Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Back in 2006, I read a little novel called The Observations, by Jane Harris. I never reviewed it, but I remember enjoying it very much. When the opportunity came to read and review her newest book, Gillespie and I, I jumped at the chance. I knew from experience, having read her first book, that Harris was a very interesting author and that I admired her writing ability and her ability to do the unexpected.

Gillespie and I only served to cement this opinion for me. Boy howdy, can this woman write.

It is 1933. Harriet Baxter is an English spinster pushing her 80s. Sitting alone at her home in Bloomsbury, with only her two pet finches for company, she decides she will write her memoirs. She wants to recount her friendship with Ned Gillespie, a forgotten painter from Glasgow, whom she believes never received the fame and appreciation he deserved before he tragically died with realizing his potential. She has decided to set the record straight, as it were, as she is the best one to do so, being the only one left.

In 1888, Harriet traveled to Glasgow for an International Exhibition. Her maiden aunt has died, leaving her at loose ends and being one of the few women on this time who is independently wealthy, Harriet has an unexpected freedom and takes advantage of it. Many artists displayed their works, one of whom was Ned Gillespie. Harriet meets Ned and the rest of his family there and befriends Ned, his wife, his mother, and his children. She inveigles herself into their lives and believes she is as dear to them as they are to her.

Yet, when tragedy strikes, and Harriet is blamed, things begin to unravel. Nothing is as it seems. Is Harriet a reliable narrator? Being the only one left, is she telling the true version of events or what she wants us to know? Is she responsible for tearing a lovely and endearing family to shreds? Did she do what she was accused of doing?

I don’t know if I’d said it here before, but I almost always adore unreliable narrators. I know they drive some people crazy, but I love love LOVE how books like this make me think. They stay with me for ages, making me question what really happened, what certain things meant, how DID it END. I also adore ambivalent endings and this book has one of the best ambivalent endings I’ve ever read. I reached a point, about 2/3rds through the book, when I reached a point where I just could not put it down and I sped through the last 200 pages in about 3 hours. At one point, I realized my heart was racing (and I should also say it was about 4 in the morning) because I was SO anxious about what was going to happen.

I stand in awe of Ms. Harris. She managed to take what feels like 3 separate story lines and weaves them together so deftly and so seamlessly. If I ever wrote a book, I would want to write something like that. Something taunt and exciting, curious and new, end of your seat, keep you up late at night, and not let you go even after the last page was turned hours, days, weeks ago. Plus, it’s very Victorian. I can not wait to see what she comes up with next.

About Jane Harris

Jane Harris is the author of the award-winning novel The Observations. She lives in London.

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Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 31, 2012)

Tuesday, January 31st: Unabridged Chick
Monday, February 6th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, February 7th: The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, February 7th: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 8th: Broken Teepee
Monday, February 13th: Library of Clean Reads
Tuesday, February 14th: Reviews by Lola
Wednesday, February 15th: The Lost Entwife
Friday, February 17th: Amused By Books
Monday, February 20th: Amusing Reviews
Thursday, February 23rd: nomadreader


Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord

Oh my dears.  I don’t know if I should put this down to the huge reading slump I am in (3 weeks and counting, still haven’t finished a book) or the browbeating I feel  like I am getting from this book, but I’m afraid this is going to be a big ole Did Not Finish.  Which is sad because I really wanted to like this book.  I loves me some books set in a private school, especially ones for girls, but whoa.  This is maybe too much.

Obviously, since I haven’t finish and am seriously considering not finishing it, (which, knowing me means I won’t), I’m going to give you the Summary from

A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining and darkly surprising relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.

In the world of students, popular and coquettish Dixie Doyle, with her ironic pigtails, battles to wrest attention away from the smart and disdainful Liz Warren, who spends her time writing and directing plays based on the Oresteia. In the world of teachers, the adored Leo Binhammer struggles to share his territory with Ted Hughes, the charming new English teacher who threatens to usurp Binhammer’s status as the department’s only male teacher and owner of the girls’ hearts. When a secret is revealed between them, Binhammer grows increasingly fascinated by the man he has determined is out to get him.

As seasons change and tensions mount, the girls long for entry into the adult world, toying with their premature powers of flirtation. Meanwhile, the deceptive innocence of the adolescent world complete with plaid skirts and scented highlighters becomes a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. By the end of the year the line between maturity and youth begins to blur, and the question on the final exam is: Who are the adults and who are the children?

Sounds really good right?  All repressed sexuality and deflowerings and scandals and whatnot.  Like wrote in her review, it’s the “Gossip Girl for the thinking woman or man.” Yet it’s lacking something and I’m thinking that something might be some heart.  Gaylord is a lovely writer; extremely evocative.  At first, I was delighting in the shear beautiful of language, the richness of it, the utter beauty of it.  But then, around page 50 or so, it started to grate. on. my. nerves.  And geez, all these girls!  They are like walking sex time-bombs and I can’t tell who is going to go off first, the girls or their male teacher Mr. Binhammer. (Talk about phallic symbolism. Sheesh.)  And then, then!  Gaylord introduces a character named Ted Hughes?  For Pete’s Sake!!!  And starts talking about how all the girls are going to slit their wrists or stick their heads in ovens a la Sylvia Plath?  Gah!

For all the flowery talk, the book is insanely readable.  I read these first 55 pages pretty quickly.  I’m just not connecting to anyone. At all.  And dude, after 50 pages?  I need some connection.  So alas, I feel this book isn’t for me.  But please, please, please check out the other stops on this tour and get more opinions.  For, like I said, it could all be me.  It’s happened before!

Hummingbirds: A Novel by Joshua Gaylord
Published by: Harper Perennial Paperback – 368
On Sale: October 5, 2010 ISBN: 9780061769023

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Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.

This is the moving story of William Kamkwamba and his stories of growing up in Malawi, Africa.  Malawai is a place where magic, superstitions and a corrupt government rule the world and where science is a mystery.  It is a place of uncertain meals, drought, and hunger.  William and his family are not wealthy, being poor tobacco and corn farmers, but they are happy.  Everything is fascinating to him and reading of young William’s exploits, alone and with his friends, was probably my favorite part of the book.

Although Geoffrey, Gilbert, and I grew up in this small place in Africa we did many of the same things children do all over the world, only with slightly different materials.  And talking with friends I’ve met from America and Europe, I now know this is true. Children everywhere have similar ways of entertaining themselves.  If you look at it this way, the world isn’t so big.

It is this inquisitive attitude that saved him when drought forces William to drop out of school, after his family can’t pay the fee for him to attend.  William had a voracious appetite for learning and a curiosity that would not be stopped.  He decided to educate himself and turned to the small library in his village and the power of books.  It is through books, one book in particular, that William feeds his hungry mind.

William is a man after my own heart. More often than not, if I want to learn something, I turn to a book.  William does the same thing.  And when William discovers an American text book, Using Energy, his life changes in ways he probably never dreamed of.  I am a lover of words however, not a technical person at all, so some of the more technical parts of the story were difficult for me.  However, the strong narrative made it easy to keep going.  I just had to know what happened to William!  He’s the kind of guy you just root for.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the very best of what I love about nonfiction.  Not only did I learn of a culture that I knew little about, I found it to be fascinating.   William may not have had the best life, being hungry, without schooling, and poor.  But he had his imagination and he knew how to use it!  William is the kind of scrappy, persistent, and dedicated kid that you can’t help but root for and love.  I was reminded so much of myself in William; curious, tenacious, not the smartest in the class, but where William and I part company is how he used his wits to change his life.  William serves as an inspiration to those who may think they can’t do it.  This young, poor kid from Africa did it; he is now a student at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire.  If he can do it, so can you.  Give his story a read and see just how inspired William will make you.

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Published by: Harper Perennial
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
On Sale: August 2010
ISBN: 9780061730320

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Book Review: Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

lit definition

  • n.
    literature, as a school subject. :
    I’m flunking English lit again.
  • mod.
    and lit up. drunk. :
    Todd was lit up like a Christmas tree at our office party. , He’s lit and can’t drive home.
  • Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition.

    Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr is an interesting amalgamation of these two definitions.  Mary Karr the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse Universary. And once upon a time, she liked to get “lit” up, drunk.  And right away, she comes off as one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever met.

    Anyway I tell this story is a lie, so I ask you to disconnect the devices in your head that repeats at intervals how ancient and addled I am.  It’s true that – at fifty to your twenty – my brain is dimmer.  Your engine of recall is way superior, as you’ve often pointed out.  From Lit: A Memoir, page 1.

    This is from the prologue, which is a letter to her son Dev.  And

    Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only wa to get home.  In which I mean to get free of us. From Lit: A Memoir, page 6.

    Karr starts her story with her seventeenth year.  She left home to wander aimlessly with a bunch of stoner surfers, work crappy jobs, and pretty much loose herself in a confused state of blah.  After an encounter with “Sam-u-el, his name was- short version Sam” the scary, philosophy spouting, possible harmless/possible would-be rapist, drug-addled man Karr accepts a ride from while hitchhiking, she decides to get herself, NO, NOT CLEAN, but an education.  She moves to Minneapolis and begins college, where she is neither particularly promising or a waste of everyone’s time.  Luckily for her, she meets a professor who takes an interest in her mind and wants to help her.  Because girlfriend seriously needs help.

    Karr is the daughter of alcoholics.  The love of alcohol is encoded in her DNA.  While drinking with her daddy (and I’m pretty sure it was at a time when it was not legal for her to do so) she says:

    The bottle gleamed in the air between us.  I took the whiskey, planning a courtesy sip.  But the aroma stopped me just as my tongue touched the glass mouth.  The warm silk flowered in my mouth and down my gullet, after which a warm blue flame of pleasure roared back up my spine.  A poof of sequins went sparkling through my middle. From Lit: A Memoir, Page 43.

    For me, when reading books like this, I already have an idea of how it ends.  Yes, it’s a look at Karr’s decent into alcoholism and madness.  Obviously, she’s written a book about is, so it seems she’s probably recovered. Yet my friends, the trip is worth the $14.99 paperback price and then some.  I hope from these small snippets I have given you, you can see what an amazing writer Karr is.  It was apparent immediately to me that Karr is a poet.  Her words evoke her fear, her confusion, her hope, her doubt, her madness, and her love.  Another taste:

    I keep getting drunk.  There’s not more interesting way to say it.  Only drunk does the volume crank down.  Liquor no longer lets me bullship myself that I’m taller, faster, funnier.  Instead, it shrinks me to a plodding zombie state in which one day smudges into every other-it blurs time. From Lit: A Memoir, page 171.


    Out of the kitchen holding a crockery mug comes a lady with cropped dark hair and eyes the color of fresh-dug earth.  Liz has the frank, inquisitive gaze of a trained scientist, but softer in its aspect.  The clubhouse/college-dorm feel of this place suggests a camaraderie lacking with my writer pals. From Lit: Page 241.

    Literally I can turn to any page in the book and find a tiny gem.  The language is exquisite.  I adore Karr’s dark humor.  Her biting wit and sarcasm reminds me of myself… which actually may be disconcerting.  Watching Karr exorcise the demons of drink, drugs, Mother, Father, Husband, Son, and Self is fascinating.  If you enjoy such intimate looks at life, addiction, family and resurrection of self, Mary Karr is the way to go.  You won’t regret it.

    Lit: A Memoir
    Mary Karr
    Category: Nonfiction/Autobiography
    Published by: Harper Perennial
    Format: Paperback
    On Sale: 01 July 2010
    ISBN: 9780060596996

    Purchase from:

    The Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s Books

    Please see other stops on this tour.
    Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for my copy of this book.

    I am a Book Depository, Powells, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very small profit
    if you buy a book through one of my links.

    Book Review: Coop; A Family, a Farm and the Pursuit of One Good Egg

    I am not sure exactly what I was expecting when I started reading Coop; A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg by Michael Perry, but I got so much more… and less… than I was expecting.  I think I was expecting something more like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m not sure what gave me that impression; the title, the description, the cover?  No matter the cause, Coop is not really anything like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, unless you count the efforts by the two writers to live off their land.  Perry is a great writer, of that there is no doubt.  Coop is incredibly well written, if slightly meandering look at Perry’s life, but instead of being about poultry, farms, or eggs, it is more about family.  Perry examines his early life and the ways of his parents; the honest way they lived, worked, raised him and his many brothers and sisters (his parents were foster parents as well, they raised over sixty children, many of whom were special needs).  He takes these memories to remake himself as a husband, father, and farmer.  With a stepdaughter to raise, another child on the way, and over thirty-seven acres of ramshackle farmland to take care of, he knows he needs to reexamine those life lessons.

    Perry writes with humor, eloquence, and a genteel humility that is refreshing and I felt a certain kinship to the man as he struggles to do even the simplest things right. I have a very small garden in my backyard, big enough to last my family the summer, with hopefully a little bit left from canning and freezing to supplement our food during the winter.  Unfortunately I have commute to work and two children to entertain when I get home; so when I read of how Perry juggles his freelance writing with the daily farm life he hopes to lead…well, I was impressed.  And inspired.

    So yes, it wasn’t what I expected at all, and sometimes, those are the best books of all.

    For more on Michael Perry please visit his website:

    Michael Perry will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on Monday, June 7th at 7pm EST.

    Here’s the link:

    Coop; a Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg
    Michael Perry
    Published by:
    Harper Perennial; Reprint edition
    Paperback, 382 page
    On Sale:
    (May 4, 2010)

    Thank you to TLC book tours and the publisher, for supplying this book.

    Purchase from

    The Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s Books

    Please see TLC Tours for other stops on this tour.

    I am a Book Depository, Powell’s Books, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very small profit
    if you buy a book through one of my links.