Book We Can’t Quit: North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell


451 pages, $12.00

Penguin Classics


Review by Julienne Isaacs


Elizabeth Gaskell is a relatively unsung Victorian novelist, at least compared with Jane Austen, the Brontës and George Eliot. Like her contemporaries, Gaskell uses the marriage plot as a vehicle for female self-actualization and empowerment. But in my opinion, she surpasses them all.

Eliot has a superior knowledge of politics and a shrewd sense of community life, Austen has an ungodly talent for drawing-room drama, and the Brontës infuse gothic panoramas with intense sexual energy. These elements are present in Gaskell’s work, too, but she adds a generous social ethic and a talent for complex human drama. In North and South, Gaskell makes social concerns the core of a love story that is wonderfully readable more than 150 years after its publication. This is a novel I can’t quit, and can’t even skim. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones


Tantor Media

225 pages, $17.95


Review by Julienne Isaacs


The gloomy cover design of Fog Island Mountains, Michelle Bailat-Jones’ first novel, immediately appealed to me, ripe for a spate of late-winter melancholia: streaking rain over a black-and-green mountainous settlement, the whole layered with heavy titular fog.

But true melancholia denotes passivity or depression, and on that level Fog Island Mountains’ cover design is deceptive. The novel, which won the 2013 Christopher Doheny Award from the Center for Fiction, is self-contained and energetic, as whimsical as it is sad, as playful as it is serious. Continue reading