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Mailbox Monday #244

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  November’s host is I Totally Paused!.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

Growing up with four extraordinary sisters—beautiful and confident Jane and Elizabeth, and flirtatious and lighthearted Lydia and Kitty—wasn’t easy for an awkward bookworm like Mary Bennet. But with nearly all of her sisters married and gone from the household, the unrefined Mary has transformed into an attractive and eligible young woman in her own right.

When another scandal involving Lydia and Wickham threatens the Bennet house, Mary and Kitty are packed off to visit Jane and her husband, Charles Bingley, where they meet the dashing Henry Walsh. Eager and naïve, Mary is confused by Henry’s attentions, even as she finds herself drawing closer to him. Could this really be love—or the notions of a foolish girl unschooled in the art of romance and flirtation?

What did you receive?

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

Source: William Morrow, Harper
Paperback, 400 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan is the second novel in the life of Ellie Hogan (if you haven’t read Ellis Island, this review could contain spoilers), a young Irish woman who has traveled to New York City to help save her first love’s mobility and returned home to find her family torn by tragedy.  Beginning in the 1930s, Ellie has settled back into her Irish life without electricity and indoor plumbing, embarking on unconventional business ventures for a woman.  While her family may stand back and allow her to continue with her ambitions, the resentment and angst these businesses bring into their lives simmers beneath the surface.  Ellie is far from the conventional house wife and mother of Ireland, and she knows that she’s the star of her own small town’s gossip, but as long as her life is calm at home, that is all that matters to her.

“However, this morning his blue eyes shone wild with delight.  He looked the same as he had done when I had first fallen in love with him at sixteen.  Fresh and full of the heart of life, like the outdoors — a man made of earth and air.” (page 11 ARC)

While she’s bustling about with her businesses and her life outside the home, the trials of miscarriages and failed births weigh heavily on her and her husband.  Despite the passions she may feel for her husband, they are tainted by his failure to take joy in what she seeks to accomplish and her inability to mourn the losses of her children with her husband at her side.  The wall between them causes fissures in their marriage as they bitingly argue about the little things and the signs of things to come are ignored.  Her three years in New York changed her from the small town girl who wanted merely a husband and family into a woman who wanted the finer things and a better life.

With the lost children spurring her to make the dreams she had in New York a reality in Ireland, Ellie is able to better the lives of the town’s own daughters and wives, prompting these women to rethink their own roles.  Kerrigan takes the time to build up the changes seen in Ellie’s town of Kilmoy, and how those changes are tied to Ellie’s experiences in New York and her own personal devastation at home.  Tragedy strikes her home again, altering Ellie’s course once again and pushing her to run away to America.  In her grief, she reaches out and lifts those around her up, showing them the way to improve themselves, work for their own betterment, and to help others around them.  In many ways, this second book is about redemption and recovery.

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan is a solid second book in a series, but without having read the first book, readers may find it hard to relate to Ellie’s past and her current situation, particularly her burning desire to run away from Ireland.  However, there are enough hints about the past to guide readers who have picked up the second book.  Ellie is a strong woman who can inspire others to rise above their own poverty and misfortune, but who continues to struggle internally with who she is and wants to be.  Kerrigan’s poise and pacing help readers come to know Ellie as a troubled friend who is still finding her way, even as tragedy strikes and good opportunities present themselves.  There is hope that her journey is nearing a conclusion, and readers will hope that comes with the third book.

About the Author:

Kate Kerrigan is an author living and working in Ireland. Her novels are Recipes for a Perfect Marriage which was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2008 and been translated into 20 languages, The Miracle of Grace, which has been adapted as a film script with funding from the Irish Film Board and Ellis Island, the first of a trilogy which was selected as a TV Book Club Summer Read in Britain and launched in the U.S. with Harper Collins in July 2011. Its sequel City of Hope is published by Pan Macmillan in Britain and scheduled for publication in America by Harper Collins in 2013

This is my 2nd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2013.

Thoughts on Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson is a collection of essays, one sentence from a novel that he never finished, and a few short stories.  I’m not the typical audience for this book as I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, nor science-y essays.  As a result, I read a bit of the most recent essays in the collection, the introduction, and the short fiction pieces, plus the one sentence to the novel.  I can say that I see why he never went further with his novel; it wasn’t very attention grabbing for me, but hey, it might have been a sentence from a future chapter and not the book opener for all I know.

To say this collection is weird is an understatement; readers only need to check out “Spew” with its tech-babble and sci-fi tongue-in-cheek feel as Profile Auditor 1 skulks around the big brother system that watches everyone’s lives for a living, looking for anomalies.  I found the overwrought tech language and mysteriousness too much; I was kept too much in the dark for the beginning part of the short story.  However, by the end, I was intrigued by the hotel clerk and her suspicious profile and wondered what the profiler’s interest in her was, but it is clear by the end of the story that she’s got more gumption than he does.  While Stephenson brings up issues of big brother and what it could mean from a marketing perspective, the story also gave me pause about my own buying habits and whether I’m that gullible in my purchases — seeing it on television or the Internet is enough to make me buy it — but I also realized that is not all that he is highlighting, but also the factors that play into buying decisions from friends, recommendations, advertisements, and finances.

“Patch this baby into your HDTV, and you can cruise the Metaverse, wander the Web and choose from among several user-friendly operating systems, each one rife with automatic help systems, customer-service hot lines and intelligent agents.  The theater’s subwoofer causes our silverware to buzz around like sheet-metal hockey players, and amplified explosions knock swirling nebulas of tiny bubbles loose from the insides of our champagne glasses.”  (page 288, “The Great Simoleon Caper”)

The second short story, “The Great Simoleon Caper,” relies on a similar notion of a man behind the technology who looks in on customers through their set top boxes, but instead of profiling their likes and dislikes and buying habits, he is their customer service representative to iron out their problems.  In this scenario — which began with a “innocent” brother’s request for how many jelly beans would fill up Soldier Field — the customer service rep brother is suddenly thrust into an underground plan to circumvent government controls.  Investing in Simoleons, an e-money, is a campaign his brother wants to succeed, but how will his brother ensure that the deal goes off without a hitch.  Do you sense a bit of paranoia in these stories?  A bit too much over-the-shoulder watching?  Perhaps that’s a good thing — keeping people honest and on their toes.

Stephenson’s fiction was livelier and more inventive to me than the nonfiction essays about the dangers of sitting at a desk for your job and other topics, which seemed to try to hard to be humorous or witty.  Some Remarks is an interesting collection of essays, but for someone that reads mostly fiction and poetry, this is not a good fit.

About the Author:

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic “The Baroque Cycle” (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

This is my 64th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.