfiction-November-2018

This week Sarah @ Sarah’s Bookshelves is hosting a fiction/non-fiction book pairing:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Last year when I put this list together, my choices were all pretty heavy. This year, the pairings I’ve come up with are decidedly lighter!

Reality TV

I unapologetically love trashy reality TV. Give me housewives, bachelors, Kardashians, and the really bad stuff on TLC. This year, some of my reading followed suit.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll follows a Real Housewives type group where all the women are successful, single entrepreneurs of some kind. This year’s newest addition is the sister of an original cast member, who winds up dead during shooting. It was a really interesting fictional look at how those shows manipulate storylines, the cast and ultimately, viewers.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir follows Esther-called-Essie, the youngest daughter of a mega-famous reality TV preacher family after she finds herself pregnant and tries to take control of her own life for once. This one has loads of dark undertones and also examines the price that some of these reality TV stars pay for fame, especially the ones that have been on camera since they were little kids.

Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman was such a treat! As someone who hate-watches most seasons of The Bachelor, reading Kaufman’s insider look at how the franchise really runs was fascinating, hilarious and gross. Let’s just say that UnReal didn’t get it all that wrong.

Romanov Women

Those of you who have been here before will be familiar with my love of royal women. Those of you who are here for the first time, welcome – I love reading about royal women.

From Splendor to Revolution by Julia P. Gelardi is an incredible biography of four Romanov women, their lives, loves and ultimately their downfall from 1847-1928. That is an immense amount of history at a really crucial time for the Romanovs and Gelardi handles all their stories so well. I will never pass up an opportunity to yell at people about how amazing Julia P. Gelardi is. I am really hoping she releases something new soon!

The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner is the first time that Empress Maria Feodorovna has ever been the star of her own story and I’m just wondering what the heck took so long? Danish by birth, her sister was Queen Alexandra, she was married to Tsar Alexander III and the mother of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. I promise you she is so worth reading about, in fiction or nonfiction.

Magazine Life

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza is a smart, funny look at what happens when you get your dream job, are sidelined by illness and watch your protege step in and run your magazine into the ground. Do you bow out of the game altogether? Fight for your old job? Try and use your talents and connections for something better? The Knockoff is the kind of delicious book that’s perfect for vacation.

The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown is kind of the real life version of The Knockoff, except in the time that Brown writes about she is young, hungry and can get just about any job that she wants. It was interesting to read, not just about the immense wealth and glamour of the 1980s, but also about what it was like for Tina Brown to rise to the top (and stay there) in a man’s world.

Hopefully I’ve added some books to your list! Now I’m going to hop around and find some additions for my list. If you’re looking to do the same, head on over to Sarah’s Bookshelves for links to participating blogs!

31

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

It’s here!!! Nonfiction November is finally here!

Nonfiction-November-2018

Nonfiction November is a month-long celebration of nonfiction, a genre that just doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as fiction! This year, Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)  are all hosting. Each blog will take a turn hosting a prompt and we can all jump in and talk about all the great nonfiction we have been and are reading.

Sounds awesome right?

Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is taking on the first week so be sure to hop on over to her blog to read her post as well as find links to lots of other bloggers playing along this year. We’re looking back at our year in nonfiction so far!

Overall, it’s been a decent nonfiction year – 19 books, 28% of my book total. I’ve definitely been looking for books with shorter page counts, or ones that I could read in drips and drabs.

These are all the nonfiction titles I’ve read this year:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Picking a favourite book at any time is like asking to pick a favourite child. The books that had the biggest impact on me, the ones that I thought about long after I finished them were:

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I honestly could not read that book in the dark or if I was alone, it spoke to my fears so exactly. And when I read it, they didn’t yet know who he was. It was such a unique experience to have read the book and then have a lot of questions answered literally weeks later.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. I had a baby this year, so this was another one that was super specific to my own experience. I appreciated that Gaskin’s approach to childbirth was free of fear, that it was a natural process. I think it made a massive difference to my own experience.

Educated by Tara Westover. This memoir was just unlike anything I’d ever read. It reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I think that I’ve been shying away from heavier content like never before. In the past, I’ve used nonfiction reading to educate myself on important social issues. I have a hard time doing that right now – it all feels kind of futile. At least when I read about history, those things are safely in the past. I’ve also been reading more true crime than normal and I think that’s me being drawn to things with a resolution (now true of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark).

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Tie between I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. They could not be more different eh?

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’m hoping that I will put a dent in the ridiculous amount of nonfiction books that are currently staring at me from my shelves. I buy so much of it but I don’t always read it – I reason they are too heavy (literally and figuratively) or will take too long to get through. Or I plan to save them for this month!

I’m also really looking forward to connecting with other nonfiction readers! Talking to other readers who appreciate great nonfiction is such a highlight for me.

Are you participating this year?

 

10

Review: The Silence of the Girls

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never been super into Greek mythology. I’ve read what I had to for school but I’ve never done a deep dive. Earlier this year I read and really enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Circe and since then I’ve been thinking about what prevented me from enjoying Greek mythology before now.

silence of the girls

I just finished The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and I think I know the answer now: it always seemed like women were objects.

Obviously I was only partly wrong – Circe certainly wasn’t a Thing. But she was punished when her behaviour displeased a man. I liked The Silence of the Girls for the same reason I liked Circe – women became the central figures of their own story.

From Goodreads:

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

I know there are likely many of you that are super familiar with the story so I wanted to make sure I got the gist of it correct. At some point, Agamemnon wants Briseis for himself and Achilles refuses to fight in protest and it gets bad all around. But the difference in The Silence of the Girls is that Briseis is telling her own story. Achilles and Agamemnon and all the rest of the men in these stories absolutely see women as objects as things to be desired and possessed.

But Briseis sees the men as they are too. She sees them as jealous and petty, as possessive and childish. And for me, that made it way more interesting than anything I’d ever read before.

Because of my ignorance in this area, I can’t say how closely the actual story was followed. The broad strokes that I remember are certainly there – Patroclus and Achilles are definitely in love with each other, Patroclus goes to fight as Achilles and dies, Achilles goes to avenge him and is killed at the only spot his armour wasn’t protecting – his heel.

But where The Iliad and all iterations are focused on the story of the battle and the desires of the kings involved, The Silence of the Girls focuses on Briseis and the women like her, how they are affected by the changing tides of war. Briseis, a Queen in her day, is clear eyed and understands all too well what it could mean for her should Achilles not return. She is now either a slave for the Greeks to use as they will, or a woman sullied by the Greeks should Troy be saved.

If authors keep writing stories like this, working over the threads of well-known tales to create ones told from different angles, I might find myself ever more invested in Greek mythology.