Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger

Mad Richard
My first attempt at book photography…

Author: Lesley Krueger
Title: Mad Richard
Format/Source: Paperback/Publisher
Published: 14 March 2017
Publisher: ECW Press
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: ★★★½
GoodReads | Indigo | IndieBound Wordery

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Called the most promising artist of his generation, handsome, modest, and affectionate, Richard Dadd rubbed shoulders with the great luminaries of the Victorian Age. He grew up along the Medway with Charles Dickens and studied at the Royal Academy Schools under the brilliant and eccentric J.M.W. Turner.

Based on Dadd’s tragic true story, Mad Richard follows the young artist as he develops his craft, contemplates the nature of art and fame — as he watches Dickens navigate those tricky waters — and ultimately finds himself imprisoned in Bedlam for murder, committed as criminally insane.

In 1853, Charlotte Brontë — about to publish her third novel, suffering from unrequited love, and herself wrestling with questions about art and artists, class, obsession and romance — visits Richard at Bedlam and finds an unexpected kinship in his feverish mind and his haunting work.

Masterfully slipping through time and memory, Mad Richard maps the artistic temperaments of Charlotte and Richard, weaving their divergent lives together with their shared fears and follies, dreams, and crushing illusions.

ECW Press, an independent Canadian publisher, has become my go-to for finding new fiction that expands my reading horizons. The linking of two historical figures not popularly known to have interacted and the “questions about art and artists, class, obsession and romance” drew me to Mad Richard. Written by Richard’s “first cousin-in-law five times removed”, the book apparently draws on the author’s knowledge of “family information unknown to biographers” (author bio in book).

Mad Richard shares two protagonists, painter Richard Dadd and author Charlotte Bronte. I found Richard to be a likable character – well-rounded, considerate, and yet somehow not dull, haha. I specifically noted my fondness for Richard on page 113, where he awakens from a fainting spell, has a small epiphany about his art, then states “I’m famished. Don’t imagine I could have a chop?” I knew just a smidgen more about Charlotte than I did about Richard going into this book. Mad Richard brings her to life in a way I’ve not experienced Victorian writers before. They have always felt so distant from writers I know of today or even from the 20th century. Krueger portrays Charlotte’s hopes and fears in a relatable manner.

Krueger’s prose often impressed me, particularly in the ways she chose to detail her characters. I find myself asking – “How can see people like that? How could I be so observant, to write something like this?” (as I often find myself asking when I read good literary fiction). This bit about Elizabeth Gaskell particularly struck me:

Mrs. Gaskell’s famous charm lay in her unaffected interest in people; her entire absence of self-regard. She didn’t know why she should speak about herself. She knew all about herself. She would rather hear other people’s stories. A beautiful, tall, solid woman, a tree trunk, she would fold herself into whatever chair was empty, and her “How are you?” to whomever she found beside her was so obviously sincere, her silences so attentive, her wit so fertile, she could draw even a pedant into the liveliest of conversations. Even Charlotte. (184)

My primary qualm with Mad Richard is that the story moves very slowly. The book begins with Charlotte’s visit to Richard in Bedlam. They interact only once. The remainder of the book tells Charlotte’s story from that moment onward, while telling Richard’s story from his teen years to the time he commits a murder. Charlotte and Richard’s stories were less interconnected than I expected. The connection is more in the parallels in their situations.

I found the passages about Richard often stretched on for longer than necessary. I wasn’t bored, per se…The Victorian setting and ruminations about the process of creating art kept me interested, but there was only so much of the style I could manage at a time, resulting in me taking three weeks to read the 330 page book. The story dragged at times, bogged down in details and minor happenings. I did not feel that Charlotte’s passages dragged on, though her story line was arguably no more riveting than Richard’s. (I imagine one familiar with Charlotte’s life might have found it more dull, knowing how her romances played out?)

The Bottom Line:

An enlightening work of historical fiction, although dry at times. Recommended for those interested in people creating art during the Victorian age.

Further Reading:

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March Month in Review

March Month in Review banner

This post is linked up at the Monthly Round-Up Wrap-Up @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

March was a much more consistent month for me than February. Although I still ended up travelling for four days! I snagged some last minute work up north during spring break (when there’s no work for an EA). The most exciting bit of March is that piece of news I shared above 🙂 I will be attending the University of British Columbia in the fall. This means moving to Vancouver from the prairies. I am so excited about living out west, but less excited about finding a place to live (let alone an affordable one, hah…). Reading wise, I had better success than in February. I still haven’t quite caught up to my Goodreads goal. I didn’t read as much middle grade as I thought I might have, so I plan to remedy that during the 24 hour read-a-thon towards the end of April.

Books Finished

  • Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin
  • Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Mad Richard by Leslye Krueger
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Sunil Yapa
  • The Plants of Middle-Earth by Dinah Hazell

Books Reviewed

  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
  • Middle Grade feat. Some Personal Favourites (from the 2016 Cybils middle-grade fiction nominees):
    • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
    • Allie, First at Last by Angela Cervantes
    • Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
    • Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Girl Who Beat ISIS by Farida Khalaf
  • Neverhome by Laird Hunt
  • The Uncommon Readeby Alan Bennett
  • Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin
  • Middle Grade feat. Historical Fiction (from the 2016 Cybils middle-grade fiction nominees):
    • Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
    • Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock
    • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
    • Finding Fortune by Delia Ray
    • Aim by Joyce Meyer Hostetter
    • Some Kind of Courage by Dan Geimenhart
    • Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Bashkin
  • Tolkien in Translation edited by Thomas Honegger (guest post at Pages Unbound)

Words and Pictures

  • A Silent Voice Vol. 2 and Vol. 3  by Yoshitoki Ooima  – I ranked vol. 3 higher than vol. 2 on GoodReads because the main issue I was concerned about (Nishimiya not being depicted as having any agency) is starting to be addressed. I think the point of vol. 2 and 3 were to demonstrate how self-centered Shoya was being in his desire to make things right with Nishimiya. His actions and therefore the story was about him instead of her. Kind of a ‘manic pixie dream girl’ thing going on, though Shoya is clearly depicted as being in the wrong. Towards the end of vol. 3, Nishimiya starts taking visible action for herself, so I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more of her character in the next volumes.  (Not sure about where the ‘cliffhanger’ is going, though…) The inclusion of more old classmates from grade six added new perspectives to the story. I was so glad when Shoya realized how awful one of his classmates still is.
  • Will I See? by David Alexander Robertson, GMB Chomichuk and Iskwe – I started writing about this graphic novel about missing and murdered Indigenous women, but I have now decided it deserves its own post.
  • Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen – TriangleAnother excellent release from this duo. I had the pleasure of first encountering this book through a reading Klassen did. I would love to find more picture books with this kind of humour.
  • What Do You Say, Dearby Seslye Joslin and Maurice Sendak – I read this book and the next when I checked out an exhibition of the Perry Nodelman Maurice Sendak collection at my alma mater (on until April 10 at the University of Winnipeg, if you’re in the area!). Originally published in the 1950s, this cute book introduces polite phrases in creative ways (ex. “What do you say when you bump into a crocodile on a crowded city street?”)
  • Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak – See above. This book inspired the film Labyrinth (which I was wondering about when I read it, haha – “Was this published before or after Labyrinth?”, I thought.)

outside over there

Features

Shared on Twitter

Upcoming in April

Borne by Jeff VandermeerSputnik's Childrengutenberg's fingerprintMusic of the Ghosts

  • 11 Apr – Publication of Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro (woman writes a Cold War-era inspired comic book featuring a heroine based on herself in an alternate reality – I’m currently reading this and it’s actually pretty cool, more so than I can briefly sum up here), Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds (memoir about the “past, present, and evolving future of the book”), and Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner (woman returns to Cambodia from America for the first time since fleeing as a child refugee)
  • 24 Apr – Elizabeth Goudge Reading Day hosted by Emerald City Book Review
  • 25 Apr – Publication of Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (How do you sum up a VanderMeeer novel? New weird scifi release from author of The Southern Reach trilogy)
  • 29 Apr Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon

What new releases or bookish events are you looking forward to in April?

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Guest Post At Pages Unbound

Since March 19, Pages Unbound has been hosting two weeks of posts about Tolkien in celebration of Tolkien Reading Day. Today features my review of Tolkien in Translation edited by Thomas Honegger. Here is the first paragraph:

Tolkien in TranslationOnce upon a time, I wanted to write a paper about translating Tolkien for an undergraduate course. Numerous challenges accompany the task of translating literature. Tolkien crafted his stories on a foundation of language. His careful use of the English language and his creation of Middle-earth’s own languages further complicates the process of translating his works. As he wrote of The Lord of the Rings, “Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 160). Though my paper never materialized, the beginning of my research led me to Tolkien in Translation¸ a volume of works that “reflects on some of these challenges and how different translators overcame them” (back description). This book is the fourth volume in the Cormarë series from Walking Tree Publishers. The series currently consists of 35 books collecting scholarly papers and studies about Tolkien and his writing.

Head on over to Pages Unbound to read the rest of my review. Be sure to check out some of the other great posts from the Tolkien Reading Event as well.

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Cybils Nominees – Historical Fiction

Cybils 2016From October to December of last year, I read just over 50 middle-grade fiction books in my role as a round one judge for the Cybils. To share some of the Cybils nominees I’ve read, I’ve decided to create a few lists grouping books by similar characteristics. All of the books meet the Cybils nominating criteria, which means they were published in English in Canada or the US between 16 October 2015 to 15 October 2016. Today’s list features 7 historical fiction books (that weren’t featured on any of my other lists).

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer HolmGrown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

  • First book I read for Cybils judging
  • Exemplifies how great historical fiction can be
  • Unique setting (Key West in the 1930s)
  • Beans solves his troubles on his own
  • Made it to the shortlist

Review @ Randomly Reading | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Ruby Lee and MeEverything’s changing for Sarah Beth Willis. After Robin’s tragic accident, everyone seems different somehow. Days on the farm aren’t the same, and the simple fun of riding a bike or playing outside can be scary. And there’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly–Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn–or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

  • I don’t really remember much about this one, except that it was less about race relations than you might expect from the description…

Review by Aimee Rodgers | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf HollowGrowing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

  • Nastiest character I’ve met in a middle grade book = Betty
  • On GoodReads, I wrote: “Wow, this is a dark book. It would have made me squirm if I had read it when I was 12. I’m not sure I enjoyed it now, at 24. I do like a dark story, but this had too many cruel moments and a bleak ending.”

Review by Briana @ Pages Unbound | Review @ The Children’s War | Add to GoodReads

Finding Fortune by Delia Ray

Finding FortuneRunning away from home isn’t as easy as Ren thinks it will be. At least she isn’t running very far-just a few miles to the ghost town of Fortune… or Mis-Fortune as everyone else calls it. Mis-Fortune on the Mississippi. Supposedly, there’s an abandoned school on the outskirts with cheap rooms for rent. Ren knows her plan sounds crazy. But with only a few more weeks until Dad comes home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, she also knows she has to do something drastic so Mom will come to her senses and stop seeing that creep Rick Littleton, the creep she promised she would stop seeing but didn’t, for good.

From the moment she enters the school’s shadowy halls, Ren finds herself drawn into its secrets. Every night old Mrs. Baxter, the landlady, wanders the building on a mysterious quest. What could she be up to? And can Mrs. Baxter’s outlandish plan to transform the gym into a pearl-button museum ever succeed? With a quirky new friend named Hugh at her side, Ren sets out to solve the mystery that could save Fortune from fading away. But what about her family’s future? Can that be saved too?

  • I included this on the list without thinking – is it actually historical fiction? Though it’s set in the present day, history plays a strong role and it feels like a historical tale, with the primary setting being the old school building and the plot focused on uncovering the past.
  • Though I found the plot less than exciting, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel because it reminded me of a converted schoolhouse I stayed at in the mountains of Japan.

Review @ Puss Reboots | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

AimAs World War II threatens the United States in 1941, fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe fights his own battles at home. Junior struggles with school and with anger—at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life. But he finds relief in escaping to the quiet of the nearby woods and tinkering with cars, something he learned from his Pop, and a fatherly neighbor provides much-needed guidance. This heartfelt and inspiring prequel to the author’s Blue and Comfort also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

  • Didn’t capture my interest. Perhaps more interesting if you’ve read the other two novels?

Review @ The Children’s War | Add to GoodReads

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Geimenhart

Some Kind of CourageJoseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony–fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her. Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left. Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything; but he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back–no matter what.

  • 10 year old me would have liked this book, despite the setting. I liked the quietness about it.
  • Caution regarding the portrayal of Indigenous people: Joseph’s mother taught him not to be derogatory towards Chinese people but she didn’t teach him the same about ‘Indians’. Deb Reese does not recommend this book.

Review by Barbara | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Bashkin

Nine, TenAsk anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center. But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Nadira has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Amy is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business. These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined.

  • Yup, it’s a little strange to think stories about 9/11 can be considered historical fiction for this age group.
  • This one didn’t strike me in the same way as Towers Falling. This one felt more hokey, somehow.
  • I like the timeline – days leading up to 9/11 instead of the exact day of or many days later.

Review @ Puss Reboots | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to GoodReads

The following MG historical fiction novels I reviewed previously:

This concludes the final installment in my series reviewing Cybils middle grade fiction nominees. I found participating in the Cybils as a round one judge to be a unique and enjoyable experience. Though it can be a lot of work, that ‘work’ is reading and thinking about books, so it’s still a good time 🙂 If you’re interested in serving as a judge for Cybils 2017 (applications open in September), check out the website here.
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Tolkien Reading Day 2017

March 25 is Tolkien Reading Day. Organized by the Tolkien Society, the day was chosen to coincide with the defeat of Sauron. The day was established “to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages”. My posts covers my plans for today + 8 playlists to listen to while reading your favourite Tolkien tales.

Too much time has passed since  I read much by or about Tolkien. I recently completed Tolkien in Translation and that has renewed by hunger for Middle-earth. I read that book for a guest post I’m doing as part of Pages Unbound‘s two week long celebration of Tolkien Reading Day. They’ve been featuring a post a day about Tolkien (including many guest posts) since March 19, so be sure to check it out. My review of Tolkien in Translation will be posted there on 31 March.

I actually have some fun plans beyond reading Tolkien all day (see below for my book choices). Way back in October at Comic-con, I bought tickets to an event titled “All Who Wander” that will feature dramatic readings from the Middle-Earth canon and acapella renditions of songs from The Lord of the Rings. Sounds like a fun evening!

Today’s Reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017 TBR

  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins – I started this book way back in the summer. I only finished the introduction. Time to delve into the lecture proper.
  • The Botany of Middle-Earth by Dinah Hazell – A lovely hardcover that’s been sitting too long on my shelf.
  • The Hobbit facsimile first edition – I received this edition as a Christmas gift in 2016. This edition replicates both the original text (which Tolkien made some significant modifications to after publishing The Lord of the Rings) and the design of The Hobbit as first published in 1937.

Recommended Listening

One of my favourite websites for discovering thematic background music is 8tracks. 8tracks allows users to create and tag their own mixes. The website has an extensive tagging system so you can pinpoint just the kind of music you want to listen to. I would like to recommend 8 of my favourite Tolkien-themed playlists. Playlist themes include places, races, characters, and particular chapters. Below I’ve listed the title of the playlist and the description given by the playlist creator. Links to listen to the playlists on 8tracks. I’ve embedded my most listened playlist 🙂

Rohan from mindlessdesigns on 8tracks Radio.

  1. In Places Deep – Songs for Erebor (“An instrumental mix for the high, proud halls under the Lonely Mountain, for the clang of hammer-falls and the roar of the forge, gold-veined caverns and lost places deep in the earth.”)
  2. Alix’s Hobbit-Style Birthday Playlist (“Guess what! It’s my birthday today, and in true hobbit fashion I’m giving you all a gift! Here’s a playlist of some of my personal favorite Tolkien-inspired music.”)
  3. Rohan (“A mix for the men of Rohan.”)
  4. Songs of Forgotten Kings (“songs for the Dunedain, the songs of forgotten kings”)
  5. A Elbereth Gilthoniel (“a mostly instrumental mix for varda elentári, queen of the valar and renowned star-kindler”)
  6. The River Run (“Joined by a mysterious Ranger the party races to Rivendell. ‘It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all tales of Middle- earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts.’ – Strider.”)
  7. Songs for Middle-Earth IV (“The fourth addition to a never ending collection of fanmixes dedicated to the beauty of Middle-earth. {featuring the soundtracks of BCC Merlin, War in the North & Kingdom of Heaven}”)
  8. Tolkien Readalong‘s playlists – Featuring playlists that follow readalongs of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Additional playlists cover characters and appendices.

(All the Elvish playlists I saved seem to no longer be in existence :/ Guess I’ll have to find some new ones!) Do you have any plans for Tolkien Reading Day?

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