favorites, Fiction

Of Human Bondage

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR shelf for a long time (as in years), and I’m glad I finally read it, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. If you had asked me halfway through the book how I would rate it, I would have given it a solid two stars, mainly because I could not stand the protagonist, Philip Carey. He seemed aimless and selfish, making one poor decision after another. Despite doing incredibly well in school, he left mere months before graduation, giving up an all but guaranteed scholarship because of adolescent stubbornness. After that, he floats from passion to passion, including a stint in Paris as an art student, until settling on medicine.

A large part of the novel involves Philip’s misguided attempts to find and understand love. He uses women, and then allows himself to be debased by women, in return. What I found so frustrating was the lows to which he was willing to sink in order to gain affection from the childish, manipulative Mildred. He knew she would never love him–he just wanted her attention any way he could get it. Similarly, he could be callous to those who loved him and yet he could not love in return.

As the book progressed, though, I realized that Philip was merely a product of his circumstances. Born with a club foot, both of his parents died at a young age, and he spent his formidable years with guardians who meant well but didn’t know how to relate to or raise Philip–they never served as mentors and never provided the unconditional love he so needed. Yes, he was aimless, but he also had a good heart, and would (and did) spend his last penny to help a friend in need (or, more often, a woman.) Although Mildred continued to have an inexplicable hold on him, Philip eventually realizes that the feelings he has for her aren’t love, and is able to keep some sort of distance despite continually rushing to her rescue.

It is a surprisingly accurate, if painful, portrait of man’s search for meaning when shackled not only by the expectations of society, but more aggressively by the torrents of one’s own, poorly understood emotions.

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favorites, Fiction

From Sand and Ash

From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It was a long way to Rome for a crippled man with a broken heart.”

A must read for anyone who enjoyed “The Book Thief.” WWII novels can be heart wrenching, and this one definitely is, but it also highlights the pockets of good hidden under a cloak of evil. Eva and Angelo were raised together, although Eva is an Italian Jew and Angelo is bred for the Catholic church. Despite these differences, the two build a fast bond at a young age that blossoms into love as they grow older. Torn between Eva and the priesthood, Angelo chooses to become a priest.

When the sharp talons of WWII reach Italy, Eva turns to Angelo, and together the two face unspeakable horrors as they struggle to harbor Jews in convents and monasteries. At the same time, they are forced to reconcile their faith in God with the evil surrounding them, and Angelo finds himself torn once again between Eva and his vocation.

In a word, this book was stunning. Easily the best book I’ve read all year, and one I look forward to re-reading.

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Fiction, Uncategorized

The Stars are Fire

The Stars Are FireThe Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before I begin, I should probably mention that I listened to this through Audible, so perhaps the reason I didn’t like it as much as I had expected to was simply because of the narrator. Set in Maine in the 1940s, the story is told from the perspective of Grace–a young mother who is unhappily wed to an unhappy man. A catastrophic fire (based on true events) upends her life and provides her the opportunity to break the societal limitations placed on women of the era. Grace’s house, along with virtually every house in the community, burned to the ground, and her husband Gene, who had left to help fight the fires, disappears. In order to provide for her children and mother, Grace learns to drive, finds a job, and meets a couple of incomprehensibly available men.

In line with a couple of reviews I’ve read, the book certainly did seem to have a lot of rather convenient elements to drive the plot. Despite the mutual dislike between Grace and her mother-in-law Merle, she just so happens to leave a ridiculously large house to her son that is conveniently laden with expensive jewelry hidden in dresses. It’s also conveniently laden with a piano, which attracts a concert pianist-turned squatter-turned love interest. The doctor who nurses her back to health after the fire also brings her daughter back to health (not surprising given that it was a small town), but also is conveniently in need of a secretary and book-keeper, and Grace just happened to have spent a year at secretarial school before giving it all up to marry loser Gene. So, poor Dr. Lighthart is a sweetheart and works around the clock to help the community and is clearly in love with Grace, but Grace keeps him in the ‘just friends’ territory because her heart is with the dark brooding concert pianist who reads biographies of Dvorak in his spare time (which he has a lot of, because he’s a concert pianist.) But of course he also loves taking care of people. And kids. And likes dogs and long, moonlit walks on the beach.


And then of course there is plot twist that nobody (read: everybody) saw coming, and Grace is forced to draw a line in the sand and stand up for that which is most important.

Ok, this review is more negative than I had intended. The book wasn’t really that bad. The characters were flat for me and the ending just didn’t seem plausible given the day and age. It wasn’t my favorite book by Shreve, but at the same time it wasn’t so bad that I’ll avoid reading any future books she writes.

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