Book Review: The Dress Lodger

The Dress Lodger

Sheri Holman

Grive Press

320 pages

It’s very rare that I am completely engaged in historical fiction.  I feel that I am very picky and often go into historical fiction expecting not to like it, which makes it even harder for me to enjoy the genre.  I think I have just had too much of Tudor romances and Phillipa Gregory, which seem so formulaic to me.  I was pretty sure, however, that I would like The Dress Lodger, by Sheri Holman as soon as I read the description though.  Why, you may ask?  Because it deals with prostitution and pestilence—what could be better??  Not to mention, as soon as I started the book, I could tell that Holman’s writing was different and refreshing.  We are introduced to our heroine, Gustine, in an innovative way—

. . . if you were to compose your own story—forgetting for a moment the small fact that you cannot write—would you choose this Saturday night, outside of this cheap theatre, through this veil of frogs, in which to introduce your heroine?  If you might have at your command the entire globe, any moment of historical influence, if you might in the writing of a humble book bring back to life a Queen of Sheba or an Empress Josephine, would you strew her path with frogs in dirty Sunderland when you might pluck from your imagination green emeralds to scatter before her in Zanzibar? No, we thought not.  You are a personage of fine taste . . . if the story were in your hands, we might expect no unpleasantness, no murder or blackest betrayal, for you are not of a punishing nature.

I just couldn’t wait to see where Holman would take us after reading the opening.  Come to find out, Gustine is a young prostitute who is, despite everything going against her, is quite bright and sassy.  She has met a young doctor, Henry, a few weeks earlier and is now trying to procure dead bodies for him so that he may practice autopsies on them, as well as his students.  Most people are unwilling to donate their bodies after death, so there is a lot of body snatching going on.  Then there is the cholera epidemic, which makes doctors yearn for a diseased corpse so that they may study the effects of cholera on the body.  Believe me when I say, body snatching was apparently not as easy as it sounds.

So Gustine seems to have this reverence for Henry, but he is embarrassed of Gustine because of her profession.  She is a prostitute, although she goes about it in a different way than most prostitutes at the time.  She has a beautiful blue dress that her pimp Whilky bought for her, the point being that looking like a high class, moneyed woman will get her richer clientele.  Gustine is a potter by day and also cares for her baby boy, whom she is deeply protective of.  You see, her baby was born with his heart on the outside of his body, with just a thin membrane covering it.  Once Henry discovers her son’s condition, he tries to gain custody of her son at all costs so that he can have control over this medical phenomenon.

The Dress Lodger is a look into the social classes of Victorian England.   You have Gustine who works her butt of at two jobs to care for her son.  Despite her hard work, she is one step away from being thrown out onto the street.  Her landlord is Whilky, who is also her pimp, so she is forced to do what he says on all levels to ensure that she has a roof over her head and can care for her child.  Meanwhile, Henry is fickle because he has money and social status and can afford to do so.  He looks down upon Gustine, despite all that she tries to do for him, and even attempts to gain custody of her son without her consent because he can.  There is also the severe distrust from poor people when it comes to doctors.  They feel that the rich are just trying to feed off of them, so they often refuse medical care because they feel that suffering from a deadly disease is safer then putting their trust into doctors.

The Dress Lodger is historical fiction at its best.  Holman was able to take a specific time and place and make it come alive for the reader.  There was so much food for thought plus it incorporated some of the most interesting issues of that era and made it into a cohesive story.  I was rooting for Gustine for the entire book and was in awe of the way she was able to keep a positive outlook despite the hand dealt to her.

Other Reviews:

Didn’t see any–let me know if I missed your review and I will link it.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts toward the Women Unbound challenge.

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday everyone!  You may have noticed I don’t have a TSS badge.  I am blogging this morning from my mother’s Mac and I am telling you, Apple is not my friend.  I have no idea how to use it so I finally just decided to write my post and be done with it–no badges or other inserts!

I am using my mom’s computer because I am sitting on the porch of her lakehouse as I write this post.  I have my two dogs curled up next to me and a hot coffee on the end table so life is good!  Pretty soon I will be taking my stepdaughter and cousin to the lake for some swimming.

This week I finished up 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan.  It was wonderful–the writing was a little subpar but the story was such a great one that I got sucked right in nonetheless.  Then I read The Likeness, by Tana French, which is for my book club meeting tomorrow.  I was the one who suggested it but I was actually a little nervous when it was chosen because I was afraid there may not have been much to discuss.  Luckily, I think I was dead wrong–yes, it was a mystery but there was still so much food for thought.  I will be sure to post a review after our meeting and wlso include the reactions of my fellow book clubbers.

Last, but not least, I started The Brothers Karamazov for the read-a-long mentioned by Jill at Fizzy Thoughts.  The read-a-long hasn’t started yet but I figured that with my track record I better get a head start!  Hopefully I’ll finish this read-a-long–thus far, the only one I have had success with is East of Eden.

I hope you all have an enjoyable Sunday.  I am planning on reading by the lake as the girls swim.  Then we’ll have a loooong drive home!

Book Review: Dismantled

Dismantled

Jennifer McMahon

Harper

432 pages

So I think we’re all familiar with the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I hate to say it, but when applied literally to actual books, it’s hard NOT to.  So I admit it, and I am not ashamed at all—I always judge a book by its cover!

Dismantled is the perfect example of how I am affected by covers.  I saw it and I instantly wanted to read it. The girl on the cover looks both a little bit creepy and a little forlorn. And it seems more artistic than just a cutesy little girl.

The premise of the book makes it even better.  You have four college friends—Suz, Winnie (fka Val), Henry and Tess—who call themselves the Compassionate Dismantlers and spend the summer after graduation together in a little ramshackle cabin living in the middle of the woods in Vermont.  To understand what the Dismantlers are all about, here’s their creed—

To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart

And there you have it.  They like to dissect, perform arson and basically just mess with people.  In fact, I wasn’t a big fan of the Dismantlers.  Suz was the group leader and to say she cared little about anyone else’s feelings would be putting it mildly. She just seemed like a raging bitch who expected everyone to bow down to her as she trampled all over them.  I am guessing it was some type of insecurity but I didn’t feel like the reader was given enough personal information about her to make a judgment either way.  I’ll just say that she had me more frustrated and irritated than any other character I’ve read about in a long time.  Any one else have that reaction?

Ok, so all of a sudden the Dismantlers summer ends in a horrible, tragic way with the death of Suz.  Obviously part of the mystery to the reader is how did she die? Why?  McMahon kept us in suspense!  All we know is that Tess and Henry, now the married parents of a nine year old named Emma, feel an enormous amount of guilt over what happened to Suz.  So when she all of a sudden seems to be haunting them, they try hard to ignore it while still coming to terms with what happened ten years earlier.

Did I like this book?  Honestly, I am not quite sure.  As far as a mystery goes, it was actually pretty sucky if you want my opinion.  Did I see it coming?  No.  The things that were happening though were so wacky and hard to string together though that I really couldn’t fathom what was going on.  It seemed like a novice’s attempt at writing a mystery.  I found the book readable and, like I was telling my sister, it reminded me of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, albeit a subpar version.  Even so, it had that comparison going for it.

In a nutshell, I really disliked two of the main characters (Winnie and Suz), while I felt that Henry and Tess were both too passive.  For instance, their marriage is falling apart but they keep expecting the other person to make a move to fix things.  And then you have the unbelievable twists and turns of the story.  So while entertaining, this book definitely had some major flaws for me.  Even so, I would recommend it as a great summer read.

Other Reviews:

The Book Zombie

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Lit & Life

Bookalicious

Chick with Books

drey’s library

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts towards the Debutante Ball challenge!


Book Review: Rubyfruit Jungle

Ruby Fruit Jungle

Rita Mae Brown

Bantam

256 pages

Where to start with this one . . . ?  I can’t say what drew me in about this book but it has been on my radar for years.  I have never really read a book focused entirely on a woman who is coming into her sexuality and discovers she is a lesbian.  Such is the case with Molly Bolt.  Molly is growing up in a rural area and from the start of the book, despite the fact that she is not even a teenager yet, she is a very sexual person.  Her actual experience begins when she has sex with her cousin Leroy, although, not to worry, they are not technically related since Molly is adopted.  Molly doesn’t seem to get much pleasure out of her trysts with Leroy and she begins to also hook up with a girl her age, which she finds much more appealing.  Eventually, right before Molly moves to FL at the end of sixth grade, she is able to spend the night at her friend’s house and things turn even more heated.

Eventually, during college, Molly’s sexuality is thrown out into the open after she and her roommate are caught in a compromising situation.  This being a few decades ago, her college does not take the matter lightly and they withdraw Molly’s scholarships so that she is unable to continue with her schooling.  She returns home to her mother in FL but is immediately thrown out onto the streets because her mother is unable to abide by Molly’s sexuality.  Molly moves to NY and meets women while working to make ends meet and hopefully fulfill her dreams of being a film maker.

Molly is a likeable character.  She is full of sass and very headstrong—definitely a leader.  She is very matter-of-fact and doesn’t take crap from anyone, which constantly causes her to butt heads with her mother Carrie.  The ridicule Molly faces for being a lesbian would get most people down but she didn’t even flinch.  Her devil may care attitude really helped her achieve her dreams and continue living the way she wanted to live despite the oppressiveness she faced due to her sexuality.  However, she is very cavalier about sex to the point where she never really has a relationship with anyone—it’s just all about the sex.

Rubyfruit Jungle was kind of like soft core porn in the sense that the whole book revolved around sex.  It was as if the entire book were written around the sex scenes.  Personally, I have no issues with sex scenes in books—it makes no difference to me whether there is sex or not but in this book, there just didn’t seem to be much substance.  That is a shame because Brown touched on so many issues that really affect the GLBT community but none of those themes were really built up in the book.

Rubyfruit Jungle left much to be desired.   It is worth reading if you are interested in GLBT issues and it is a great choice for the GLBT challenge but the execution just wasn’t there.

Other Reviews:

Bryan’s Book Blog

I borrowed this book from my local library.


This book counts towards the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf.

Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday Salon everyone!  More importantly, Happy Father’s Day!  We are going out to dinner much later to celebrate, but for the meantime it’s a lazy Sunday thankfully!

This week I read Dismantled, by Jennifer McMahon.  Truthfully, I am not sure how I feel about it at this point.  There were definitely some aspects about the book I liked but at the same time, some parts of the book irritated me.

I am now reading 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan.  It is the type of fiction I love–old, Victorian era crime fiction based on true events.  So far, it is very good and I hope to finish it shortly.

Now, I have a question–I often read other posts about bloggers who are concerned about posting a negative review when they were sent a review copy by the publisher or author.  I have always been firm about giving a negative review regardless of where or how you got the book.  But now I have a bit of a quandry.  I got a book for review and I only got about ten pages into it before I couldn’t go on.  I don’t even think it’s fair for me to write a DNF post because I really didn’t even get far enough into the book.  I am thinking I will give the book another chance in a week or two to see if I can get further into it and maybe even enjoy it.  Has anyone else had that experience where you felt like you didn’t even get far enough into a review book to give any type of review?  What did you do?

I am off now to breakfast with my husband and then hopefully I will get some reading done before dinner.  Have a wonderful Sunday everyone!

Book Review: The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife

David Ebershoff

Random House Trade Paperbacks

544 pages

The 19th Wife is told with two separate but parallel narratives.  The first portion is narrated by Jordan, a young gay man who had been abandoned by his mother on the side of the freeway a few years earlier because she believed that God was telling her do so.  Jordan has never looked back and has completely abandoned the Mormon faith but he returns to Utah because his mother, wife #19, has been accused of murdering Jordan ’s father.  Even after returning home to aid his mother in jail, Jordan attempts to escape his family and faith but is ultimately unable to leave his mother.

The other narrative is the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, one of the leaders of the Mormon faith.  Ann Eliza has grown up in the Mormon faith but she has always been aware of her mother’s disapproval on polygamy, despite the fact that her mother is in a polygamous marriage.  However, Ann Eliza is eventually coerced in to marrying Brigham Young.  Unfortunately for him, Ann Eliza flees the marriage after a few years and begins speaking out against Brigham and polygamy all over the country, drawing negative attention towards Mormonism.

I loved Ann Eliza’s account—unlike Jordan ’s sections, Ann Eliza’s story is not narrated entirely by her and it also added a lot of historical elements.  Ann Eliza really was married to Brigham Young and she really did abandon him and become a political figure fighting to end polygamy.  Her story is told through her autobiography, as well as her father’s autobiography.  The reader is aware that Ann Eliza’s story is biased and one-sided—she is unable to hold herself accountable for her own actions.  This is made all the more interesting by the fact that some of the story is even narrated by Brigham himself.  In the end you are unsure of whom to believe and what really occurred.  Despite the ambiguity, The 19th Wife is obviously not portraying polygamy in a generous light and polygamy is thoroughly denounced.

As for Jordan ’s sections, I have to admit I was not impressed.  The whole attempt seemed juvenile to me and I couldn’t really sympathize with Jordan because he seemed more two-dimensional to me.  I understand Ebershoff’s point in making him gay, but it seemed like he was the token Mormon gay guy and that made it even harder for me to take that part of the story seriously.  The mystery of who really killed his father was lackluster for me as well.  Although it was a mystery and Jordan was sleuthing to attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the suspense was never really there for me.  I didn’t really care who killed his father or why or how, etc etc.

In the end, I thought The 19th Wife was phenomenal in part and deeply flawed in part.  I love the idea of a duel narrative and I think the structure would have worked so well for this book if Jordan ’s narrative had been more refined and believable.  I would still recommend this one though because despite the issues I had with it, The 19th Wife is an engaging read and very educational if you are not too familiar with the Mormon faith, not to mention mine is the only review I have read thus far (I think) that is not completely loving this book.

Other Reviews:

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Becky’s Book Reviews

Devourer of Books

Caribous Mom

She is too Fond of Books

Presenting Lenore

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Capricious Reader

I received this book from the published for review.

This book counts towards the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf.

Book Review: What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know

Laura Lippman

Avon A

400 pages

There was something about the description of this book that really did nothing for me.  That, coupled with the lackluster cover (for whatever reason, I really dislike this cover), turned me off about this book.  However, as I have mentioned before I am on a mystery kick and I began to notice great reviews for this one here and there, so I decided to give it a whirl.  That was a great choice folks, as this is really a novel worth reading.

The book opens with a pretty serious car accident.  One of the drivers leaves the scene and is found walking about a mile from the accident.  She is admitted to the hospital where she makes the claim that she is a girl that has been missing for thirty years.

Heather and Sunny Bethany disappear in the mid-1970’s when they take the bus to the mall.  They are both seen at the mall but when their father arrives at 5pm to pick them up it as if they disappeared into thin air. No one at the mall noticed anything suspicious and there seem to be no leads.  Decade upon decade the disappearance is a mystery and the girls are pretty much given up for dead.

Now a woman claiming to be Heather Bethany is back in town and refusing to talk.  She admits to being Heather but plays a game of cat and mouse with the detectives when it comes to giving any information.

I really didn’t like Heather at all.  She just rubbed me the wrong way because she seemed to have no desire to help put an end to the mystery that had been plaguing this town for thirty years.  Instead, she was contrary and petulant and seemed like she just wanted to play games.  It wasn’t until her mother showed up that she finally began talking.

I thought the mystery aspect of this book was great.  Is she Heather Bethany?  Is she not?  I was pretty convinced that she wasn’t an imposter but I also knew there had to be something fishy going on.  Not to mention, I wanted to know what had happened thirty years ago and where this woman had been all that time.  I will tell you this—I wasn’t let down.  I know others found the end a bit lackluster or they were irritated that they had figured the ending out before the secrets and details were unveiled.  The reason I like mysteries so much is because I am no sleuth.  I would be the worst detective you could ever imagine.  So you will not be surprised to hear that the ending slapped me in the face—that’s how oblivious I was to what was coming.  On the other hand, I can see how someone would be able to figure it out before getting to the end.

I wouldn’t classify this as a big thriller.  Yes, it’s a mystery, but it’s not as in your face.  You should read it though because it’s got literary elements and isn’t just an in-your-face mystery where there’s tons of action every second.  This would be a great pool read!

Other Reviews:

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I borrowed this book from my local library.

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