Review: ADMISSION by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A few years ago I read Sabbathday River by Jean Hanff Korelitz and while the ending didn’t quite sit well with me I nevertheless really liked the book and have recommended it to friends. So I was looking forward to reading Admission by the same author.

The topic is not one I’ve encountered before: it’s the story of an admissions officer for Princeton University. Portia Nathan visits high school seniors around the United States and describes the benefits of a Princeton education. Once the applications start flooding in the following winter, Portia, one of several admission officers, goes through the ones from her territory. The process of admission is described in great detail throughout the book in several different ways. As Portia’s story is told we see her progress through the applications, and when she is questioned about the criteria for choosing which students are accepted we see the philosophy behind the admissions. Integrity must be absolute for an admissions officer; they must have good reasons and use good reasoning in choosing who gets to go and who is passed by. More than once Portia’s qualifications for the job are questioned – she after all did not graduate from Princeton but from Dartmouth. Also, she sort of fell into the job – she wasn’t exactly trained for it. Despite that, she loves what she does and enjoys the kids she meets on her school visits.

Knowing how Sabbathday River played out I was expecting a surprise to come out of Portia’s story and I wasn’t disappointed. I won’t say more about that but the story does tie together with Portia’s character, what she does and how she has conducted her life.

For the most part I enjoyed Admission. It was well written and depicts a fascinating process that I’d never even thought about before. I don’t know if the same procedure for choosing students occurs where I live; but can it be so different? Applications have to be read by someone. I liked the story line too. It presents inner conflict in an intelligent and subtle way. Where it didn’t go well for me was the length of the story. I think it should have been shorter and included a bit less self-reflection by the main character. And I do really mean just a bit less since I like to know how a character comes to decisions and what makes them tick. But I think in Admission that self-reflection became circular and the same issues were re-visited a bit too much. Those bits were repetitive and boring. Fortunately there weren’t too many.

Despite these few disappointing aspects, I enjoyed Admission. Though it was not as good for me as Sabbathday River, but I can definitely see the appeal in a book like this especially for people who have been through an admission process at a an ivy league university.

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday! Marcia at The Printed Page hosts this weekly meme. If you'd like to take part, just link to her blog and leave a comment on her Mailbox Monday post linking to yours.'s what I received in the mail last week:

I'm looking forward to reading all four of these books this summer and especially looking forward to Drood!

Review: THE LIE by Fredrica Wagman

Wikipedia defines the ‘stream of consciousness’ literary tool as:

“…a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her actions.”

While it’s not a device I’m fond of reading, Fredrica Wagman has some good company. James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson (who was said to have created the technique) and Virginia Woolf have all used it. I think it can’t be easy to write – the author has to keep track of where her story is going in a way the reader doesn’t have to worry about. The reader is led along on the journey of the character’s thought processes and one hopes an ending will eventually be reached.

And so it was with The Lie. The first page contains one of the most interesting and (I thought) humourous descriptions of someone’s fingers I’ve ever read:

“…- his fat peasant hands that were almost like primitive art – each shocking finger round and wide at the base, but instead of getting slightly narrower as it progressed like most fingers do, it kept all its fat round wideness all the way up to the nail where there was a certain unusual thickening…a rather bulbous thickening you might say all around the nail head itself, so that each finger looked exactly like a penis…and there were ten of them…ten perfect penis fingers…I couldn’t take my eyes away.”

There are more descriptions like this one and I often re-read them just for the enjoyment of it. The Lie begins with Ramona Smollens sitting on a park bench one afternoon. She falls into conversation with the owner of the fingers and soon after that into bed. Finding freedom with Solomon Columbus after the death of her father, an oppressive, abusive man and her mother, who is mentally unstable, Ramona strives to find her way using the cult of film stars as a guide. However she begins to questions herself when she is not bowled over by Solomon as she believes she should be. Everything Ramona is and everything she does is compared to Rita Hayworth and how the film start would behave given similar situations.

The Lie is a slim novel and an easy book to read – the prosaic flow of words leads from one page to the next and before I knew it I’d finished the book. I found the premise unique and many descriptions quite vivid. And, as mentioned, though I’m not a fan of the ‘stream of consciousness’ literary device, it didn’t bother me too much in this instance. Occasionally, I found there were too many uses of hyphens and ellipses, and while it may be a necessary tool when using this method of writing, I found it broke up the flow of the story a bit. Otherwise I enjoyed The Lie and would recommend it as a very interesting and unique view of a young woman’s perspective of how to find herself in a world of ideals.

Review: LOVE'S CIVIL WAR by Victoria Glendinning

I’ve always enjoyed epistolary novels and non-fiction books. There’s something about them that I find easy to read and I feel almost guilty as if I were reading someone’s secret diary and thoughts meant only for them. This is certainly true of Love’s Civil War since it is comprised of the letters Elizabeth Bowen wrote to Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat, and his diary entries that encompass his life in Canada and abroad. Charles Ritchie was a well-known diarist and had several diaries published in his lifetime, but as to letters to Elizabeth, according to the dust jacket, “Charles did not keep his letters to her, which were returned to him after her death.”

The book begins with Ritchie’s diary in February 1941. He writes about his social life and about meeting Elizabeth, a married, successful author who divides her time between Bowen Court, her family’s ancestral home in Ireland, and England. From her letters and his diary entries, the reader gets the chronicle of their friendship and budding love affair. Still, (and even with my tendency to enjoy this type of book) it takes a bit of work to get pulled into the story. I think that may be because it is non-fiction and the author could only do so much with the material she had to work with. Despite that, I really enjoyed this book. I liked the atmosphere it evoked during the war and reading about the other well-known people that Elizabeth knew.

It is sad and more than a little bittersweet that their love for each other endured for 30 years it could never be made ‘official’ due to their other-halves. It begs the question that if it was possible, would they have married?

Footnotes are used extensively throughout the book. I found these cumbersome at first, but quickly got used to them as they provided a lot of information about the places, people and events that Elizabeth and Ritchie referred to. There are eight pages of photos which I liked – my only complaint is that there weren’t more.


When I discovered that this book was only the first in a series I was thrilled! Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the quirky, charming story of a young girl who sets out to discover the truth behind the murder of a man found dying in her garden's cucumber patch.

Flavia de Luce lives with her father and two sisters in an oversized Buckshaw – a house handed down from generation to generation in her mother’s family. It comes complete with a science laboratory where Flavia can perfect her concoctions and try them out on her older sister, Ophelia. Flavia is just eleven but she's smart, resilient and quick-witted. She’s one of the most lovable protagonists I’ve met in a long time.

As Flavia investigates the circumstances around the body in the garden, she interacts with all manner of people who don’t see things quite as straight-forwardly as she would have them and that brings just the right amount of humour to this enchanting novel. From dealing with her annoying sisters to out-witting the local police, Flavia navigates her way through the maze of the mystery with good humour and aplomb. Though I would say there were bits here and there that needed belief-stretching, that doesn’t detract from the story at all. This book is not just for adults - I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a cozy mystery including younger teenagers.

Hardcover, 292 pages, published by Random House.

Guest review: THE STRAIN by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

This review is a guest post written by my husband, Pierre.

Nosferatu meets CSI.

Vampire literature thrives on contrast. Victorian readers once yawned at Dracula's bizarre antics in the Carpathian Mountains but shivered when Bram Stoker’s displaced him to the city of London. Legions of writers have since inflamed this contrast until it has become positively bi-polar, giving us bloodsuckers as southern gentlemen, little girls, rebellious teenagers, space aliens and a even a librarian. And now worms. Well, why not.

The authors were perhaps over-enthused with the possibilities presented by Vampires, endowing them with so many physiological horrors that a biologically confusing monster emerges. But they are entirely clear in one regard: sex. Vampire tales usually slide easily into sex and sexiness but there’s nothing remotely sexy about these creatures; they are simply repulsive. As it should be, too.

I would have enjoyed more surprises and plot twists, but the story rips along just fine and dialogue is expertly executed. There is much unnatural ghastliness here, and a couple scenes that are stunningly revolting.

The Strain is frighteningly well written and a compelling read.

Mailbox Monday

Thanks to Marcia from The Printed Page for hosting this fun meme. All came in the mail except for Holly's Inbox which was passed along to me thanks to my friend Cindy.

These are the books I received last week:

New York and the BEA!!

This being the first year I've attended the BEA in New York (and hopefully not the last) I don't have much to compare it to other than reading reports from everywhere saying that attendance was down and belts were tightened in 2009. Well, that may be so, but I found the event to be exciting, crowded and for the most part filled with people exuding positive attitudes. A couple of publishers were reserving ARCs for booksellers but there was still a large number of giveaways and my arms were full not long after I arrived. I will be sharing the wealth and giving some of these to other book bloggers to review who couldn't attend.

And speaking of book bloggers, a discussion panel was organized and a committee consisting of seven bloggers spoke about the issues that we frequently come across in the book blogging world. You can listen to the discussion here.

Those empty seats in the picture (click on it for a larger view) filled up pretty quickly after I took the photo. I estimate that by the time it got under way there were about 300 people in the room. I was very pleased to meet bermudaonion. We had a chance to speak only for a few minutes but it's so nice to put the face to the name.

Other New York adventures included visiting The Strand (really, I only bought one book), getting caught in an afternoon rainstorm and having to walk about 10 km because we could not get a cab. My husband and I saw one and a half broadway shows - he did not like one at all so we left at the intermission(!). We went to the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museums, had dinner out but also room service.

The Strand

Of course we also wandered through Central Park:

I really don't know who those people are...but they seem to be posing for me.

Now I know this is difficult to make out but this is a photo from our hotel room window looking out on 8th street. And the reason I took it is because right in the middle of the pic there is a horse. Which is tethered to a fence. And was left there for a few hours. I couldn't help picturing some person riding up to the fence getting of the horse, tethering it and then sauntering in to the nearest saloon. After a couple of hours I was getting worried about the poor animal but the last time I went to the window to check it was gone. I just hope it wasn't taken by a horse thief!


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