bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #70: The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Alice Munro was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, one of just 13 women to receive such an honor. So naturally, I had to read her book. My friend T recommended I start with The Love of a Good Woman, because he really enjoyed the collection. As you can see, I did.

I honestly enjoy short stories, precisely because they leave me wanting *more.* There’s a craft to writing a good, satisfying short story, and Alice Munro is masterful. The first story, “The Love of a Good Woman,” is novella-length, but it builds a fascinating tension in several angles of a story–you wonder how the town’s boys, the dead eye doctor, and a dying young woman are all connected. But by the end (which was slightly inconclusive), I was both thrilled and desirous of more. The other stories in the collection speak of longing, love, family relationships, restlessness, and so many experiences indicative of the human condition. When we think of “the love of a good woman,” we are led to wonder: is she good? Is the love good? Is the love worth it?

I am definitely going to be teaching Munro when I get to teach literature, and I am going to read all her collections. She has a way with her prose that is descriptive without being overdone, concise but not spare. The Love of a Good Woman, while delving into some heavy subject material, is so well-written that it feels like a pleasure-read.

Let me just treat you to this last image of awesomeness (thanks, Tumblr!). Munro is not able to travel to receive her award, so she and Margaret Atwood celebrated with champagne:


You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #33: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter


Over the past few years, there have been a number of best selling novels by women featuring vampires, werewolves, and plot lines involving sexual awakening. I haven’t read a single one of ’em and now I never will because I have read a classic by a master that covers it all. I hadn’t heard of Angela Carter’s 1979 collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber until reading about it in Atlantic’s list of books by women that men should read. It’s a deceptively short collection (128 pages) but in those pages are dark, rich, sensual tales that turn traditional fairy tales on their heads.

Among the tales that Carter spins and reinterprets are Blue Beard, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots and Little Red Riding Hood. The first impression I had upon reading this collection is that Carter’s prose is exquisite. I can’t think of another writer with her facility for descriptive passages. Carter can convey horror as in her Blue Beard story:

The walls of this stark torture chamber were naked rock; they gleamed as if they were sweating with fright. At the four corners of the room were funerary urns, of great antiquity, Etruscan perhaps, and, on three-legged ebony stands, the bowls of incense he had left burning which filled the room with a sacerdotal reek. Wheel, rack and Iron Maiden were, I saw, displayed as grandly as if they were items of statuary….

She can be bawdy as in Puss in Boots:

… I never saw two fall to it with such appetite. As if the whirlwind got into their fingers, they strip each other bare in a twinkling and she falls back on the bed, shows him the target, he displays the dart, scores an instant bullseye. Bravo!

And melancholic (from a vampire tale called “The Lady of the House of Love”):

The white hands of the tenebrous belle deal the hand of destiny. Her fingernails are longer than those of the mandarins of ancient China and each is pared to a fine point. These and teeth as fine and white as spikes of spun sugar are the visible signs of the destiny she wistfully attempts to evade via the arcana; her claws and teeth have been sharpened on centuries of corpses, she is the last bud of the poison tree that sprang from the loins of Vlad the Impaler….

Given the sexual content of most of the tales, they are not what you would have read when you were a child. But the message is also not what we would have been taught through tales either. Carter’s women are in the process of realizing their power. For some it means ridding themselves of the shackles of abusive spouses or parents. Others must learn to come to terms with forces outside themselves, which usually take male form. Some of Carter’s stories present the point of view of the “monster” with sympathy. One of the themes that seems to come up frequently is that we all carry something of the beast within ourselves, and sometimes the beasts demonstrate greater humanity than people.

This is just a wonderful piece of literature. So put down Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray and pick up The Bloody Chamber. It’ll satisfy the craving for sensual stories with fantastical characters while it improves your vocabulary and brain power.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Short Story

Okay, I lied.  There was one more Sanderson book.  Sorry.  The Emperor’s Soul is a short novella set in the same world as Elantris but removed from the events of that book by significant distance and an unspecified amount of time.  It is a very different sort of work than Sanderson’s typical epic fantasy fare.  As dictated by its size, it is a very focused story with only one protagonist and one storyline.  But there is some surprising depth contained in this small package.  At its heart, The Emperor’s Soul is about understanding people, and in a roundabout way, about the process of writing characters; creating people.

The central figure of The Emperor’s Soul is Wan ShaiLu, called Shai.  With two minor exceptions, the entirety of the novella is told from her perspective.  Betrayed by her partner in crime, a man known only as The Fool, Shai is coerced into undertaking the daunting task of magically recreating the personality of a brain dead emperor.  Under the threat of death, and a rapidly approaching deadline, she must accomplish two impossible tasks: understanding another human being utterly and completely, and escaping the powerful forces that will kill her whether she succeeds or not.

Read the rest of the review…