Book Review: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

I just finished reading this book a few minutes ago, and raced to my computer to write a review  so I could share it with my readers (yes-both of you!) as quickly as possible. I really enjoyed Mrs. Poe, and I’m sure many will not be familiar with it, so I wanted to get the word out right away. Another reason I feel a bit of urgency? We’re inching our way closer to Christmas as the hours tick by, and I think this would be a great gift for that historical fiction lover on your list. I know, I’m so thoughtful!index

Lynn Cullen is an American writer who writes historical fiction as well as children’s books. Although I don’t typically pick up this genre, the book interested me because it was based on real people (Edgar Allan Poe being the most obvious). It also included other literary figures of the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson being a good example, and reading about these names that you’re familiar with bring a sort of inclusiveness to the work, so you feel not only proud of yourself for recognizing them, but curious to learn about them as people, rather than writers in history. Similar to my love of reading the acknowledgement sections of books, it’s always fun to look inside the private worlds of the well-known, even if they’ve been dead for hundreds of years. I should also mention that this book takes place around the same time as the recent novel The Dark therefore many famous historical characters play a part in both books, interestingly enough.

In the book, Poe is described as handsome. This picture I found says otherwise, but for the sake of enjoying the story, don't picture him like this when reading the love scenes.

In the book, Poe is described as handsome. This picture I found says otherwise, but for the sake of enjoying the story, don’t picture him like this when reading the love scenes.

Aside from the name-dropping, the plot is deliciously fraught with turmoil. Scorned lovers, breathless meetings in dark alleys, dread-inducing conversations and strange coincidences color the storyline with suspicion. As a reader, you suspect that there is more going on between the lines than you think, and not all loose ends are tied up at the end of the book (which is the way it should be, quite frankly). The main character Frances Osgood (who was also tied up with Poe in real life as well) is  a lovable character, a respectable woman who has been wronged by her philandering husband and just trying to make a go of it. Can she be blamed for cheating on her partner with the married Poe? Perhaps, but you feel so damn bad for the woman that it’s hard not to cheer her on at the same time.

So there you have it-does this not sound like a recipe for the best book club pick ever? It would appeal to a wide range of readers and is quick to get through, so even if you hate it (which I doubt you will) it won’t take you too long to read, and you’ll still want to turn the pages to see what happens next.


Book Review: Are You Ready to Be Lucky? by Rosemary Nixon

Rosemary Nixon is a well-known figure in the Calgary literary scene, so I’ve been eager to something of hers  for awhile. Her last novel Kalila didn’t appeal to me because of the heart-wrenching subject, so when a book of linked short stories labelled ‘humorous’ came along, I was eager to pick it up, and I’m really glad I did.index

I love reading books by Alberta authors because I find they all have a very no-nonsense way of approaching difficult subject matter-what’s so refreshing about Are you Ready to be Lucky?  is that it demonstrates this trait in an appealing way. The characters that whirl around in the story lines all face difficult situations, but endure their plights with humor and optimism-this in a nutshell, is how I view Albertans. And although some may be upset with me for painting the entire province with the same paintbrush, please understand I am offering up a compliment  here. For example, most Calgarians will fondly describe the numerous chinooks that come around through winter, but cheerfully admit that during those same warm spells, they experience the most painful kinds of migraines possible. As a newly transplanted Ontario-an, I would hear these stories and grimace,  feeling terrible for those who relayed these stories to me, not believing that they were really that comfortable with their plight- but now I see that’s just part of being  westerner!

Are-You-Ready-to-Be-Lucky-CoverYes-Albertans are tough, and so are Nixon’s characters. Roslyn was by far my favourite, slogging her way through an ill-fated marriage to a British man named Duncan, who was clearly searching for a slave rather than a wife. This book is far from a happy-ending fairy tale, but I find that each character is left with what they deserve, and this is far more satisfying for a reader.I will point out that most of the characters in Nixon’s collection are older, and hitting points in their lives that I (luckily) couldn’t relate to yet. Second marriages, grandkids and mid-life crises, are all dealt with in this book, albeit in a light way.

I have one minor problem what I read about the book-not the book itself, but the media stories on it. You can check them out here and here, and here. I only reference these to prove a point that I have-unlike what these articles and interviews say, this book is not raunchy! It fits all the other categories that the journalists mention (great writing, tawdry characters, funny dialogue) but raunchy it is not. Whether this was the journalist’s, publisher’s, or Nixon’s idea to use the word ‘raunchy’ I’m not sure, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I’ll send you along to a review of a book that I did earlier which was most definitely raunchy.

If you want a fun read with some laugh-out-loud moments, please pick this book up. And, if you’re in the mood to party with some other tough westerners and hear Nixon read from the book herself, head to the Freehand Bash  at the National Music Centre on Nov 21!


Book Review: Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Wowee, this is a big book full of gossip, sex, death plots, celebrity name-dropping and life or death situations. Is this the latest Janet Evanovich hot off the shelves? No, it’s the 600 page memoir of the very literary Salman Rushdie . Not familiar with the name? Don’t feel bad, I wasn’t either until I graduated from university, so take a couple of minutes and read up on him here.

His eyes droop like that because of a medical condition-you will learn these fascinating facts and more when you read Joseph Anton!

His eyes droop like that because of a medical condition-you will learn these fascinating facts and more when you read Joseph Anton!

Ok, now that you’ve learned a bit more about him, why bother reading this giant tome of a book? Well I picked it up for the reasons I listed above, also because I saw this book as an intelligent version of US weekly, so I felt I was justified in indulging my curiosity. I will warn you readers that this is a really long book, and to be quite honest, it could have done with a stronger edit (no book needs to be 600 pages, even if its describing a time period of ten plus years). However Rushdie throws in enough salacious details to keep you moving through at a relatively good pace, and the more successful he gets in his career, the juicier the details become.

I don’t want to give the impression that this book is fluffy, it’s far from it. It deals with such a hot button topic (freedom of speech) that Rushdie cannot contain his own soliloquies on the matter, and you get an in-depth look into the workings of his mind by the time you finish the book. I quickly learned he’s not a man to waffle, and some things he writes about I had a bit of trouble with (for instance, he gets upset with a publishing friend for stating that Rushdie never would have written the book if he knew that people would have died for it, he’s so upset by this statement that he decides to never speak to that publishing friend  again because he was so upset with him saying this). Should people be willing to die for a work of fiction? Questions such as this are just the tip of the iceberg in Joseph Anton.

If you’re familiar with Salman Rushdie, you’ve no doubt heard that many people think he is a self-important jerk. Although I don’t feel that strongly towards him, it’s hard to feel sympathetic when you read this book. Yes, he was afraid for his life and forced into hiding for ten years, but his description of that time didn’t sound too bad. For instance, he spent most of his time cooped up in his home, with round the clock security, drivers to escort him around, with not a lot of chores to keep him busy.  Staying at home all day, forced to write???? Does this not sound like a writer’s dream? I know many people who would kill for that kind of opportunity, maybe not ten years of it, but still. Things could have been a lot worse for the guy, other people were protecting him so he didn’t have to move to Siberia and live in an igloo to escape the death threats. Not to mention when he is allowed out, he’s going to fancy restaurants with famous authors, or heading to a huge literary event to accept an award, so really, things could have been worse.

If I was a male reader, perhaps I wouldn’t bother to mention the next point I’m about to make, but I’m female, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t’ reference it at least once. It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who was married four different times. Especially because he cheats on a lot of them, and doesn’t seem to have much remorse or self control for that matter. I mean, really? Four wives? Is that even necessary? True, some of them seemed a bit crazy the way he described them, but I think they demonstrated a large amount of self control by not punching him in the face when they had the chance.

Rushdie and one of his more famous wives-and yes, we're all thinking the same thing as we look at this picture.

Rushdie and one of his more famous wives-and yes, we’re all thinking the same thing as we look at this picture.

Ok I’ve realized that I’ve spent most of this review talking about him as a person, and nothing about the book, so I will state for the record that he is an amazing writer, and despite my irritations with his personality, I really enjoyed reading his memoir. The last few pages of the book seem to sum up his intentions with the publication, and he gracefully summarizes his moral standpoint and observations quite well, which I found I could easily get behind. Even more surprising, his thoughts on fiction are the same as mine, he’s just much more eloquent than myself when describing them. I believe fiction is meant to open us up to new experiences, and challenge readers to see the intentions and motivations behind others, not just those you agree with.  I guess that’s what Rushdie’s done with this non-fiction work as well, it’s forced me to see his side of things even though I resent him for being a womanizing so and so. Is this a sign of true genius? Potentially, although I have trouble admitting this in print, especially because Rushdie’s so sure of his literary prowess without any kind of external confirmation ( I don’t want to make his head any bigger than it already is).

I was sad to see the book end, and I wanted to continue being a part of his world, even if I felt uncomfortable within it at times. So yes, I guess this is a sign of a successful book. There-I said it! Now don’t ask me to repeat it.