2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, Book Reviews

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Painted Veil B.C.

I decided to read this book because it sounded like an interesting self-discovery book. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I would label this book a classic, primarily because of its language and content. I actually found it was quite interesting although I’m not quite sure why.

The story follows Kitty Fane. She is a young (mid-20s) woman living with her husband Walter in the English colony in Hong Kong, China in the 1920s. Kitty had only married her husband in order to be married before her younger sister, and there is no love in her heart for her husband. She has an affair that her husband found out about. He gave her two choices he divorces her (leaving her ruined socially) or she goes with him to a remote Chinese village to help fight a cholera epidemic. After fighting with her lover, she consents to go to the village.

When she gets to the village, she is in a severe depression and the rest of the story is how she comes to view herself and those around her. There is the local English Customs official for the town that she finds herself in company with a lot, her husband Walter, and the local nuns that she spends the bulk of her time with and help to shape her ideas. The nuns in particular have a profound impact on her as she slowly changes her views of the world.

I think this book was a wonderful cultural read. You learned quite a bit about the English in China in the early 1900s. There’s prejudice and racism. Kitty in particular is quite racist, but for the time the language and opinions wouldn’t have been at all unusual. The first third of the book is Kitty having and being caught about her affair. After that, you move into rural china where a lot of the interesting aspects of the book are. You learned about nuns and why they become missionaries and how they are happy in their work. They reference traveling by chair all the time. I was correct in what I thought that meant, but was still surprised by this mode of travel. Here is the chair that is described. It is carried by collies (indentured servants) from the front and back.


Overall I thought it was an interesting read. I can’t say way in particular I thought it was good, but it was just the general impression of writing style, language, culture, and emotional growth. I can’t say Kitty grew by leaps and bounds, but she did grow some. I liked that the romance scenes happened ‘off stage’ by being alluded to and then a scene change. I enjoyed the language and writing style as well. The chapters are extremely short, some only a page or two long. It made it easy to stop as needed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classical fiction. Also, anyone interested in early 1900s China or the English colonization of China in that time frame might enjoy this, as long as they keep in mind it is still fiction and the story focuses on the emotions and life of a young woman. I’m giving it three cheese slices only because I think this is a one and done read. I can’t think that I’ll go back and read it, but it was an enjoyable read the first time through.

My rating:

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2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Caged Bird B.C.

I’m pretty sure this is the first book I’ve read by a Black author. I decided I wanted to read something in honor of Black History Month and asked the library to recommend some authors to read. When Maya Angelou came up, I remembered I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was on my TBR list and decided that would be the one I was reading.

I cannot say I was blown away by the book, but I found it to be a very interesting cultural study. Having grown up after desegregation and the civil rights movement, a lot of the information and events in the book weren’t surprising. However, it was still fascinating and moving to see the world through the eyes of a young black girl.

I thought the most powerful part was her graduation from eighth grade. She discussed how the speaker was talking about the white school getting new microscopes and such but the black school was going to get a paved field. She explained that to a black girl she felt he was telling they could only have athletes as heroes, they could only hope to work in the trades but that was all – there was no hope for them to get into any other field. I found that very interesting. I had never seen words from that point of view before.

I thought the book was going to be more emotional for some reason. There was quite a bit of emotion and there were several heart-rending events, but it always felt somewhat detached. I’m not quite sure why. I almost wanted to get further in her head and see more of her thoughts than was in the book. It did give me insight into African American traditions (not sure that’s quite the right word…maybe habits?) and mindset. It was also a glimpse into a different era in a way you don’t often get to see (a child’s view as opposed to an adult view).

For anyone interested in a cultural study or African American history, this is a great read. For someone looking for an interesting book or memoir, this is also a good read. As for someone looking just for a book to read, I’d have to say you need to either be interested in memoirs, history, or culture in order to fully enjoy it.

My rating:

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2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, Book Reviews

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

Florence Grace B.C.

I was somewhat torn on how to review this particular book. Let me begin by saying the audio book narrator was fabulous and the book was actually a lot longer than I had expected. The beginning and end of the book were wonderful. It was the middle of the book I had some issues with.

The story follows Florrie Buckley, a young girl from the wild moors of Cornwall being raised by her grandmother. She is a special girl with a strong intuition that is taught by a London born school teacher and the local wise woman. Before her grandmother dies, Flory learns her mother comes from a powerful London family, called the Graces, that disowned her when she married a low-born Cornish man. Florrie is then sent to live with the Graces.

In London, Flory meets her extended family members. The Graces are obsessed with power and status and to that end are not easy on Flory as she transitions from Florrie Buckley to Florence Grace. Some of their actions are downright cruel. She is close with her cousin Sanderson and feels a very close kinship with her other cousin Turlington. Turlington is the heir to the family, but is also the black sheep that is disowned on a regular basis. Florrie is miserable in London until she meets to people – Rebecca, the daugther of the local cheese shop owner, and Jacob, an orphan boy Florrie becomes friends with. These two people, along with Turlington, become the sole sources of comfort in her life. There is love won and lost, and the rediscovery of who she is and what she wants out of her life.

I’m not going to put any spoilers in here. However, my biggest issue with the book was Florrie’s relationship with a man that is no good for her. Like her friends point out, there is not way she can be with him. When she is with him, she is so torn by her feelings she loses sight of who she is and has become. Most of the middle of the book I was regularly annoyed with her for her actions with the man. Unfortunately, it’s nothing I haven’t seen with actual women and men who are bad for them. That being said, it’s still annoying.

This book is written as a historical fiction and follows the dynamics and societal rules of the day, but primarily focuses on Florrie and her emotions. You don’t see the flashy balls or the verbal batting that is so interesting in Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters novels. Additionally, the vocabulary, phrasing, and topics are definitely not the same as if it was written in the time period.

I was going to give the book three marks, but I feel like this is a book I’d read again. It has some sage advice and some very interesting parts. It also teaches lessons about being true to yourself and admitting what you really want in life. It awakens ideas of what some people will do in order to achieve power. For people who enjoy drama, this is a great book. Those who don’t enjoy drama may not like this. A good way to recommend it is if you like Emma and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book.

My rating:

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