Tag Archives: Oxford University

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Last Enchantments (nook book)

The Last Enchantments: A Novel by Charles Finch (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 336 pages)

Charles Finch has created a fictional memoir centered on a young man’s year in England studying at Oxford University. The narrator’s name is unknown as he prepares to depart New York and his long time live in girlfriend, Alison. We enter his life as he finishes packing while disentangling himself from Alison. We join him on his ride to the airport and flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Is disillusionment with the political scene all that is spurring him back to academia? Perhaps distancing himself from a failed political campaign and Alison is just what he needs.

There are clues to the era including references to working the campaign trail for John Kerry that provide the reader with a timeframe. Our narrator, Will, is a graduate student in the Oxford English department. After Finch establishes Will as his main character, he indulges himself with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the total Oxford experience, about which he possesses firsthand knowledge.

To his credit, Finch has the wonderful ability to create fresh phrases and hold the reader’s attention with well-described conflicting human emotions. Will and his fellow graduate students, both male and female, are influenced deeply by these emotions. There is a delicate balance among dialogue, inner musings and narrative. Alas, no quotes may be provided, as the review copy of the book sent by the publisher is an Advance Reader’s Edition.

This reviewer was surprised at the sheer volume of beer drinking, punting on the river and hooking up that takes place during Will’s year of living unencumbered. The pompous image this American has of students at Oxford was quickly erased! What’s striking is the ambiguity with which the characters view their relationships. Perhaps the delay of making adult commitments woven throughout The Last Enchantments is the norm for a certain group of folks these days.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Last Enchantments (audio)

A review of The Last Enchantments: A Novel by Charles Finch.

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Brand New Day

Oxford Messed Up: A Novel by Andrea Kayne Kaufman (Grant Place Press, $24.95, 336 pages)

“I was lost, double crossed with my hands behind my back…”   Van Morrison (“Brand New Day” – Moondance album)

Yale grad Gloria Zimmerman is so germ-phobic that she endures an overnight flight from Chicago to London and then an excruciating car ride to Oxford University without peeing.   When she and her nearly bursting bladder finally reach her flat – and the private bathroom that she will sanitize and make her own – she discovers to her horror that she must share it with a neighbor.   Not only that, but he is messy and dirty – and he is occupying the toilet when she arrives.

Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar who is studying feminist poetry.   Her untreated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has always prevented her from forming close friendships.   But even though flatmate Henry Young, a music student and son of a priggish and disapproving Oxford don, is an “unrefined, germ-infested oaf,” he intrigues her.   Or, more to the point, his taste in music does.   They share a love of the music – and the poetry – of the iconic rocker Van Morrison.

That small spit of common ground is enough for love to wedge its foot between the door and the jamb.   Henry embraces Van Morrison’s “fatalistic optimism” and dedicates himself to releasing Gloria from the prison of her cleaning compulsions.   But is it enough to keep the door open when the true extent of Henry’s vile germs becomes apparent?

Author Andrea Kayne Kaufman is a lawyer and a professor of educational leadership at DePaul University in Chicago, where she serves as chair of the Department of Leadership, Language, and Curriculum.   In an interview on her website, she speaks of her belief that people can overcome “irrevocable” damage with hard work and hope.   Her characters Henry and Gloria both view themselves as unlovable.   But as Van Morrison wrote, “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…” and attraction compels them to muster the strength to try to help each other

Experts on OCD have raved about Kaufman’s sensitive and accurate portrayal of the condition as viewed from the inside.   But readers of all stripes will appreciate Oxford Messed Up for its unique take on what it means to love another human being, warts and all, and for its profound message of hopefulness.   Well recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Oxford Messed Up is also available in a trade paper version for $14.95, and as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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A review of Oxford Messed Up: A Novel by Andrea Kayne Kaufman.

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(A) Kiss from a Rose

The Weird Sisters: A Novel by Eleanor Brown (Berkley Trade, $15.00, 368 pages)

“See, we love each other.   We just don’t happen to like each other very much.”

This is the story of three sisters, and of their retired Shakespeare-spouting professor father and a mother stricken with cancer.   They are three very different sisters, which is what creates the tension in this family novel.

Firstly, there is Rose (Rosalind), the oldest and smartest one, born six years before the second child and twelve years before the youngest.   She has found a perfect man to marry but with one small problem:  He’s teaching at Oxford and wants to stay there, thank you very much.   Secondly, there’s Bean (Bianca), the glamorous middle daughter fired from her job in New York City due to a crazy little thing called embezzlement.   She’s a beauty but not quite perfect.   And, thirdly, there’s Cordy (Cordelia), the baby, the wild one pregnant with the baby of an unknown father.   Cordy’s always been a wanderer.   Is she finally ready to settle down?

It’s their mother’s cancer that brings them back together under the same roof in a small town in Ohio.   There’s not much oxygen to spare…  You are likely thinking that this is going to be one very predictable read; if so, you would be wrong.   This is a novel that surprises and delights.   Author Eleanor Brown seems to tell the story in flawless fashion – I kept looking in vain for the seams in the tale.   They’re there somewhere, but they seem to be woven with invisible thread.

Brown’s journalistic voice contains a beautiful tone which is never too strong nor too weak.   It simply feels like one is listening to someone accurately describing and detailing the events of three sisters’ lives.   And there’s likely more than a trace of real life in The Weird Sisters, as the author just happens to be the youngest of three sisters.

“There’s no problem a library card cannot solve.”

Anyone who loves literature and the greatest writer in the English language will treasure Brown’s educated and clever references to the writings of William Shakespeare.   Each of the daughters is, naturally, named after a character in one of the Bard’s plays, and their lives sometimes feel as if they’re characters in a play.

As the story unfolds, the three sisters must deal with their mother’s mortality and with their own coming to grips with what it is they actually want out of life.   In one sense, each of them must decide between an external (public) or internal (private) version of achievement.

Boomers and those of a younger generation will identify with the struggles of these late-maturing sisters:  “When had our mother gotten so old?   Was it just because she was sick?   Or was this happening to us all without our noticing?…  There was no one wondering about it – we were all getting old.”

“We were all failures,” thinks Bean at one point about herself and her siblings.   But they all wind up successes in a story that is wrapped up so beautifully well.   Contentment is the reward for the reading.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Weird Sisters was released in trade paperback form on February 7, 2012.   “Hilarious, thought-provoking and poignant.”   J. Courtney Sullivan, author of the novels Maine and Commencement.

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Oxford Messed Up

Oxford Messed Up: A Novel by Andrea Kaufman has been getting a lot of buzz in the publishing trade.   This debut novel by Kaufman is about a young, academically brilliant woman –  Gloria Zimmerman – with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder who attends Oxford University.   There she meets a unique and tragedy-stricken neighbor by the name of Henry Young.   Gloria and Henry find themselves drawn together by a shared obsession with the music and lyrics of one Van Morrison.

“Van Morrison’s lyrics provide a backdrop for this narrative, which is more than a love story – it is a study of fatalistic optimism.   I couldn’t put this book down because Kaufman makes you care deeply about the individual journeys of her two protagonists.”   Kathleen McCartney, Ph.D., Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Oxford Messed Up is a hardbound release from Grant Place Press ($24.95, 328 pages).   It is also available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.   You can sample the book now by clicking on this link:

http://andreakaynekaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/OMU_Preview_Download.pdf

Joseph Arellano

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