The Dress Lodger

…by Sheri Holman.

Set in 19th century Sunderland, England, this story revolves around two main characters – Dr. Chiver and Gustine. In a Cholera stricken Sunderland, Dr. Chiver struggles to get his hands on cadavers in order to research and understand the disease, with the people of the city revolting against his work in every possible way. Gustine, a factory worker by day and a prostitute by night, is a mother of a baby with a special condition. When she meets Dr. Chiver she offers to help him finding bodies for his research, hoping that one day she can have him treat her baby’s condition. The book tells the story of the lives of these two characters, how their paths cross, how they help each other, how their relationship gets strained at one point when Dr. Chiver, how people of Sunderland react to Cholera taking over their city, and life/lifestyle in Sunderland during that period of time in general.

This engrossing dark tale of suffering and poverty left me in a depressed state of mind. How can one read about so gruesome and not feel sad? The divide between rich and poor, the struggle between a researcher and the common man, is all very well depicted. In parts, I started taking the doctor’s side and found myself wanting to shout out to the other characters to just let him do his job. The story is heart wrenching, cruel and very sad in parts, that it left me with a feeling unpleasant for long after I was done reading. So, this was definitely not a easy book to read.

The way the author paints each and every character in the book is one of the very main points that made the book interesting for me, more than the story itself. The way she tells tales of each of the characters past and present, building an image for the reader and tweaking that very image every now and then with twists here and there makes the book a delightful read. Even the supporting characters are so well described with their own niceties and imperfections, that it was easy to connect and see everyone’s point of view before entirely falling in love with, or hating any given personality.

The one point that left me unsatisfied about the book was the narrators of the story, whose identity is a mystery way until the last few chapters. I couldn’t quite come to appreciate the style of narration. I found that it quite unusual and somewhat hard, at times to follow. I did get used to it by the end, but I still couldn’t appreciate the parts where the narrators speak to the readers directly in parts of novels asking the reader’s thoughts about the story, character and what not.

Overall, I would recommend this heavy morbid tale revolving around the divide between rich and poor, the cholera outbreak more for its characters than the plot itself.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson is the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. Industrialist Henrik Vanger hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate the past of the Vanger family under the pretense of writing a book on the family chronicles. However, the real reason is that he wants Blomkvist to investigate the Vanger family due to the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, his grand-niece, several years ago. Vanger is certain she has been murdered. And by a family member.

Blomkvist is not keen on taking on the case but does so despite his better judgement because he is offered a bone…information on a tycoon who ended up suing Blomkvist for libel for an article on him in his magazine, Millennium. Henrik Vanger prior to hiring Blomkvist, had him checked out by Lisbeth Salander, a freelance private investigator for Milton Security. Lisbeth is not your average 25 year old woman. Not the most social person on the planet, she has her ways and means of finding out information about the people she is employed to do so. A number of tattoos on her body, a mysterious past and a demeanour where she will not let anybody get emotionally close to her, she remains an intriguing person. Blomkvist later employs her services to assist him with research on the Vanger family.

While Blomkvist initially has no illusions about being able to find a murderer…even if there was one…from almost 40 years ago, he realises that he has stumbled into something possibly quite sinister as his life is threatened. He is obviously closing in on someone and so begins a roller coaster of a ride.

What did happen to Harriet Vanger all those years ago?

Was she murdered? And if so why?

Who in the Vanger family is responsible for this?

And again, why did they want her dead?

Does her death or disappearance have anything to do with some other deaths in Sweden back then?

All these questions and so many more make it an entertaining and gripping tale. It is definitely a page-turner and keeps you guessing about the whys and the whats and the whos and the hows. Just as a thriller should. I got through the book in a couple of days just because I was unable to put it down. The characters are quite interesting although I will admit I couldn’t really empathise with them much. Salander is an intriguing character for sure and you want to know more about her and how she manages to gather such detailed and yet private information about people. Most of her past is not revealed and keeps you wanting to know more.

All in all, a great thriller which also manages to give you chills down your spine on certain occasions. I rate it a 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

To Kill a Mockingbird

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee is an American classic. Set in the deep south in the fictional town of Maycomb in the 1930s, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is narrated by eight year old Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch. Scout lives with her older brother Jeremy ‘Jem’ Finch and father Atticus Finch. Scout is a tomboy who enjoys roughing it up with Jem and together they befriend Dill, who lives with his aunt next door during summer. Their summers consist of enacting stories, climbing trees, and trying to entice the elusive Boo Radley to come out of his house. Scout and Jem live a pretty good life in sleepy old Maycomb. Scout has the usual problems with bullies, the usual sibling rivalry with Jem and hates school because she apparently has learnt too much prior to starting school, arguments with her aunty because she is not ‘ladylike’ enough and has plans with Dill to marry him when they are both of age.

Everything is pretty routine for Scout and Jem until they find out that Atticus is defending a black man, Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. In the racist and narrow-minded society of the 30s, Atticus is seen by majority of the townsfolk as a traitor. For them, it’s one thing to be assigned to defend a black man but it’s a totally different thing to actually make an effort to defend him. And Scout and Jem are forced to face the harsh reality of society. Jem being slightly older, has formed his views. Scout, on the other hand, is still trying to gather information to make up her mind. She doesn’t understand why her father has to defend a black man. She doesn’t understand the manner in which society is reacting to him. She doesn’t understand why some people are hypocritical (even if she doesn’t use the word ‘hypocrisy’).

Despite Atticus’ efforts and despite clearly casting reasonable doubt, the all white male jury convicts Tom Robinson. And what follows is anger and incredulity on Jem’s part and confusion on Scout’s. And through them, a greater insight into the kind of society they live in. The racist and hypocritical nature of majority of the population. The appalling injustice faced by the blacks.

This one question she poses about her teacher to Jem pretty much sums up all seems muddled in her head:

Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain’t she?

‘Why sure,’ said Jem ‘I liked her when I was in her room.’

‘She hates Hitler a lot…’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treatin’ the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean, have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?’

‘Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin’ you?’

‘Well, coming out of the court-house that night Miss Gates was – she was goin’ down the steps in front of us…she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home -?’

It’s a coming-of-age story and a literary classic. In some ways, you can also see that things have changed to a certain extent. I’m sure many of you must have read this book at some stage in your lives. If you haven’t, I advise you to read it as soon as possible! It’s definitely one of those must-read books in your lifetime. Jasper Jones has shades of this book but in an Australian context with a few other issues added. I rate it a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Still Alice

…by Lisa Genova.

Alice, around fifty years old, is a respected Harvard Professor, at the peak of her career. Along with her successful career, Alice has a doting family – her husband, John, a fellow Professor at Harvard, and her three children Anna, Tom and Lydia. A picture perfect life she leads even with the little disagreements here and there with family, until she starts noticing a pattern of absentmindedness – losing her way back home after a run, not being able to remember words / complete sentences during lectures / seminars, forgetting to catch a plane to attend a conference, etc. Even though she disregards these as symptoms of menopause and/or stress, she decides to the doctor for a check up, which eventually leads to the diagnosis that Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

What happens next? How she copes with the news; how and when she decides to let the family know; what their reactions are; what happens to her career; how they (Alice and family) handle her deteriorating memory – do they have a plan; what are her treatment options, if any – the rest of the novel answers all these, and any other, questions that a reader might have.

How Alice’s normal lifestyle changes over a short period of time, requiring her to depend so much on others, leaves a mark. How her family stands by her and provides a strong support system for her to lean on during hard times makes one realize the importance of relationships. How Alice, after learning that she’s battling a disease that has no cure yet, does everything to prepare herself to face the future, teaches confidence. All in all, this story about Alice’s life is affected by Alzheimer’s disease is heart breaking.

The writing style, although simple, is a bit too scientific in parts – I won’t complain though, I got to learn few things…it was informative and educational. The amount of time the author has spent researching – both the scientific and emotional aspects of the disease and its effects – shouldn’t be overlooked; it is praiseworthy because she makes the reader connect with the characters, all the while spreading awareness.

My only tiny issue with the story – even after completing the novel, I don’t feel like I am done reading. It feels incomplete, I am not sure why. Other than that, I absolutely enjoyed this book.

Overall, this book of hope, optimism and love, is an interesting read.

My rating: 4*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

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Here’s the link to the Front Cover Friday post for this book, by Psych Babbler.

Front Cover Friday – 23

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

What’s not to love here? The cover, the title, the tag line – everything about it is so intriguing, don’t you think?

Here’s the story synopsis from Shelfari -

In the tradition of The Orchid Thief , a compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him. Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be. Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this one once I get done with the stack of books I have. :)

What about you? Do you like the cover? The story? Do share.