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Catherine E. Chapman (UK)

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Girl With a Pearl Earring
Girl With a Pearl Earring
Price: 2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing Novel To Escape Into, 9 Aug 2014
The first person narrative voice of 'Girl With A Pearl Earring' is beguilingly simple. At first the book reads like it's aimed at a young adult audience. However, with time, the story develops complexity and Griet's voice becomes less simple as she is sucked into Vermeer's emotionally-complicated world.

I found this book very compelling, in large part due to how easy it was to read. The setting in wintry 17th century Delft is very vividly drawn and the consistency of Griet's character makes her believable. Broadly speaking, she is good and many of her experiences motivate the reader to feel sympathetic towards her, but I liked the understated acknowledgement of her desire for Vermeer and the emotional ambiguity she maintained throughout the narrative towards Pieter, the young butcher.

Further into the novel, the brooding sexual tension becomes more prevalent in the storyline, but Griet's desire is always tempered by her awareness of the stark reality of her social position. Ultimately, she submits to this reality, her assertion that Pieter is a good man accentuating the vulnerability of a woman in a marital relationship at this time. It's interesting that, despite the threatening presence of Catharina throughout Griet's residence in the Vermeer household, the artist's last act in relation to both Catharina and Griet is an assertion of his masculine right to property.

I would recommend 'Girl With A Pearl Earring' to anyone who enjoys reading absorbing novels into which one can escape.

The Age of Innocence (Wordsworth Classics)
The Age of Innocence (Wordsworth Classics)
by Edith Wharton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Five-Star Ending, 15 April 2014
I've had this book for years but finally got around to reading it, spurred on by the sense that I haven't read enough American classics. I'm awarding 'The Age of Innocence' 4.5 stars and rounding to 4 for practical purposes, although, I must say, I think the ending of the novel is worthy of 5 stars.

Why not 5 stars overall? I only award 5 stars to books that I really think will stay with me for life; things I'll want to keep coming back to to read again. 'The Age of Innocence' is such a very good, well-written novel, that the only reason I think it falls short of being in the 5 star category for me is maybe that the extent to which it is an incisive social observation of privileged society in latter-Nineteenth century New York compromises the extent to which it charts a very private and personal -and so timeless- love affair. However, the whole point of the book is an examination of how these private and public spheres of life interconnect (and, indeed, conflict), so I realise that my complaint is somewhat paradoxical!

But I did think 'The Age of Innocence' was a great novel and I was struck by the frank modernity of Wharton's writing - perhaps due to the fact that this nineteenth century novel was published in the twentieth century.

Towards the end of the book I became preoccupied with how the story would end. In conclusion, I found it ended in the only way it could, given what had gone before. And I thought it a truly five-star ending. I would recommend 'The Age of Innocence' to anyone who enjoys reading novels - it's a great novel.

Loosely Translated
Loosely Translated
Price: 3.16

4.0 out of 5 stars A Male Perspective on Romance?, 12 Jan 2014
'Why is someone with so little talent published and I'm not?'
'I don't know, Maria. Maybe because all men are bastards.'

I enjoyed reading 'Loosely Translated.' The premise is a clever one: a translator and aspiring author, who embellishes a detective novel in order to make it more in keeping with her own tastes, but subsequently has to face up to her actions in the light of her blossoming relationship with the author of the book.

I'm interested in the question of the book's generic categorisation. It could be viewed as chick-lit and is currently labelled as humour and romantic comedy on Amazon, but the main male character, Mike Grey, is more of an anti-hero than anything else. I felt that the book would appeal to male readers more than female, perhaps, having something of a lad-ish quality. However, Maria is a strong female character and I rather liked the anal aspects of her character, in contrast with Mike's all-too-laid-back attitude to life.

I'm rating 'Loosely Translated' as 3.5 stars and rounding up to 4 for practical purposes and because I think, with editing, the book would be worthy of 4 stars. As it stands, I think the book is too long and, whilst the dialogue is slick and funny, the plot doesn't move as quickly as I'd like. I think with editing, this book could be a more compelling read. But if you're happy to take time over reading a novel, you may well be very happy with 'Loosely Translated' as it is. Others have commented that one of the book's virtues is its function as something of a travel guide to Cordoba and this is true but it is also one of the factors that protracts the overall narrative arc.

THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY (illustrated, complete, and unabridged)
THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY (illustrated, complete, and unabridged)
Price: 1.53

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lawrence's social observation at its most painfully acute, 2 Aug 2013
What's prominent in 'The Virgin and the Gipsy,' is the characterisation - a middle-class English family who generally loathe one another. It's Lawrence's social observation at its most painfully acute and a fine example of what can be achieved through the form of the novella.

The Castle of Otranto
The Castle of Otranto
Price: 0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertainingly warped morality, 2 Aug 2013
I began reading this book as research for a Regency romance I was writing that contained references to Gothic novels. I realised although I thought I had the concept of a Gothic novel, the ones I've read previously ('Frankenstein' and 'Wuthering Heights') are deemed Gothic by virtue of their narrative structure, rather than the actual content. 'The Castle of Otranto' would, I thought, be a 'proper' Gothic novel.

Well, initially I thought I wouldn't persevere with it as the start is just ridiculous but I began to find the story strangely compelling and the characterisation and dialogue very funny. The problem I find in reviewing this book is that I couldn't take it seriously - I think it's hard for a modern Western reader to entertain the notion that the author's intention in writing this book could ever have been serious.

What I loved most about 'The Castle of Otranto' was the warped morality. The story centres around Manfred's decision to divorce his current wife and marry a younger woman. Manfred is just an egotistical brute but it's very funny when the narrator's voice intervenes -quite frequently- to assure us that Manfred isn't really that bad! Also, the total lack of speech marks or paragraphing to indicate who's speaking just adds to the comedy of reading the story as you often get lost in the dialogue.

Overall, I'm awarding 3 stars because I found the book entertaining. If you're inquisitive about the Gothic novel and you're not intent upon taking 'The Castle of Otranto' too seriously, it's worth a read.

Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Let's Get Publishing Book 1)
Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Let's Get Publishing Book 1)
Price: 1.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tonic if you're doubting the wisdom of going it alone, 2 Aug 2013
I read David Gaughran's book, 'Let's Get Digital,' because, as a self-published author of e-books, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect upon the development of the e-book industry.

This review relates to the first part of Gaughran's book, because, having been through the technical processes of publishing and promotion, etc., the second part was not so relevant to me. But, having skimmed through Part 2, I imagine if you're new to e-book publishing, this would be a useful condensed guide and maybe a helpful forerunner to the inevitable -and, I hasten to add, ultimately rewarding!- wade through the weighty tomes of Mark Coker.

Part 1 was, for me, a very enlightening and motivating read. I know Gaughran has a vested interest in bigging-up e-publishing but if, like me, you've embarked upon the self-publishing journey, without really considering what's currently happening in the world of traditional publishing, his arguments are well worth reading.

The success stories of authors in the final part of the book are also necessarily up-beat. What's interesting though, reading through them, is the randomness of people's success; these weren't always writers who were particularly driven or focussed about succeeding in publishing - they, were, however, most always authors who were very committed to the writing process.

I would recommend this book to all self-published authors as a means of reflecting upon the development of e-books and as a tonic if you're doubting the wisdom of 'going it alone.' Reading 'Let's Get Digital' does give you the sense that you're part of a growing community that's growing in confidence about its identity and legitimacy.

It's a well-structured book so whether you're an aspiring author, an existing author or a curious reader, you will easily be able to navigate your way around it and dip into relevant sections when you want to.

Price: 0.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Depths, 2 Aug 2013
I've been intending to read this book for a long time, having a memory of what was probably a 1980s BBC TV adaptation of it and having seen a play about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald on the Edinburgh Fringe in the '90s. Finally I got around to it...

It's impossible for me to comment meaningfully on 'Tender is the Night' without giving away the plot. Obviously it's a very well-written, literary work but about half-way through I had issues with the respect in which the narrative feels very much like masculine self-indulgence, what with Rosemary's abiding obsession with Dick and the incest that we are informed to have been the root of Nicole's mental disturbance being glossed over so glibly.

However, my feelings changed later on. I think the truly great human observation that Fitzgerald makes in this book is that when Dick & Rosemary's relationship is finally consummated, the mutual attraction is instantly killed off and the incident spells the beginning of the personal and professional demise of Dick.

Furthermore, the facts that the novel ends with Nicole herself straying into an adulterous relationship and a final shift towards a focus on her feelings about her marriage to Dick and her own life and identity, redeemed the story from being one seemingly intended to bolster male egos.

It's easy to lose sight of just how long ago 'Tender is the Night' was written because it tackles the question of the viability of monogamy in such a head-on, modern way. So I would recommend it, not only as a literary work of beauty that evokes the long-lost 'Jazz Age' but also and moreover as a book that examines the fundamental and perpetuating question of the nature of romantic love and the value we place upon it.

Marie Lloyd: The One and Only
Marie Lloyd: The One and Only
by Midge Gillies
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that charts a changing world through the personal life of one famous woman, 25 Mar 2013
'Marie Lloyd: The One and Only,' was acquired from a book fair on a rainy day on holiday in Norfolk. I was inquisitive about Marie Lloyd because of the era through which she lived. This is a fine example of an effective biography, in that it both informs the reader about its subject but does so in a way that really evokes the world in which she existed.

What makes Marie Lloyd an intriguing figure is that she became a successful entertainer in Victorian (Dickensian) London. Midge Gillies draws the reader into the shady world of Victorian music halls, with her image of the girl Marie travelling between halls by horse-drawn carriage in the dead of night, at the time when Jack the Ripper was at large in the streets.

To contrast this with her depiction of Marie, only in her early-fifties, yet failing in health and spirit and appearing increasingly irrelevant in the post-WWI dawning jazz era, gives a sense of this book's achievement in charting a changing world through the personal life of one famous woman.

It's interesting that the songs that have survived from Marie Lloyd's repertoire are the very ones that emerged when she began to seem out of touch with the times: 'My Old Man Said Follow the Van' and 'A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good.' Possibly this is because their lyrics are at least comprehensible to the modern ear / eye. The thing I found most amusing in this book was the early lyrics of songs regarded as highly controversial. I really hadn't a clue what they were about - never mind how they could be deemed suggestive. They're very funny.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who has an interest in Marie Lloyd or the world of Victorian / Edwardian music hall. But I would also recommend it as a compelling biography and a generally good read.

Price: 0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars At last I have finished Villette!, 4 Dec 2012
This review is from: Villette (Kindle Edition)
I've enjoyed many aspects of Villette but if I hadn't vowed to complete and review it, I would probably have abandoned it partway through.

I undertook to read Villette in the light of my passion for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, my love of Charlotte's Jane Eyre and my enjoyment of Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. (I'm generally fascinated by the Brontes.) However, the undertaking came after aborted attempts to read both Charlotte's The Professor and Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall. And I found Villette hard work (though ultimately worthwhile) for all the reasons that I abandoned the other two books.

I guess it should be comforting to anybody who writes that great writers can have their lesser works. But, as a reader, you just want all their books to be as good as their best. So comparisons of Villette with Jane Eyre are unavoidable. What Villette has in common with Jane Eyre is that very immediate first person narrator. And Lucy Snowe is a vivid and strong narrator. She's also blessed with the moral superiority to be found in Jane Eyre. But Jane has, I think, a humility and vulnerability that Lucy doesn't really possess. Despite Lucy's emotional breakdown (the episode which, I believe, leads critics to suggest that Villette was influenced by CB's grief at the loss of her siblings), she remains -until the latter part of the novel- so coolly removed from the emotional problems of the other characters in the book (and so morally judgemental of them) as to alienate her from the reader. (In Jane Eyre, this doesn't happen.)

I also have a problem with M. Paul as a hero - he's just so annoying and perverse for so much of the story! I couldn't see how any woman would be attracted to him. I struggled early in the book with the revelation that Dr John had been known to Lucy in her earlier life - if she'd recognised him why didn't she tell us?

I enjoyed the final 100 pages much more than the rest of the book. There's an energy to the writing that's lacking earlier on and Lucy does appear more human towards the close of the narrative. However, 400 pages felt like a lot to wade through to achieve a state of fulfilment!

Villette was Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Had it been a forerunner to Jane Eyre -had CB developed into a better writer through writing it- I would probably feel more resolved to my verdict on it. If you're interested in the Brontes it's worth reading Villette simply for the biographical insight it gives into Charlotte but otherwise I would sooner opt for another Nineteenth Century novel - there are so many great ones to choose from.


3.0 out of 5 stars For lovers of intense, involved romance..., 8 Aug 2012
This review is from: Summerset (Kindle Edition)
I was interested in this book, among Karen Mason's works, because of its setting in post-World War II England, and the author evokes the sense of a village trying vainly to remain sleepy, despite the onset of irreversible change, in the upheaval she documents in its inhabitants' personal lives.

I enjoyed reading 'Summerset'. Karen Mason's writing style is quite heavy on focalised narration. This could be hard-going to read if she were not so good at getting into the heads of her characters. The sincerity and rawness of her writing is what makes it compelling reading.

If I found difficulty in 'Summerset', it was in the pitching of the novel. At the outset it appears to be a 'nice' story, an easy romance to lose yourself in. However, as the plot unravels there are actually very dark aspects to it; in particular, the conflict in Andrew and Briggy's marriage, and the necessary marginalisation of Briggy, in order for a relationship to develop between Andrew and Lou. And because of this, Andrew is a flawed hero. I also found the development of the friendship between Lou, Briggy and Andrew to be, at times, tenuous, Lou's status wavering between that of child and adult. However, once I got beyond expectations I might have had that the book would conform to generic norms of romance, I just enjoyed the intensely emotional nature of the plot. And Mason's characterisation, whilst somewhat conflicting in respect of Andrew's emotional state and Lou's maturity, is strong, the very paradoxes she creates in her characters engaging the reader.

The novel does, as the cover blurb suggests, span several decades and later in the book the scene jumps from one time setting to another quite rapidly. This is fine, however, as the characters are so well-established by this point.

I must echo the comments of other reviewers in saying that this book deserves closer attention to editing to do the story justice. That said, if you enjoy intense, involved romances, 'Summerset' as it stands may well be a book for you.

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