Circa the 1790s in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, an extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut named Ichabod Crane competes with Abraham Van Brunt for the hand of eighteen-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child of a wealthy farmer names Baltus Van Tassel.

As Crane leaves a party at the Van Tassel home one autumn night, he travels through a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow and is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during an unnamed battle of the American Revolutionary War.

This free audiobook was released by Audible in promotion of the second season of the television show “Sleepy Hollow” on Monday, September 22. Mison plays Ichabod Crane on the show so it was a little odd hearing him referring to Ichabod in the third person, but he has the perfect voice for audiobooks and adds intonations to the eighteenth century language used in the text that make it easier to follow the story. His pace was also perfect; I never had to speed up the audio as I have done in the past with other audiobooks.

Having watched the show based on this story, I was expecting a story that would inspire fear or, at least, have a creepy undercurrent to the story and in that regard the book was a disappointment. The descriptions of the characters and the setting are very vivid, but Irving’s capture on my imagination began to wane when the story failed to move forward as quickly as I expected.

Book Mentioned:

  • Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Read by Tom Mison. Newark, NJ: Audible, 2014. 1 hour, 15 minutes. ISBN: 9781471316029. Source: Free download.
Book Cover © Audible. Retrieved: September 11, 2014.

Olivia arrives on the island of Nantucket unsure of how to move forward after the death of her eight-year-old severely autistic son, Anthony, and the unraveling of her marriage to Daniel. Year-round resident, Beth, is struggling to find her artistic voice and adapt to being a single mother after a card arrives in her mailbox informing her of her husband’s infidelity. Although she only met Anthony briefly on the beaches of Nantucket five years ago and never learned his name, Beth finds herself channeling his voice and his ticks as she writes her very first novel.

I’ve only read one book by Genova before but what keeps her books from being shelves amongst breezier, chick-lit reads is her mastery interjection of neurology and science into the story. While she is one of the few authors who manages to capture the uniqueness of autism with this book, Genova lost her scientific credentials, in my opinion, right after Olivia explained how her son was fine until he received his vacations and how guilty she felt then (and, presumably, feels now) for insisting he have his shots. I’m more than willing to accept the rather unbelievable idea that the spirit or ghost of Olivia’s uncommunicative son would speak through, or to, a woman he has met only once, but I cannot tolerate even the suggestion that vaccinations lead to autism and only finished this book because it was selected by my book group for our September meeting.

There is no compelling reason to include Beth in the novel other than her being a mode of communication for Anthony. She is not an interesting character, and there is nothing unique to her story. Whether or not she allows her estranged husband back into her life is her business; I could care less. She, her friends, her husband, and her children are all wooden and riddle with clichés – the cheating husband, the sullen teenager, the serial dater who encourages Beth to go spy on the woman whom her husband cheated with. Shouldn’t Beth’s three kids have more to say about their father moving out? How can their mother so easily gloss over such a big event? Shouldn’t the cheating husband who wants his wife back be inclined not to joke or laugh or touch his mistress in front of his wife? How can he not realize his wife isn’t going to take him back then?

The ending caused many of women in my book group to cry, but I turned the last page feeling emotionally manipulated by Genova in the hopes of garnishing such reactions. The most disappointing aspect of the entire novel for me, though, was how lost Anthony becomes in the novel. The sections “written” by him could have made a beautiful book on their own or combined with Olivia’s journal, but he was unfortunately used as a device to “save” an entirely superfluous character making his life all the more tragic.

Book Mentioned:

  • Genova, Lisa. Love Anthony. New York: Gallery Books, 2012. Print. 309 pgs. ISBN: 9781439164686. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Gallery Books. Retrieved: September 9, 2014.

An aging spy at the height of the Cold War, Leamas is preparing to retire and return home to Britain but his spy master, known by the code name Control, has one last assignment for him: present himself as a disgraced spy, be recruited by the Soviets, and root out the double agent helping the Communists to identify and kill Soviet spies working as double agents for Britain. Sent back out into the cold – the no-man’s land near the Berlin Wall – Leamas becomes entangled with Liz, a librarian’s assistant and member of the Communist Party on the democratic side of the Wall.

This was my third attempt reading the spy novel that made le Carré famous and while I finished reading the book this time, I will confess that I had no idea what was happening for the majority of the novel. It has a certain noir, black and white film quality to it that might translate well to the screen but is difficult to follow in a written format.

The characters speak in code to another, which may be due to this being the third book in the series and the author assuming a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with prior incidents and characters, but le Carré refuses to help readers decipher the code until the bitter end. The descriptions are sparse and little context is given to the characters’ dialogue; I often found myself wondering where in space – Great Britain, West Germany, or East Germany – the characters were in that moment.

I did, however, like the ending (and not just because the book was finally over), which seems to be rare given the reviews on GoodReads. It was the most suspenseful albeit bizarre moment in the entire novel finally pulling together the importance of Liz, who was the only interesting character to me, with Leamas’ mission. I can also understand why this book is such a classic with its heavy use of dialogue, sparse descriptions, and cool detachment from the story I’ve come to – justly or unjustly – associate with spy novels over the years.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • le Carré, John. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. New York: Scribner, 2001. Originally published 1963. Print. 224 pgs. ISBN: 0743442539. Source: Library.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover © Scribner. Retrieved: September 9, 2014.

Mitchell Grammaticus loves Madeleine Hanna who loves Leonard Bankhead. This fact consumes the post-undergraduate lives of these three students from Brown University with Mitchell, a religious studies major, leaving on a backpacking trip across Europe and India with his closest friend while Madeleine clings to her plan to move to Cape Code with Leonard after being rejected from Yale’s graduate program, after her breakup with Leonard, and after Leonard is admitted to the hospital for manic depression leading the two to reunite once more. Mental illness consumes Leonard and Madeleine’s lives; questions of God’s existence and unrequited love for Madeleine consume Mitchell’s.

The title of this novel comes from the topic of Madeleine’s undergraduate English thesis – how the great British novels by authors such as Jane Austen focus on life leading up to marriage but never address the realities of life after “I do”. Eugenides novel, thus, tries to address this perceived failing of such novels by introducing the complications of mental illness, joblessness, fading friendships, and overbearing families and following life after marriage where the woman marries the wrong man.

I’ve come to anticipate a certain amount of pretentiousness with Eugenides’ writing and characters and in many ways this novel is overwritten and condescending. He expects the reader to identify with the pompous literary criticisms of his protagonist while simultaneously appreciating Mitchell’s search for God despite the constant reminders that such a search is “below” someone of his stature. And, for all their worries about money and jobs and next steps in life, the characters with the occasional exception of Mitchell never seem to feel any kind of pressure to find a job or do something to change their lives. Yet, there was something compelling and intriguing about the situation Eugenides created, particularly the contradictory understanding and misunderstanding of mental illness.

Leonard’s manic depression is cast as the villain in this book; it is the reason why Madeleine should not marry him, according to her family and Mitchell. For the most part, the reader must take Madeleline’s assertions that there is something redeeming about Leonard to keep her in the relationship and longing for it when it dissolves for Eugenides rarely tells the reader let alone shows them. And there were multiple points when reading this novel that I found myself urging Madeleine to leave Leonard for Mitchell before I’d stop myself and ask why?

What makes Mitchell more deserving of Madeleine’s love than Leonard? Does mental illness truly mean a person does not deserve to have someone to love them? And should Madeleine have to put her hopes and dreams and plans on hold because Leonard’s mental illness makes it impossible for them to move to New York or for him to hold down a job?

If these questions, which only Madeleine and Leonard can really answer, were the purpose of the novel – I cannot say for certainty that it was – then Eugendies is quite clever in his questioning of the marriage plot. But it takes an exorbitant amount of time to reach this point of understanding, and there are more than a few temptations to put the book down along the way.

Book Mentioned:

  • Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Marriage Plot. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Print. 406 pgs. ISBN: 9780374203054. Source: Gift.
Book Cover © Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Retrieved: September 8, 2014.

Subtitled “A City, A Siege, A Revolution”, Philbrick traces the start of the American Revolution from the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party — both of which occur long before the battle from which Philbrick’s novel takes it name — through the shift of the battles from Boston to New York. Following the eruption of violence at Lexington and Concord over the removal of gun powder from city storerooms, loyalists and patriots begin to separate from one another with loyalists moving into the city of Boston and patriots moving to the countryside as the British military moves to cut off Boston from supplies in June. The blockade leads to all out war in the Battle of Bunker Hill, which would be the bloodiest battle of the Revolution to come and the point of no return for the rebellious colonists.

Philbrick’s account shattered many of the rosy images attached to the American Revolution and the patriots, which is exactly what I was hoping the book would do. The chant of “no taxation without representation” originally started as a protest against taxation imposed upon the American colonists by the British parliament because the Americans did not want to pay the $22.4 billion in today’s US currency spent defending them during the French and Indian War. They wanted the benefits of being under the protection of the British crown without having to pay for it. (Sound familiar?) The Boston Tea Party occurred because the Boston merchants were selling tea illegally imported from the Caribbean and did not want their profits to be undercut by the British and the East India Company selling surplus tea at a third of the cost despite the tax. And most of the patriots actually considered themselves loyal to King George III referring to the British army as the army of the hated Parliament and themselves “the King’s army”. Not exactly the inspiring, revolutionary message I have been taught from a young age, but I think it is important to see people’s actions in the context of human actions rather than elevating them to mystic status.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, the climax of this book, the 115 Americans were killed and 305 were wounded with most of the causalities occurring during the retreat. It is considered a victory on the part of the British, although 1,054 of the approximately 2,200 British soldiers in the battle were killed or wounded. And Philbrick pay a great deal of attention to nearly every one of men killed in battle that I feared I would need to begin to take notes in order to keep their names, allegiances, and actions straight. The tendency to get bogged down in details made some sections of the book drag on longer than necessary; I felt as though I was waiting far longer than the three or four months it actually took for the Battle of Bunker Hill to begin.

One name stood apart in both the book and in my mind, however. General Joseph Warren served as the leader of the patriots in Boston before and during the Battle of Bunker Hill, and is given a great amount of attention in the text due to his role and the assertion that “if Joseph Warren had lived, the loyalist Peter Oliver maintained in 1782, [George] Washington would have been an obscurity” (pg. 248). I appreciated how much detail is paid to this extraordinary man, and it is unfortunate that his name has been largely lost to history given how universally admired he was by his compatriots in Boston.

Book Mentioned:

  • Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution. New York: Viking Adult, 2013. Print. 398 pgs. ISBN: 9780670025442. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Viking Adult. Retrieved: September 6, 2014.
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