Book Review: The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

The Pleasures of Men  by Kate Williams

Published August 7, 2012

Mode read: ARC

Summary:  Bored with her life in Victorian London, Catherine Sorgeiul begins following a set of recent brutal murders in the newspaper. Her troubled past gives her insight into the killer’s motives so she begins writing an account of the crimes. When the killer begins leaving notes on her manuscript, Catherine must make a choice about how close to the murders she wants to get.

Bechdel Test?: Catherine talks to a lot of her female friends about the murders but the conversations seem wooden. This could just be from Catherine’s distaste for Victorian society but it quickly frustrated me.

Rating: 3/5

Williams tries to create a connection between Catherine and the shadowy Jack the Ripper-type figure but ultimately fails. I was frustrated at how long it took for Catherine’s past to be revealed and when it finally was it was underwhelming. I was looking forward to a strong female character who took charge of a situation — either by having a serial killer past or detective skills, I’m not picky! — but what I got was a teenager with an overactive imagination who dramatized her past.

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Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson


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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Published September 2011

Summary:  Rory Deveraux moves to England to attent a boarding school in London’s poshest neighborhood. As soon as she arrives killings like the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders begin. When Rory is the only witness to see the murderer she is forced into a world she doesn’t understand and suddenly she has trouble knowing what is real.

Bechdel Test?: Not even close to passing. Rory lives with two female roommates but most of their conversations revolve around boys or gossip. Also Rory’s mother doesn’t appear in the book.

Series Potential?: Eh. I’m sure that Johnson could write a sequel but I don’t like any of the characters enough to follow them forward.

Rating: 2/5
This book had everything going for it in my mind: British goodness, a connection to Victorian London, a central female character, boarding school, cool supernatural elements. Unfortunately it just didn’t all come together. Honestly, the only reason I kept reading was the England/Jack the Ripper connection. Jack the Ripper has been a bit of a hobby of mine for many years now; I even wrote a paper on how his crimes changed British journalism!

The characters in The Name of the Star were flat and SPOILER ALERT I really don’t love the way the ghost concept was used. I’m an equal opportunity supernatural YA reader (and I loved the Mediator series) but the whole concept didn’t work for me.

Cheating on 30 for 30: London Weekend

I spent this past weekend in London (where I saw this play) and
has a blast! We stayed at the Harlingford in Bloomsbury which has allowed us to
really get to know the area–almost like a home away from home!

Friday.

On Friday we explored Kensington Gardens and found the Peter Pan statue.

Peter Pan Statue

All great lovers of J.M. Barrie’s story, we had a great time frolicking around the statue and taking
a lot of pictures. We frightened more than a few locals but the pictures we got were priceless!

After getting our fill of the park, we headed into Kensington Palace to see a new art exhibit
Enchanted Palace.

A creepy exhibit depicting the childhoods of many of the palace’s princesses, the art reminded
all of us that being a princess was neither fun nor easy! The above picture is from the Victoria
portion of the exhibit.

(This is me in one of the more creepy rooms of the exhibition.)

Friday night we saw Greenland at the National Theatre and while it was a thought-provoking
play about global warming, it wasn’t exactly spectacular.

Saturday.

An uneventful day for the most part, Saturday was spent trolling around London. I managed to
find a “must-have” coat and decided to break my 30 for 30 shopping fast since it was the last one
in the shop and it was handmade! I’ll post my review of Maribou later this week.

Sunday.

Sunday may have been the highlight of the trip–at least for me. A Tudor history junkie I was so
excited to spend a little time in Henry VIII’s notorious castle–Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court Palace

The palace was everything that I expected and more. Courtyards with gorgeous fountains, gardens that
rivaled the ones at Versailles and the most beautiful tapestries I’ve ever seen–and that was just the beginning!
The palace had board games from the time period, velvet shawls to put on, and a maze to get lost in. In short,
it was Tudor Heaven. While he may have been one of the most hated monarchs, he sure did know how to fix up
a house!

( The dining room)

(The gardens)

(Another view of the palace)

While we were there, I got the chance to model my new coat.

See how well I would’ve fit into the Tudor court!

That’s all for now folks!

A

Settling back in to life in Exeter

Friday I made the journey from Rome to Exeter- a much more difficult task than it sounds! The morning began with me standing in line to check in at the Easyjet counter, which contrary to its name was not easy or fast. Nearly two hours later and with the single bag I was allowed in hand, I set off for my gate.

Much to my chagrin I was in gate H12 at the other end of the airport! Hauling all of my stuff down the corridors of the airport I passed many expensive shops and cute boutiques. Though I had no room to carry more things–or money to buy them–it was nice scenery for the walk. After arriving at the gate I quickly got in line to “board” the plane. Just like the check in fiasco, this was neither easy or fast.

We got onto a bus that took us over to where the plane was sitting and then climbed up the stairs into the plane. The very irate Italian woman next to me could not understand why the bus was going so slow or why it took them so long to open the doors so we could leave the bus and get onto the plane–it made for a very interesting ride over! Once on the plane I was unfortunate lucky enough to have an adorable baby sitting behind me….who kicked my seat the entire way to England. Maybe it is a cultural difference but those parents were letting the child go wild!

Arriving in London I was greeted with a pleasant surprise: for the first time the line for “Other Passports” was shorter than the “UK/EU Passports” line. I felt bad for all of the EU residents but walked through quickly and easily to get my baggage and catch the next train to Victoria Station. In luck (with the train was leaving  ten minutes after I arrived) I boarded with my massive luggage. A cab to Paddington allowed me to view parts of London I’d never seen before; I made notes of all the pretty parks to visit next time I’m there.

Once at Paddington I revised my essays for 45 minutes until my train. British transport is problematic at best and this train ride was no different. About half-way to Exeter the rear engine broke down and we had to stop to detach it. Running on only one engine, the train got into Exeter St. David’s about an hour late but thankfully in one piece. Rather than try to climb the hill and walk the 1.5 miles to my dorm, I caught a taxi and ended my journey in comfort.

Now, two days later I am happy to be back but not so excited about my finals! I’ve spent the morning in the library with friends writing papers and soon it will be time to begin again.

Off to Costa for more paper-writing goodness,

A

Back from London Town!

This past weekend the KenExers made the first of many trips to London! Boarding the 8:50 train from Exeter St. David’s into London Paddington was an experience. None of us had ever really had railway training and finding the track and sorting through the tickets felt a bit chaotic.

Once we got into Paddington station, we quickly rushed to buy tickets for the Tube. Logan and I ended up in a different line than everyone else, and fortuitously were able to get our Oyster Cards early. For those who haven’t dealt with the London Underground an Oyster Card is a bit like a debit card that you swipe whenever you take a Tube trip. It saves a lot of money because you only get charged up to 5 pounds (the price of an unlimited ticket).

Oyster cards (or tickets) in hand, we proceeded to the National Theatre to see a performance of Prince of Denmark. Supposed to be a prequel to Hamlet, the play was a great concept but a terrible execution. I’m really glad that I got to see it; it gave me a lot of interesting jumping off points for my review!

Just after the play we all checked into the hotel. We stayed in a delightful little family-run hotel called the Harlingford. Situated in the heart of Bloomsbury, it struck me as the perfect place for literary-minded students to spend the weekend.

I was one of the lucky ones who had a room in the basement! There are no lifts in the hotel, which is perhaps its only drawback. The room was really beautiful and the bed was incredibly comfortable–a welcome change from the mattress in my dorm room!

After refreshing ourselves and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we went to a performance of War Horse. Despite my initial misgivings about a play with life-sized horse puppets I was blown away. The acting, for the most part, was phenomenal and the puppeteer stole the show. I forgot that the horses were not just well-trained animals at times–the mark of excellent puppeteering!

Because we got out of the play so late and none of the food places were open we were forced to grab dinner at the only two places open: the supermarket and McDonald’s! Now I’m not proud to admit I ate American fast food in London but we really had no other choice!

In the morning, I had several cups of tea before heading upstairs for breakfast. The meal that they serve in the morning could feed a small army! A spread is put out of cereal, porridge oats, various fruits and juices. THEN a very nice man comes over to take your order for which type of English breakfast you’d prefer. Heaven! (especially for someone on a student’s budget). Kidnapping some cheese sticks, Samantha and I got an early start to Portobello Road Market where we were quickly overwhelmed by the number of vendors setting up their wares.

As far as we could see there were stalls full of goodies! We managed to get out of there without doing too much damage to our pocketbooks and stumbled into a cute tea place for a chat and some time off of our feet.

We then made our way to the Tower of London to do a tour with friends. What started out as a simple journey with two tube changes very quickly turned into a “typical Londoner experience” of the Tube not working. Forced to abandon our train at an unknown station, Samantha and I attempted to find where we were on a map and continue our journey on foot.

I felt a little bit like Alice, lost in Wonderland. For those of you who’ve have never been in the car with me, my sense of direction is somewhat lacking….okay so that’s probably an understatement. I could probably get lost coming out of a paper bag. I did, however, manage to navigate Sam and I to another tube station–SUCCESS!

The Tower was wonderful but intensely sad. Seeing where Elizabeth I and Thomas More were locked up for so many years was very depressing. We had a beef-eater guide who took every chance he could to poke fun at the Americans–and his wife! The tour was very interesting and informative and we spent a few hours wandering around the Tower after, just exploring all the exhibits! It felt a bit like the Escher vault from Warehouse 13 (a great show on Syfy for those of you who’ve never heard of it); we kept going into buildings and being routed through unseen corridors before we could get out again!

A wonderful dinner at Grace’s Bar followed by a performance of Hamlet at the National Theatre finished off the night. I could go on forever about this Hamlet, it was spectacular, but I won’t bore you with the details. (Though, I’d love to talk to you on skype if you’re interested in the performance details!)

Sunday morning saw us exploring The Foundling museum in Bloomsbury. (The picture above is of the little park across the street from the museum). Oliver Twist was based on the orphanage/hospital that the museum commemorates. There were uniforms of the children as well as other artifacts from the original inhabitants but by far the most interesting was the “threads” exhibit. Most of the parents who left their children didn’t have any token to leave with their child–to claim them by later, if they so desired–so they left scraps of cloth. The fabrics showcased were truly amazing. Here’s a decoration in the museum to celebrate the opening of the exhibit:

The picture doesn’t do the art piece justice. It was like a massive chandelier made entirely out of ribbons!

After the museum, Sam and I meandered into the British Library! All the restraint that I’d show at Portobello Road Market was lost when I found the gift shop; I am now the proud owner of a poster, key-chain, set of notecards and a journal. I have no doubt that I will be returning to the library next time we are in London (and every time thereafter). There was an instant feeling of “home” when I set foot inside the BL and all of the anxiety I had been feeling about being abroad suddenly dissipated. I was overwhelmed by the sense of “rightness” I felt in being there; it quelled the fears I’ve had about whether librarianship is my calling. If those moments were any indication I am most certainly headed down the right path!

The perfect end to a weekend in London!

 

Ta for now, I must go read some more of Tess of the D’Ubervilles,

A

(Next time I will try to post several blogs about a trip, I just didn’t have time!)