French Women, Tigana, Catching Fire, Mountains of Madness, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall

French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and PleasureFrench Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this one up for free, and it’s been sitting in my bathroom for the past month, so I’ve leafed through most of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read the book that put Guiliano on the bestseller list, French Women Don’t Get Fat, although I was aware of its basic premise. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone really being able to take her seriously. Giuliano’s tone is supercilious at best. Her constant exaggerated descriptions of her own self-control (the chocolates she didn’t eat, the half of a banana she saved for later, etc.) are bizarre to the point of being red flags for an unhealthy food obsession. And her constant assumed superiority in everything from fashion to stress management (not to mention the broad and blatant cultural stereotyping) make this book virtually unreadable.

However. It is peppered with quite a few recipes, based on seasonal produce, which look to be both delicious and fairly easy to make. And she also includes several “recipes” for natural skin and hair treatments. Which is why I’ve not thrown away my copy, and also why I’ve given the book one star more than its writing deserves. If you can get past the author’s egregious attitude, there’s some good stuff inside.

TiganaTigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another gorgeous and moving offering by Guy Gavriel Kay. I told my librarian friend that he was my new favorite author (while requesting that the library acquire his very first novel), and she responded, “it’s like having a new best friend, isn’t it?” It is.

Tigana is set in Renaissance Italy, or at least Kay’s version of Renaissance Italy. Like his other novels, this one straddles the genres of historical and fantasy fiction. The fantasy is mostly in the details, like blue wine, two moons, and dreamlike scenes in otherworldly places. Kay’s books have complex, tightly crafted plots, but they are really character-driven. And once again in Tigana he has assembled a collection of interesting, deeply explored characters with complicated loves and hates and motivations.

For readers looking for clear heroes and villains or nonstop action, this novel will likely disappoint. But if you are interested in difficult questions, subtle scenes, and beautifully crafted prose, Tigana is a wonderful read.

As with Kay’s other books, this is an adult novel. Expect some sex and violence, neither gratuitous.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As you know, I was not a huge fan of The Hunger Games. But a couple of weeks ago I saw the movie, and I actually liked it a lot better than the book. Plus, my library’s audiobook selection is rather limited, and I really burn through them on my commute. So. I’m giving the series another chance.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to say about Catching Fire either. Again, I really enjoyed the portion of the book that took place outside the Hunger Games. Once the Games start, it’s just kind of sickening. Also, I don’t think this book is even as well-plotted as its predecessor. Might I read the third? Yeah, but only if my library has it on audiobook.

The Tenant of Wildfell HallThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I imagine there are few people who read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall before Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, so it’s almost obligatory to talk about Anne with reference to Charlotte and Emily. But I won’t indulge, except to say that from the standpoint of reading enjoyment, I’m afraid the popularity of the respective books speaks truth. Helen, the heroine of Tenant is just a trifle too pious and resigned to her fate. And the extended epistles and journal entries are too contrived to really allow the reader to fall into the novel properly.

Still, this was no doubt a groundbreaking book for its time, and remains poignantly relevant as the story of a woman who uses her courage and ingenuity to escape from her abusive, alcoholic husband, and retain her own dignity and humanity. Sadly, we still live in a world where some women are trapped (often with their children) in abusive marriages, even when the legal basis for such situations is gone. And in some countries, even the legal basis remains. I wish all those women could read this book.

At the Mountains of MadnessAt the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t read horror as a genre, because my imagination is already overactive. But somehow this ended up on my Kindle, and I read it.

It was actually a pretty interesting read, more as a cultural artifact than anything else. The thing that fascinated me most was Lovecraft’s implicit assumption that readers would perceive anything different as being threatening, an abomination, against nature, etc. I think we have come a long way since the 1930’s in our acceptance of the “other.”

Even though I didn’t really buy in emotionally to the suspense and horror that Lovecraft was attempting to build, I did appreciate the bizarre artistry of his writing, and how he wove references to his (fictional) “sources” convincingly into the narrative. First class writing for its genre, no doubt, but not really my cup of tea.

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