Daily Archives: August 1, 2011

Book Review: Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

Title: Don’t Breathe A Word
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
ISBN: 978-0061689376
PP: 447 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Don’t Breathe a Word is the third Jennifer McMahon book I’ve read. I loved Promise Not to Tell and was highly disappointed by Dismantled. So, this really could’ve gone either way for me. Not only because of my previous thoughts on her book, but also because I’ve been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, so it’s been taking a lot longer than usual for me to be impressed by a book. Luckily for everyone involved, I loved Don’t Breathe a Word (and am completely cured from my reading slump).

Don’t Breathe a Word is a novel that is VERY hard to classify because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a mix of horror, fantasy, psychological thriller, fairy-tale, and so many more things. Usually when an author throws everything but the kitchen sink in a book I get annoyed because very rarely is it done well. But in this book, it was done extremely well. I enjoyed all of the elements embedded in it and it didn’t make the book seem like the author couldn’t choose which direction she wanted to go in and just decided ‘to hell with it’. While all of those genres are my favorites, I definitely enjoyed the horror and the psychological thriller aspects of it.

This novel is creepy. Seriously, chill up your spine type of creepy. The weird thing is that Don’t Breathe a Word didn’t affect me when it got all dark and shadow-like at night, but it freaked me out during the daytime. I was alone in the house and getting a pen from my bedroom when I heard this huge, house-shaking type of grumbling sound. My first irrational thought was “Oh my God, it’s Teilo, the King of the Fairies.” I kid you not. I think I was so creeped out because we’re taught as little kids that fairies are these cute, sweet, yet somewhat mischievious magical creatures (Tinkerbell, anyone?). Yet in this book, they seem very malevolent and for some reason, that scared the hell out of me.

However, my absolute favorite part of the book (in that whole “what the hell? Can this be more disturbing?!” kind of way) were the family dynamics between all of the characters. It was seriously twisted. So much that I had no idea what the hell was going on most of the time and what imagined was not even half as bad as what actually occurred. In fact, that may have been more creepy than the evil fairies.

All in all, I highly recommend Don’t Breathe a Word. It’s creepy, twisted, unpredictable (and this is coming from someone who tends to predict everything that happens in these types of novels), and one hell of a page-turner. If you’re going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick this up. If you’re not going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick it up anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Publisher: Virago UK, Hachette Book Group
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1844086665
PP: 400 pages
Price: Rs. 595
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Before Ernest Hemingway was ERNEST HEMINGWAY – one of the most revered, studied, analyzed, and parodied authors of American literature – he was a young man with a burning talent, staking his claim to a bright future.

And part of this future included Hadley Richardson, his first wife, a woman who was his equal in many ways – a risk-taker, adventurer, and big drinker. Paula McLain – in an addictive and mesmerizing debut book – breathes life into their life together in Paris in the 1920s, when everything was just starting to come together.

It was a golden time in Paris. Ernest Hemingway was a writer on the cusp; he was championed by Sherwood Anderson — whom he eventually turns on – and he hung out with expatriates Gertrude Stein and Alice Tokias, Ezra Pound and his lover, Shakespear (no “e” at the end), and later, with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gerald and Sara Murphy. He eagerly sought advice, learning to fine-tune his craft, especially with the guidance of Gertrude Stein: “She’d hit on something he’d recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down.”

Yet the book is always, definitively, Hadley’s to narrate – and indeed, she does so quite sympathetically, in the first-person. In many ways, it is a re-telling of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, as Ms. McLain pushes deeper into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts.

Hadley meets Ernest not long after the death of her overprotective mother, and marries him after a short courtship. Nearly a decade older than her new spouse, she lets him lead the way; when Sherwood Anderson convinces him to go to Paris, she gladly signs on. In many ways, she becomes the personification of Hemingway’s famous “True Woman” – someone who is true and gentle and good and strong – without losing her essence.

As their life becomes more and more colorful – ski trips, visits to Ezra Pound at Rapallo, wasted drinking weekends at Pamplona for the running of the bulls, Hadley asks one of their friends, “What is it we want, exactly?” The answer, “Everything, of course. Everything and then some.” Hadley retorts, “If this is a festival, then why aren’t we happy?”

Happiness is hers in fleeting moments, as Ernest begins to attract attention for his work, after her son is born, and when she loses herself in her piano playing. But Hemingway is crippled by what would now be diagnosed as PTSD as a result of his war years, and is way too self-destructive. Followers of Hemingway know that he will leave her for another woman — the hypocritical Pauline Pfeiffer, who embraces them both, calling them “her cherishables” and “her dears.”

Hadley is, of course, immortalized for the famous lost manuscript incident. When her husband was covering the Lausanne Peace Conference, Hadley paid him a visit in train and packed all of his manuscripts including the carbons in a small valise, which was stolen and never recovered. This is but one of the story lines depicted in this page-turning debut.

With a few tiny missteps – a little too much foreshadowing and sometimes, an over-awe of her subject – Ms. McLain eloquently captures the innermost feelings of Hadley as well as the Paris life at a heady and exhilarating time. Years later, Ernest Hemingway – who married four times in all – writes of Hadley, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” I closed the pages of this book wondering how much better his life might have turned out had he remained with the woman he called “the best and truest and loveliest person I have ever known.”