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Archive for April, 2013

Library Lust

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A perfect library for a Craftsman-style home.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I’m still out of town so all my picks this week are e-books from the library’s digital catalogue.  I have to say, I’ve been really impressed by the variety of titles available this way (the catalogue is expanding daily), especially since many of the books available digitally aren’t available from the library in hard copy.  It will be nice to be home next week and have access to the real library again but I certainly don’t feel hard done by without it!

Library Loot 1

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby – I’ve lamented for years how limited my library’s collection of travel writer Eric Newby’s books is.  Wonderfully, they now have his books available through the e-book catalogue so I can finally read Love and War in the Apennines, about Newby’s experiences during the Second World War.

Round Ireland in Low Gear by Eric Newby – another chance to enjoy the digital library’s Newby collection!

Snow and Roses by Lettice Cooper – I’m intrigued by this and excited to sample another Bloomsbury Reader book but the first few pages haven’t convinced me.  Still, it sounds like it could be very good:

Flora is a young Oxford lecturer, whose love affair with a married man has ended in tragedy. She faces a bleak, empty world. Following an ill-fated flight to a villa in Tuscany, and the collapse of her warm friendship with Lalage, an Oxford colleague, Flora is close to breakdown. She is rescued by her understanding family and by her return to Oxford, where she finds release from her own emotional problems in those of her most brilliant student, Nan, who seems about to sacrifice her career on the alter of revolutionary politics. Lettice Cooper explores and illuminates the varied contrasts of generations, classes and beliefs, and is equally absorbing in the smaller world of university rivalries and gossip, or the hot-house jealousies and intrigues in an Italian villa. Above all, this book illuminates the personality of a young woman at a crisis in her life.

Library Loot 2

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – I just found out that a film adaptation of this book is set to be released later this year and that seemed like reason enough to pull it out for a reread.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani – It’s 1978, and Ave Maria Mulligan is the thirty-five-year-old self-proclaimed spinster of Big Stone Gap, a sleepy hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She’s also the local pharmacist, the co-captain of the Rescue Squad, and the director of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the town’s long-running Outdoor Drama. Ave Maria is content with her life of doing errands and negotiating small details-until she discovers a skeleton in her family’s formerly tidy closet that completely unravels her quiet, conventional life. Suddenly, she finds herself juggling two marriage proposals, conducting a no-holds-barred family feud, planning a life-changing journey to the Old Country, and helping her best friend, the high-school band director, design a halftime show to dazzle Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed Hollywood movie star who’s coming through town on a campaign stump with her husband, senatorial candidate John Warner.

Summer’s Lease by John Mortimer – The villa near a small Tuscan town is everything the Pargeter family could want for three weeks. But when the idyll turns sour, Molly Pargeter begins to wonder about their mysterious absentee landlord.

What did you pick up this week?

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Holiday by Harry Morley

Holiday by Harry Morley

I’m one week into my holiday and I’ve managed to read three books already that featured vacationing characters.  I feel an immediate sympathy between myself and a book when this sort of coincidence occurs, though there is also a kind of comparison that happens: is their (fictional) holiday more appealing than mine?  Would I rather be off having the kind of adventures they are having?  But I am very happy where I am right now, thank you very much, and happier still to be able to share in these fictional holidays at the same time. 

The Honey QueenI had never heard of The Honey Queen by Cathy Kelly but that’s probably because it just came out this year.  I’d never read anything by Kelly before but, if this is anything to go by, she’s very Maeve Binchy-esque and I mean that in the best possible way.  Set just outside Cork, The Honey Queen focuses on a perhaps slightly too large cast of characters and the struggles facing each of them.  The highlight is the friendly and always sympathetic Lillian.  In her sixties, Lillie was given up for adoption at birth and taken in by an Australian family.  Recently widowed, she is still coming to terms with her husband’s death when her sons discover that she has a younger brother, Seth, in Ireland.  Seth immediately invites her to visit and Lillie, a little to her surprise, finds herself agreeing to come.  Lillie and Seth’s scenes made me tear up far more often than I should probably admit but as it is the purpose of heart-warming women’s fiction to elicit such tears I felt quite satisfied.  Lillie recognizes that Seth is going through a difficult period in his marriage and does her best to take the pressure off of him and his wife, Frankie, and allow them the time to figure things out.  She’s rather Mary Poppins-like, but less severe.  But this is only one of several households featured in the novel and all of them are interesting.  There’s even a twenty-something female character who opens up a knitting and sewing shop – something I know will appeal to some of my readers!  I will definitely be looking out for more Cathy Kelly books when I get home to the library.

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking BootsBoys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald was a surprise.  I found it while combing through the library’s e-book catalogue and, being intrigued by the blurb, downloaded this YA novel about a suburban New Jersey teenager who spends a summer with her godmother in the British Columbian Interior.

Jenna is an industrious seventeen year old who is devoted to environmental issues.  She cheerfully organizes protests and rallies, knows how to charm people into signing her petitions, and loves having equally passionate friends in her school’s Green Teen group.  With her parents heading (separately) out of town for the summer, Jenna finds herself going off to stay with her newly married godmother, Susie, in a small town in BC, where Jenna’s environmentalist beliefs clash with the reality of life in the wilderness.

Generally, my issues with romantic YA fiction overlap quite closely with my arguments against chick-lit: I can’t stand books about girls and women who spend all their time thinking about boys and how they look.  Thankfully, Jenna does very little of this and her only concern with footwear (the most annoying chick-lit cliché) is with having waterproof boots appropriate for outdoor pursuits.  Clearly, a girl after my own heart.  There are boys – they’re right there in the title – but they are Jenna’s friends before anything romantic begins to develop, the guys who take her rafting, fishing, rock climbing, and hiking.  That’s part of the real appeal of this book for me: Jenna does stuff.  A lot of stuff.  She throws herself into projects and I loved her excitement over the tourism website she and her new friends build, highlighting all the local outdoor activities, and the B&B that Susie and her husband are opening.  Jenna has her insecurities and concerns but mostly she is a confident, positive young woman with lots of energy that she’s trying to figure out how to channel.  She reminds me far more of myself as a teen than most fictional heroines do.

Nights of Rain and StarsMost recently, I reread Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy.  There’s nothing quite like a Maeve Binchy when you’re on holiday and no matter how many times I read her books I am always happy to pick them up again.  (In fact, since finishing this one I’ve started rereading Scarlet Feather, one of my favourite Binchys.)  Nights of Rain and Stars focuses on four travellers who witness a tragedy in the Greek town where they are staying.  Away from their homelands, the four characters – Thomas, David, Elsa, and Fiona – find themselves drawn to the small community as they try and escape the problems they left behind.  Thomas, an academic on sabbatical, is missing his son back in California and dreading the influence the boy’s new stepfather will have on him.  David, a quiet and sensitive young Englishman, is avoiding the parents who expect him to go into the successful family business.  Elsa, a former news presenter, is trying to escape an old lover back in Germany and Fiona, a young Irish nurse, is clinging to the ne’er-do-well boyfriend her family and friends disapprove of.  With guidance from Vonni, an Irishwoman who’s been in Greece long enough to count as a local, they slowly begin to get their lives in order and face up to the conflicts they had thought to escape.

This isn’t Binchy’s best but it is still delightful.  Cathy Kelly might be Binchy-esque but nothing beats a bona fide Binchy.  Last time I read Nights of Rain and Stars, it was the dead of winter (or, you know, possibly April) in Calgary and I remember being holed up inside while a blizzard raged outside.  This time, I read it in the sunshine, hiding under an umbrella from the hot sun.  In either climate, it was a treat.

I have only a few more days left before we begin the drive home so will hopefully get some more suitably vacation-y reading in between now and then!

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Library Lust

A bit messy for me but I do love the light in this room.  Still hate bookshelves in the bedroom, though.

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P1060516As I mentioned yesterday, I am back in California.  I flew down on Monday and have already been busy: yesterday, I visited the Aqua Caliente Indian Canyons and saw the amazing palm oases that lie at the bottom of the canyons.  After a lifetime of visiting the desert, I am so pleased that I finally made it here.  The walks in and above the canyons were truly stunning.P1060499 P1060503 P1060508

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Bloomsbury Reader

Ever since reading and loving Another Part of the Wood by Denis Mackail and The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens, I have been looking forward to investigating some of the other e-books on offer from Bloomsbury Reader.  The selection is immense and tempting but, until now, I’d held off buying anything.  After more than a year with my Kobo Touch, I’ve only bought two e-books: everything else has been either in the public domain or borrowed from my library (including the Dickens and Mackail books I loved so much).  But then I saw yesterday that a number of Bloomsbury Reader titles were available for around $2 each in the Kobo shop.  That is a price that even I, cheap as I am, can get behind.  In the end, I purchased 10 new titles (the majority of which were heavily marked down):

The Fancy by Monica Dickens
Monica Dickens’s novel chronicles the lives of a group of female workers in an aircraft factory – their men are off fighting the Second World War, and the women have had to step up and take over.

The Lorimer Line by Anne Melville
The enthralling first volume in the sequence which chronicles the lives and fortunes of the Lorimer family from the 1870s to the 1940s.

Anna by Norman Collins
Against the background of France and Germany at the time of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Norman Collins tells with great brilliance the story of Anna, a beautiful woman. Born in Rhineland, when she was nineteen she fell in love with a French cousin whom she followed to Paris on the eve of the outbreak of war. When he was killed by her compatriots she found herself in besieged Paris, destitute, alone, and a German. Thrown into prison, she got out only by marrying a middle-aged restaurateur for whom she had no feeling. These are the opening incidents in a novel which is full of incident, of tragedy and of adventure, and which carries Anna from France to Germany, and finally to England, where at last she finds both peace and happiness.

The Proud Servant by Margaret Irwin
A tale of seduction and witchcraft and a promise made to Charles I to “raise Scotland for the King”.

Enchanter’s Nightshade by Ann Bridge
Bridge presents her reader with a “period piece” of Italian provincial society and distributes our sympathies over a surprising range of characters, several of whom touch on individual tragedies. The lovely “Enchantress” in the late thirties; the little English governess in the early twenties, full of Oxford enthusiasms; the ardent youth, Giulio; Marietta, that delightful child, puzzling over the problems into which she is plunged by the disaster which overtakes her beloved English instructress; the old Marchesa, whose hundredth birthday looms all through the book; above all perhaps the wise, patient Swiss governess – all these in turn claim our affection or our pity.

A Place to Stand by Ann Bridge
Set in Budapest in the spring of 1941, Hope – a spoilt but attractive society girl and daughter of a leading American business man – finds herself playing the lead in a dangerous and most unexpected affair of underground intrigue, through the machinations of her journalist fiancé. During the course of her activities she falls in love with a Polish refugee, and at the moment when Germany invades Hungary, she is already deeply involved – both emotionally and politically.

Children of the Archbishop by Norman Collins (Elaine just reviewed this yesterday)
A story of the unfolding secret of Margaret whose determination to be near and protect the orphan, Sweetie, is part of the crucial years at the Archbishop Bodkin Hospital. For Sweetie has set her heart on Ginger, and Ginger is geared only for trouble, while the new head, Dr. Trump, dreams of nothing but reforms when he replaces the loved, kindly Canon Mallow.

Lorimers at War by Anne Melville
Volume Three of the dramatic saga of the Lorimer Family

The Black Sheep by Ruby M. Ayres
Norma Ackroyd is the quintessential English country rose-pretty and rather innocent. But on the day her path crosses with that of the notorious womanizer from London, George Laxton, fate itself seemed determined to shatter her previously sheltered life.

The Lorimer Legacy by Anne Melville
Volume Two of the dramatic saga of the Lorimer Family

Since I’m currently out of town (I ran away to California again) and have a month-long trip to Europe coming up in June, having lots of new material on my e-reader is even more exciting than usual.  I rarely use it at home but when I’m on the road it’s my best friend.  Now if only all the Bloomsbury Reader Monica Dickens titles would get marked down I would really be set…

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the-talisman-ringWhy did it take me so long to read The Talisman Ring by Georgette HeyerHayley and Lisa had promised me I would love it and they were right.  I adored it.  It is one of the funniest books I have read in years and easily one of Heyer’s best novels.  I spent years shying away from it, discouraged by the promise of adventurous elements that had turned me off of some of Heyer’s other novels, but those were wasted years.  I shall just have to make up for them with frequent rereading in years to come.

Eustacie has no wish to marry her sober, practical cousin Sir Tristram Shield but, nevertheless, promises her dying grandfather that she will do so.  After his death and facing the threat of removal to Tristram’s mother’s home in Bath, Eustacie decides to run away…and runs straight into her fugitive cousin Ludovic, who fled to France when accused years before of murder and the theft of the titular talisman ring but who is now a free-trader.  It’s just the sort of glamourous crime to appeal to Eustacie.  The two adventurous young people strike it off immediately and while Eustacie is in raptures over her first real adventure, her more practical companions – Tristram and her new friend Miss Sarah Thane – help to keep Ludovic safe as they work to prove who really committed the crimes that Ludovic is accused of.

I can’t decide who I like best in this book.  Ludovic is charmingly young and energetic and the level-headed Tristram is my very favourite sort of Heyer hero (complete with an excellent sense of humour, which is just what you need when hanging around Ludovic and Eustacie) but it is the women who are really delightful.

The French-born Eustacie is miraculous.  Adorably hyperbolic and unfailingly romantic, she indulges in the most hair-raising fantasies and her sense of the dramatic is second to none.  Her conversations with Tristram and the indulgent Miss Thane are masterpieces.  Her dialogue with Tristram after they grudgingly find themselves engaged displays Heyer at the height of her powers:

‘Well, I suppose you will have to reconcile yourself to a period of quiet.’

‘Quiet?’ gasped Eustacie.  ‘More quiet?  No, and no, and no!’

He could not help laughing, but said: ‘Is it so terrible?’

‘Yes, it is!’ said Eustacie.  ‘First I have to live in Sussex, and now I am to go to Bath – to play backgammon!  And after that you will take me to Berkshire, where I expect I shall die.’

‘I hope not!’ said Shield.

‘Yes, but I think I shall,’ said Eustacie, propping her chin in her hands and gazing mournfully into the fire.  ‘After all, I have had a very unhappy life without any adventures, and it would not be wonderful if I went into a decline.  Only nothing that is interesting ever happens to me,’ she added bitterly, ‘so I dare say I shall just die in child-bed, which is a thing anyone can do.’

Sir Tristram flushed uncomfortably.  ‘Really, Eustacie!’ he protested.

Eustacie was too much absorbed in the contemplation of her dark destiny to pay any heed to him. ‘I shall present to you an heir,’ she said, ‘and then I shall die.’  The picture suddenly appealed to her; she continued in a more cheerful tone: ‘Everyone will say that I was very young to die, and they will fetch you from the gaming-hell where you –‘

‘Fetch me from where?’ interrupted Sir Tristram, momentarily led away by this flight of imagination.

‘From the gaming-hell,’ repeated Eustacie impatiently.  ‘Or perhaps the Cock-Pit.  It does not signify; it is quite unimportant.  But I think you will feel great remorse when it is told to you that I am dying, and you will spring up and fling yourself on your horse, and ride ventre à terre to come to my death-bed.  And then I shall forgive you, and –‘

‘What in heaven’s name are you talking about?’ demanded Sir Tristram.  ‘Why should you forgive me?  Why should – What is this nonsense?’

Eustacie, thus rudely awakened from her pleasant dream, sighed and abandoned it.  ‘It is just what I thought might happen,’ she explained.

Miss Sarah Thane, though older and significantly wiser than Eustacie, is equally game for adventure.  Travelling to London with her brother, she meets her new friends when an injured Ludovic takes shelter at the inn where the Thanes are staying and immediately decides to assist in any way she can.  The situation is a serious one but Sarah embraces what comedy comes her way.  The young lady has a decidedly satirical bent that only Tristram is intelligent enough to appreciate.  It is one of Heyer’s best matches.

I must also put in a word for Thane, Sarah’s elder brother, whose obtuse steadiness is just what the group needs.  As long as the cognac is safe in the inn’s cellar, he remains unruffled.

All ends well, of course.  The real murder is caught, two excellent couples are paired off, and one very happy reader is shown how wrong her preconceptions were.

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Doctor ThorneThis review is a definite case of better late than never: I read Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope at the end of April 2012.  I loved it but, busy with my reviews for A Century of Books, this one fell through the cracks.  Now, almost a year after finishing it, here is that long-awaited review.  Thank goodness I still keep up my reading journals – without the notes I made while reading this would certainly not have been possible!

In Doctor Thorne, we move to a new corner of Barsetshire, away from the cathedral town that hosted the action of The Warden and Barchester Towers to the more rural setting of Greshamsbury, a village presided over by the popular squire, Mr Francis Gresham.  As the novel begins, the family and all its friends are celebrating the coming of age of the squire’s only son, Frank.  Frank is handsome and cheerful, honest and steadfast – a man any father (or author) can be proud of.  He also fancies himself in love with Mary Thorne, the charming, beloved niece of the local doctor, who has grown up alongside Frank and his sisters.  Though Dr Thorne is the novel’s real hero, Trollope generously allows – in one of his very charming authorial asides – that some readers might prefer Frank:

He would have been the hero of our tale had not that place been pre-occupied by the village doctor.  As it is, those who please may regard him.  It is he who is to be our favourite young man, to do the love scenes, to have his trails and his difficulties, and to win through them or not, as the case may be.  I am too old now to be a hard-hearted author, and so it is probable that he may not die of a broken heart.  Those who don’t approve of a middle-aged bachelor country doctor as a hero, may take the heir to Greshamsbury in his stead, and call the book, if it so please them, ‘The Loves and Adventures of Francis Newbold Gresham the Younger.’

When Frank declares himself, Mary Thorne rebuffs his advances.  Though she loves him (far more, in fact, than he loves her at this point) she has just discovered that she is illegitimate.  It is not so much that she worries about his family’s disapproval but that she, very nobly and naïvely, does not want to lower her lover, who is so proud of his family’s pedigree.

When Lady Arabella Gresham discovers her son’s interest in Mary Thorne, she is horrified.  The present squire, good fellow though he is, has not managed the estate well.  Land has been sold off and the rest mortgaged.  While snobbishness may demand young Frank choose a wife of good stock, practicality demands he choose an heiress.  Mary is neither and so Frank is, after being firmly reminded that “there is no road to wealth so easy and respectable as that of matrimony”, sent off in pursuit of the marvellous Miss Dunstable, who is possession of a very large fortune and an excellent sense of humour.  Miss Dunstable is some years older than Frank and, after easily discouraging his half-hearted attempts at lovemaking, becomes his staunch supporter in his pursuit of Mary Thorne.

The book chronicles more than two years in the lives of its characters, seeing Frank and Mary through from the age of twenty-one to twenty-three; a period which sees them both mature – considerably in Frank’s case.  One of the greatest delights of Trollope’s writing is how weak his male characters can be, in the best possible way.  Framley Parsonage, the next book in the Barsetshire Chronicles, is an even better example of this but both Doctor Throne and Frank struggle in the most credible manner with the difficult choices lain before them.  In the doctor’s case, the ethical crisis he faces would test most men.  For Frank, much of his struggle has to do with his youth.  If he had not come under the excellent influence of Miss Dunstable, he might have allowed himself to be persuaded into changing his mind about Mary before he was mature enough to understand the full consequences of his actions and the worth of the woman he was rejecting.  However, with time on his side, he ages into himself and is able to take full control of actions as the book progresses:

Frank had become legally of age, legally a man, when he was twenty-one.  Nature, it seems, had postponed the ceremony till he was twenty-two.  Nature often does postpone the ceremony even to a much later age; – sometimes, altogether forgets to accomplish it.

I love everything about this book.  I’ve read the first four Barsetshire books now and there is no question that this is my favourite.  Doctor Thorne is as worthy a hero as anyone could hope for but, really, all of the characters are wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed every scene involving the female members of the Gresham family.  Lady Arabella is no friend of Doctor Thorne’s (and therefore she is no friend of the reader’s) but, despite her best efforts, she can never seem to get the best of him: “it was not easy to be condescending to the doctor: she had been trying all her life, and had never succeeded.”  Her frustrated conversations with her willful children were also perfection, especially the back-chat she received from the daughter who was closest to Mary.  Anyone who thinks Victorian novels or even just Victorians themselves are stuffy should read Trollope to be reminded of how very little people change. 

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Library Lust

from the english room by chippy irvine via bohemiaheart

credit: The English Room by Chippy Irvine (2001)

While this is very much not my usual style, there is something irresistible to me about this room.  It has drama and loads of character.  I can easily imagine it in a globe-trotting aunt or uncle’s apartment, every surface covered with mysterious nicknacks and books acquired in foreign parts.  It is the kind of place that would be entirely enchanting to young nieces and nephews brought round for an afternoon visit.

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Yesterday morning, it was pouring rain.  By the afternoon, with the help of a swift breeze, all that was coming down from the clear blue skies were cherry tree blossoms.  I love April.

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