The Time Traveler’s Handbook: 18 Experiences from the Eruption of Vesuvius to Woodstock

time_travelers_handbookstars /5

This is your basic travel guide manual. Just like Rick Steve’s books or the popular Lonely Planet guide books, The Time Traveler’s Handbook outlines the optimal journey: where to stay, where to eat, where to seek out local knowledge, how to stay out of trouble, and what to see. The catch? It is, as the title suggests, a guide for traveling to some of the most influential moment in history. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see the opening night at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, or maybe you’d prefer something a little more adventurous. You could always opt for joining Marco Polo or exploring Pompeii during the most famous volcanic eruption of all time.

While this book is clearly satirical, there was a part of me that wished it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t a typical work of fiction as it’s formatted exactly like the information you’ll find on tour companies’ websites. It uses the same enticing details and paints a vivid picture that makes you want to take this trip. Despite the nontraditional style, it was very fun to read and I found myself lost in it just like I would have been if it were a collection of short stories about people who did take these trips.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.


The Girl from The Savoy: A Novel

girl_from_savoythree-stars /5

The Girl from the Savoy is told from the perspective of two women from very different backgrounds trying to make sense of their lives in the aftermath of World War I. Dolly Lane takes a new position as a chamber maid at The Savoy, a hotel that caters to London’s most famous guests, in hopes of putting lost love behind her and climbing the social ladder step by step to the spotlight. Loretta May is the most well-loved leading lady of London’s theater scene. With Loretta’s health quickly – and secretly – declining, the two women’s chance meeting will offer each the opportunity to change reevaluate their priorities and this may just be the very opportunity they have each been looking for.

The story wasn’t bad by any means, but I felt more like I was being pulled along, rather than being pulled in. I read the description, but they didn’t come to life around me. I knew why the characters were doing what they were, but only because I was told why, not because I got to know the characters well enough to read between the lines. I found my mind wandering away while I was reading and would have to backtrack and reread the whole page. Perhaps it would have been more intriguing for someone who had a more pointed interest in this era. I chose it because I like historical fiction in general, but not this time period any more than another.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined

arcadian_nightsfour-stars /5

The Greek myths are ones that have been told thousands of times in every form and to varying levels of degree. Yet, I can never seem to keep myself from reaching for them and devouring page after page. My absolute favorite is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and now there’s Arcadian Nights.

Arcadian Nights is somehow, miraculously, approached differently than the other retellings of myths I’ve read. Author John Spurling draws from his own experiences in Greece to give the reader a sense of the modern country and the land that is very much still Greece from the soil to the olive groves it nourishes, from the seas to the ships they stock with fish. At the same time, however, his focus remains on the myths. Spurling approaches these stories with the tone of an authoritative historian, but his third person narration offers the read a glimmer of the fantastical nature the myths are known for. Inventing dialogue to ease emotional responses into the narration and offering the classic characters with relatable motivations, Spurling’s writing promises to keep even the most well-read mythology lovers intrigued.

I love any telling that is able to bring these characters back to life, but I’m finding more and more now that any great departure from the traditional tellings of the myths is enough to get me to close the book. Spurling walks that tightrope between not transforming the characters enough and tampering with the authenticity and offers the reader a well-balanced collection of myths that hovers nearer the realistic side of the spectrum than Homer and Aeschylus may have endorsed, but it is nonetheless well tailored to a modern audience.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Longbourn’s Songbird

LONGBOURNS_SONGBIRD011316four-stars /5

Longbourn’s Songbird is a retelling of Jane Austen’s popular Pride and Prejudice, set in the post-WWII American South. At first, I was disappointed by an apparent lack of creativity: author Beau North’s cast of characters was a carbon copy of Austen’s beloved—if somewhat dysfunctional—characters and events begin to unfold exactly as they did in the original. However, I hadn’t gotten more than a few pages in when my initial fears were alleviated and the story began to develop depth through intertwining complexities. North shifts perspectives frequently, allowing for a fluid understanding of character motivations to develop the further you sink into the book. Original romantic complications are introduced and WWII and music become integral parts of the plot.

I have a few small criticisms for a first-time novelist: some of the descriptions hover at the edge of cliché, while others are too blunt for my liking and there are a few details that seem out of place for the period the book is set in. However, the multiple character perspective, the supplementary character traits, and naturally developed romances more than make up for these details. North gives a voice to a whole new demographic of characters and expertly navigates the social confines of conservative Southern expectations of the time. I found this to be a much more relatable read than Pride and Prejudice and found myself more than intrigued by the characters.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

The Woman in the Photograph

woman_in_the_photographtwo-and-a-half-stars / 5

Lee Miller is independent and stubborn and has come to the conclusion that modeling for Vogue will simply not do. She has aspirations of being on the other side of the camera lens and hopes to persuade the world renowned photographer, Man Ray, to be her mentor. In suit with everything else in this book, a snap of her fingers does the trick, and with no struggle at all, Lee finds herself working and living with Man Ray in Paris. When Lee begins to gain recognition for her own photography work – and other men in the art scene begin to take notice of the pretty face that landed her the modeling gig – Man’s jealousy begins to show.

I expect one thing from a historical novel: I want to turn every page and fall more and more in love with the ways of the time. I want a historical fiction to make me wish I had been born in a different time; I want it to transport me and make me wish you could step through its pages to join the characters. Set in Paris in 1929, this should have been a simple enough task. Yet, I found that I was frankly not intrigued by the time period, or Paris itself, despite the constant and lavish parties, drinking, and romancing. Pair that with the utter lack of conflict, and the narrator’s immaturity throughout the book, I found that I continued to read simply for something to do while I waited for my lunch break to run out of time.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.