Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Is anyone else finding this book a bit difficult?
I love to read and I love to learn, but I'm struggling my way through this book. Just wondering if I was the only one in this boat, or if there's a part where it gets to be smoother sailing?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Historical Fiction Poll

Historical Fiction Choices

In April, we'll be reading and discussing historical fiction. Please read the descriptions below and vote for your top two choices in the poll in the next post. All book descriptions are taken directly from publishers' sites.

The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel by David Liss
"Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, now lives in disgrace, haunting the taverns of Philadelphia. An accusation of treason has long since cost him his reputation and his beloved fiancĂ©e, Cynthia Pearson, but at his most desperate moment he is recruited for an unlikely task–finding Cynthia’s missing husband. To help her, Saunders must serve his old enemy, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival Thomas Jefferson over the fragile young nation’s first real financial institution: the Bank of the United States." (read more...)

The King's Daughter. A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth

"Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth of York trusts that her beloved father’s dying wish has left England in the hands of a just and deserving ruler. But upon the rise of Richard of Gloucester, Elizabeth’s family experiences one devastation after another: her late father is exposed as a bigamist, she and her siblings are branded bastards, and her brothers are taken into the new king’s custody, then reportedly killed. But one fateful night leads Elizabeth to question her prejudices. Through the eyes of Richard’s ailing queen she sees a man worthy of respect and undying adoration. His dedication to his people inspires a forbidden love and ultimately gives her the courage to accept her destiny, marry Henry Tudor, and become Queen. While her soul may secretly belong to another, her heart belongs to England…"

Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

"Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Forrest, the eldest brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; Howard, the middle brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch their family die, their father's business fail, and the world they know crumble beneath the Depression and drought." (read more...)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

"January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all."
(read more...)

Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan
"I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright." (read more...)

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

"What if, hidden in an old attic chest, Jane Austen's memoirs were discovered after hundreds of years? What if those pages revealed the untold story of a life-changing love affair? That's the premise behind this spellbinding novel, which delves into the secrets of Jane Austen's life, giving us untold insights into her mind and heart.

Jane Austen has given up her writing when, on a fateful trip to Lyme, she meets the well-read and charming Mr. Ashford, a man who is her equal in intellect and temperament. Inspired by the people and places around her, and encouraged by his faith in her, Jane begins revising Sense and Sensibility, a book she began years earlier, hoping to be published at last." (read more...)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
"In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart."

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

"Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind."

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
"In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class divisions, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing the fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were planted and took root. Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh north. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, “with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady.” Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, but later from a handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved. "(read more...)

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

"Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Interesting Read

I didn't vote for The Thirteenth Tale either but found it interesting enough. I am a quick reader in general but this book took me a while. The details about the weather and the way Margaret felt at all times were pretty engrossing. My gut opinion about the book: 'It was interesting enough'. I didn't take to Margaret's character and Vida Winter fascinated me. Perhaps if I could have gone beyond Margaret's character, I'd have enjoyed it better. The following are sections of the book that I found particularly interesting:
  • I liked how Margaret explained her love of books and felt very sorry for her when she found friendships and solace in her father's shop when it should have come from her mother. I found myself getting angry at her mother's melancholy and absent treatment of her daughter. It must have been heartbreaking to hide a birthday and for Mr Lea to still try and give his surviving daughter a chance at normality. Her mother's disregard for her living child was a little too cruel for me to fathom.
  • Margaret's toughness with herself reminded me of Jane Eyre. Perhaps the comparisons were meant to drive this through? Her sister's memory surrounded her with the same comfort that Jane Eyre derived from Helen Burns. Margaret also didn't make any excuses for her life or her situation and seemed to just accept it all and make the best of it.
  • I was impressed with Judith's loyalty when it came to hiding all the ghosts in the home. Maurice was a modern version of John-the-dig to me. He did his work without seeking anything else beyond that. It was fascinating how Judith became so much more welcoming to Margaret when the truth about Emeline came out.
  • Vida Winter was my favorite character. I gravitate towards tough women characters and she was one tough cookie. She was the only one of the three girls who understood the darkness that had given life to them. She was always a survivor. I was particularly impressed with the fact that she remained hidden from everyone and still remained such an active force within the story. I'd love to know how she managed to educate herself and how she came up to become a writer and how she managed to keep Emeline the whole time too.

Based on the questions prompted by Jill about the twin who survived and Terry's guess at the era the book was framed in, this is my take, I think that Emeline survived the fire.

When Via Winter used the analogy of a conveyor belt where someone you know was burning all the known books in the world, she was living through her own experience of seeing Adeline burn the library through. Vida Winter was extremely bold in saying that she'd gladly destroy the person burning the book and Margaret acknowledges her own cowardice in not being able to give voice to her own similar thought. It was obvious that Vida didn't care for Adeline and while her death was tragic, I can see how she wasn't all that sad about it. She made it very clear that she didn't understand how Ameline would let Adeline abuse her and still love her. I cannot imagine Vida Winter being as tender to a dying matron if she wasn't someone she loved so much?

I think that the story about March twins' parents happened in the early nineties and Ameline and Adeline during the twenties. As Jill said in one of the comments, Margaret depended on snail mail a lot and while she took trains to libraries, there was no mention of electronic catalogs of newspapers. Or am I mistaken? I think that she went through stacks of old papers for news of the fire, right? I imagine that she interviewed Vida Winter in the sixties. That would explain the camera with the film and also the fact that Emeline's son has a kitchen that is almost state of the art for a chef.

I balked at the violence of the siblings at first and the way that the girls were completely ignored and their living conditions etc. How do people get to such squalid situations! I found it difficult to move beyond those descriptions at times.

The book was interesting for me but I am not sure I'd like to read it again.

Thirteenth Tale

I did vote for the book, as I really liked the excerpt on the back of the book. It started out slower than I expected and I didn't care for the beginning, but about a third of the way through I liked it very much and couldn't read it fast enough! I wanted to gather many details, to talk about in the book club, to connect to, so the first third of the book is filled with sticky notes, however, I was so into reading and enjoying the story that there aren't any sticky notes in the latter chapters.
I agreed with others in that Margaret was plain and uninteresting, but Vida was full of eccentricities that kept her interesting. I felt they were both important to the story for those purposes, to be the opposite of the other character.
Some things I "sticky-noted" because I thought were interesting or I related to:
  • Although I didn't like Margaret as a main character, I related to her love of reading (which led me to wonder if I'd like myself as a main character in a book!) On pg. 4 she describes being so into a book that she falls ("Reading can be dangerous." Which later links to the furnace story, and the books in the fire Adeline least in my mind...) I often lose myself, my concept of time and space when reading, also.
  • Again, on page 10, I can relate to reading and not even coming out of the book for food or drink, or distraction outside of the book's realm. I also liked her description of the autumn day with mist and rain. I always appreciate descriptions like that of weather, or surroundings that you can almost feel as you read. On pg 36 the sky is described as gauzy and white, getting darker, with thicker clouds-which really describes a winter sky perfectly, and gave me the same feeling.
  • As a reader who didn't care for Margret's bland-ness, I wondered, too, "why Vida would pick" her to be the biographer-pg 11
  • Page 17 made me consider (for the upteenth time) writing a journal myself, because she states that our flesh, our lives die, but our words live on for people after us... and I thought of my family who may someday wonder about our lives (no matter how bland they may be.)
  • On pg 23 I got a shiver when Margret talked about the blackness, the cold and pressing her cheek to the glass to have her cheek pressed against her sister's. I found her link to her sister almost as odd, hard for me to understand I should say, as her mother's disregard for her due to her sister's death. They were parallel in their grief for the loss of the sister, but displayed it, held that loss close, in different ways.
  • I also related to Margret when she talked about the books she read and liked to read. I find myself getting into similar patterns. And then I am surprised when someone gives me a book, or I choose to branch out and I like a book of a different genre or topic. Then I want to devour all books by that author, like Margret did with Vida's books.
  • I liked Vida's description of our life's experiences being like organic mulch, they make us who we are as they are meshed together... I really liked that.
  • Margret's writing technique after hearing the story was very interesting...
  • I liked the chapter named The Eye in the Ewe.. it made me think the I in the You several times in my mind, wondering if there was a connection.
  • I knew there must be another sister, but I thought she was a triplet separated from the twins, from the time Hester saw them in the field, but Adeline had been at the doctor's home the whole time.
  • I was intrigued by the "supporting characters" such as Judith and the Dr at Vida's home. They were integral in the Winters twins' lives in the end, but they are rarely seen. Their presence is felt, but not often seen.
  • I appreciated another reviewer's take on the relationship between Adeline and Emiline being just like their parents'.
Over all I really liked the book. There were some hard-to-swallow situations, but I did end up liking the books and character development.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Although I didnt' vote for this particular book I did enjoy it very much. As said previously in another entry, I too was not drawn to Margaret and I really just wanted to get on with Vida Winter's story, which enthralled me from the beginning.

I would love to read this book again in the future and try to piece together things I may have missed. I thought I knew the answer as to who Vida was, and in the end was pleasantly surprised.

The Thirteenth Tale the Audio Edition

Margaret Lea is right. "There is no time for anything but research, but I have managed to do one additional useful thing." (page 339) She is talking about her conversation with a school teacher. I am talking about a serendipitous event!

As soon as we selected Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale for our book club selection, I reserved it at our library. In my haste to make sure I had a copy, I didn't read the online record and inadvertently reserved an audio book. Now, thirteen disks later, I'm mostly glad I did. Listening to the book is harder and slower than reading, but the richness of the narrators' voices really added to my enjoyment. [It also meant I needed to use a Google Books preview to get the spellings correct.]

All in all, I found this a very enjoyable read. This is a book I could easily see myself reserving again, although this time in hardcover form. Even though I know the answers, I still have some questions. Maybe new clues would emerge that I missed before. Had I originally had a paper version, it would likely have been filled with highlighted passages, as there were so many wonderful nuggets, like this.
There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic. (page 10)

Vida Winter's story is complex, tightly woven, and filled with turns that are both distinct and dependent upon each other. I found her a compelling character ... she was the person who kept bringing me back to the book. Although I had expected that Emeline and Adeline were children of incest early on, it took me much longer to understand why, if she were one of the twins, that Vida Winter described herself in third person. During the time the twins were separated, Hester noted that she was making progress with Emeline. At that juncture, I made a note that maybe Vida Winter was Emeline, given that she had become a succussful author. Still, I was confused as to how she knew so much about the events at Dr. Maudsley's house.

There were times when I wanted to tell Margaret to stop talking. Although her story offers something of a parallel (being a twin, growing up not knowing who her mother is), for me it was tangential. It gave her a connection as Vida Winter's biographer, but nothing more. I guess she needed her own back story to fit into the book, but I could have done with less of it. Ironically, she was like her mother and even Hester: she looked at the world in a detached way. As a scientist. I will confess that there were a few times when she started going into great detail about a setting that I hit pushed ahead with a fast-forward button. I also wish that Vida would have skipped some of the gruesome details of Charlie and Isabelle's self-inflicted and mutually inflicted violence. One or two examples would have been enough.

One of the intriguing things to me are the personalities of the three sisters. Vida Winter is a child of rape, and Emeline and Adeline are the twin daughters of two masochistic, violent parents. In some ways, Emeline -- and particularly Adeline -- mirrored the relationship of their parents. Adeline clearly had Charlie's violent tendencies; Emeline was passive, but she could connect with people. Isabelle was manipulative, not passive. Vida Winter, the product of the most violent rage, was the "fairest of them all," so to speak.

Does anyone have a sense of the true time frame of the story? Given the Bronte-esque style, I kept envisioning characters in long petticoats and top hats. Yet, Margaret rode in cars and had a camera with film. She sent and received correspondence and photographs rather quickly.

This is a story that will stay with me. Not for the violent and sad moments, but for the strength of the story itself. These are characters who walked from the pages and left questions that can never be answered. As Margaret says at the beginning of the book ...

Reading is dangerous. (page 6)

The Thirteenth Tale Initial Reactions

I finished The Thirteenth Tale a week ago, and the characters and stories from the book keep coming back to me, which I believe makes for a great book. I liked The Thirteenth Tale. I thought it got off to a bit of a slow start, and up until Margaret first interviewed Vida Winter, I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to like it.

Looking back, I realize why. I didn't care for Margaret and her story. To me, even though she was the narrator of the story, the main characters and the central story was that of Vida Winter and the twins, Adeline and Emeline. It was Margaret's retelling of her interviews with Vida that drew me in and made me keep turning the page. Why didn't I like Margaret? She certainly had her own ghosts and had been deeply affected by the death of her twin sister and a lifetime with a mother who was physically there but void of affection. However, call me insensitive, but I just wanted to shake her at times and tell her to get over it and move on with her life. Granted, by the end of the book, she is able to do just that, but something just didn't allow me to connect with her or really care about her. Did anyone else feel this way?

Vida Winter, on the other hand, was a different story. From her first encounter with Margaret, I liked her and wanted to know more about this mysterious woman's life. I immediately wanted to know: Why did she always make up stories about her past during interviews? What is she hiding? Why is she now finally telling her story? Is she telling the truth?

I admit that I was surprised to learn who she really was and didn't even suspect it, but once Margaret figured out the truth, all of the clues that were weaved throughout the story made it evident. Before her true identity was revealed, I found it particularly odd that Adeline would just suddenly start being normal one day, especially since I suspected who the twins' true father was from the very beginning. And things just didn't add up. Who killed John-the-dig? Who hit the doctor's wife on the head? Who was the boy Hester kept seeing and John kept denying having ever seen? All of it came together after Margaret read Hester's diary, and I was glad to have been surprised by the revelation. I definitely thought this was a plus because there have been a number of instances lately when I've figured out the plot and the mystery near the beginning of some books I've read, and the experiences have been a bit anti-climatic and disappointing.

The only remaining unresolved question for me is: which twin escaped the fire? I would love to believe it was Emmeline, but I just don't know.

I think Diane Setterfield is a great storyteller and beautiful writer. It's not often that a character or story line stays with me and has me waking up at night trying to guess the true identity of a character, but this one did. I understand why she felt it was important for the book to be about Margaret's healing just as much as it was about Vida Winter's desire to tell the truth, but the main character and the one I personally cared more about was Vida Winter. I wish I could have connected more with her, but she was difficult for me to like.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale Discussion Questions

I pulled these questions from a few internet sources, listed at the bottom of this post. They're only meant to give us discussion ideas and don't all have to be addressed.

  1. Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss -- the death of Margaret's twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted?

  2. Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from "they" to "we" to "I," in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses "I" is in the recounting of Isabelle's death and Charlie's disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204?

  3. Why do you think Margaret obeyed Miss Winter's summons?

  4. The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident -- the "girl in the mists" emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on?

  5. When did you first suspect Miss Winter's true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)?

  6. The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter's first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale?

  7. Do you think Adeline or Emmeline was saved from the fire?

  8. What is the significance of Jane Eyre to the story?

  9. Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling “weightless” stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it’s better “not to know.” Do you agree or disagree?

  10. Who is Miss Winter? What is significant about her in the beginning of the story? Why does Miss Winter want to tell her story now? Why has Miss Winter lied about her life for so long and why does she change her mind now? Why does Miss Winter choose Margaret to tell her story to?

  11. Early in the novel, Margaret explains, “I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait.” At their first meeting, Vida Winter makes Margaret promise not to ask any questions or jump ahead through her story. The Thirteenth Tale itself is structured into three parts — “Beginnings,” “Middles,” and “Endings”–plus one. Why do you think the author included another “Beginning” at the conclusion? Did the story end for you there?