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Archive for April, 2016

Library Lust

via Elle Decor

via Elle Decor

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Coincidence

the american senator

I started my day in one of the nicest ways I know how: listening to a BBC radio dramatization of Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator.  Trollope adapts so well for film and radio, provided he is left in the right hands (the recent adaptation of Doctor Thorne has not yet aired in North America but I gather I should be very alarmed indeed).  The American Senator was the very first Trollope novel I read and made me into a life-long Trollope fan, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

And then, after happily listening to the first episode, I saw that today is the anniversary of Trollope’s birth.  A very nice coincidence and proof positive that his legacy endures.  More than two hundred years after his birth, Anthony Trollope is in no danger of being forgotten and his stories delight readers as much as ever.

 

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Library Lust

via Elle Decor

via Elle Decor

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

Unusually for me, I’ve been reading from my own shelves lately (when not catching up on the library books I already have checked out) so just one new book this week:

Campari

Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe

In 1987, Sue Bowl’s world changes for ever. Her mother dies, leaving her feeling like she’s lost a vital part of herself. And then her father shacks up with an awful man-eater called Ivana.

But Sue’s mother always told her to make the most of what she’s got – and what she’s got is a love of writing and some eccentric relatives. So Sue moves to her Aunt Coral’s crumbling ancestral home, where she fully intends to write a book and fall in love . . . and perhaps drink Campari for breakfast.

What did you pick up this week?

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Recent Duds

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a book just falls completely flat.  It doesn’t outrage or even entertain, it just drifts in and out of your life and leaves absolutely no trace whatsoever.  Generally, I let these books drift off without a fight and they leave no mark on this blog.  However, because there have been so many of them in my reading this year, I thought I’d take a moment to catalogue a handful of them:

Nightingale WoodNightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons – this was to have been my book for the 1938 Club.  It’s been on my shelf for five or six years now and I’ve tried starting it more times than I can count, which should have probably clued me in that I wasn’t going to love it.  I laboured through the first half, more out of interest in participating in the 1938 Club than interest in the book, before finally giving up.  There is a reason Gibbons is only remembered for Cold Comfort Farm.

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by an author I usually enjoy should have been a sure thing.  It was not.  There is something doomed about “The Austen Project”, which challenges popular authors to write contemporary updates of Austen’s novels (see previous duds from Joanna Trollope, Alexander McCall Smith, and Val McDermid) and this was no exception.  Set in modern-day Cincinnati, anything you might once have liked about the Bennets has been stripped away.  Lizzie, who is judgemental and gossipy in the original but young and charming enough to pull it off, is in her late thirties here and really not even remotely charming.  But there are so many other characters vying to be the most irritating that Lizzie fades into the background.  Jane, perfect Jane!, has never learned to function as self-supporting adult, which is most distressing, and Darcy is turned into a surgeon, surely the most obvious cliché in a novel full of them.  I have nothing good to say about this one except good luck to whatever doomed souls attempt the remaining books in “The Austen Project”.

summer before the warThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – probably the least offensive of the duds I’m talking about here and one I might even be convinced to revisit eventually.  Simonson is trading on the current interest in WWI-era stories, which I would usually view as a good thing.  However, I have clearly over-indulged in the era and had no stomach left for this rather slight and predictable tale.  If you’re looking for good WWI home front drama, get your fill with the BBC’s ambitious and absorbing radio program.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – the most hipster thing I think I have ever read (even as  – especially as? – it pokes fun at hipsters).

A Winter Away by Elizabeth Fair – Scott at Furrowed Middlebrow loved this and hooked me with a comparison to Angela Thirkell.  Unfortunately, I did not see the resemblance.  It’s a simple story of a young woman who comes to stay with a relative and her companion while working as a secretary for a crotchety older gentleman.  As you do in books published in 1957.  There are two eligible young men floating around and a very pale secondary romance.  Told without humour or any literary competence, it is utterly and completely forgettable.

not workingNot Working by Lisa Owens  – After leaving her job with no plans except the vague idea that there must be something better out there but with no real inclination to determine what that is, Claire Flannery does absolutely nothing.  For the length of the entire book.

where isWhere is Emma Butler’s Life Plan? by Julia WilmotHarriet was charmed by this simply told story of guardian angels trying to sort out the mess they’ve made of a woman’s life.  I found it a little too simple (even for poolside reading while I was on holiday), though it did bring back pleasant memories of other novels that use the same concept of heavenly or at least otherworldly observers but with more fleshed out characters (Marian Keyes’ The Brightest Star in the Sky being a prime example).

The Wild GirlThe Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth – I really wanted to like this novel about Dortchen Wild, who grew up next door to the Grimm brothers, shared stories with them for their collection, and eventually married Wilhelm Grimm.  Instead, it felt like bad young adult fiction.  I found it full of awkward dialogue that tried to shoehorn political discussions into unnatural situations (do you want to hear about Napoleon on every other page?  No?  Tough luck), an abuse storyline that felt manufactured solely to add darkness and the illusion of depth, and very flat characters.  There is a lot of telling and not a lot of showing when it comes to the storytelling, which is never enjoyable.  And really just so much about Napoleon, which usually I would view as a good thing but not this time.  I still like the concept but found the execution lacking.

The good news is there have been lots of wonderful books to make up for these duds and hopefully I’ll find the time to talk about them soon.  There have been fascinating memoirs about growing up in Russia before the revolution, finding love in Italy, and walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and absorbing novels about a fun loving woman trying (and largely failing) to be respectable for her daughter’s sake, a family trying to keep their home intact by opening it to the public in post-war England, and a young woman navigating the world following her mother’s sudden death, assisted by her impractical aunt and a host of retired admirals.

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Library Lust

Diane von Furstenberg's library

Diane von Furstenberg’s library

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The 1938 Club

The 1938 Club

Despite having been given ample time to prepare for Simon and Karen‘s The 1938 Club, I’m embarrassed to admit I did not do any pre-reading for this week.  For those not yet in the know, The 1938 Club is a week-long celebration of books published in, you guessed it, 1938.  The good news is that it runs until Sunday so I have plenty of time to finish my current book (Nightgale Wood by Stella Gibbons).

However, not wanting to wait that long to join the fun, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some 1938 books I’ve already read and reviewed here.  It was an excellent year (well chosen, Simon and Karen!) so if you’re still wanting to join in the fun, I’d recommend trying any of these books (listed in order of personal preference):

Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell – “From start to finish, Pomfret Towers was a delight.  It is so wonderfully plotted, holding one’s interested evenly from the first page to the last without any of the unevenness that can come when Thirkell is handling a larger cast or less complimentary plots.  It stands on its own, independent of the rest of the series, very well and would serve as a wonderful introduction to Thirkell.  It really is the ideal country house novel, full of humour, entertaining characters, and plenty of satisfying romantic developments that play out over the course of a few short days.”

Dear Octopus by Dodie Smith  – I reread this play about a family coming together to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary earlier in the year and it is just as charming a second time around.  “The writing is funny, the characters (once you figure out how to keep track of them) mostly endearing, and the story moves along at the perfect pace.  It is a delightfully fun book to spend an evening with and I know it is one of those books I will look forward to rereading.”

Ruined City by Nevil Shute – “I wish I belonged to a mostly male book club so we could read Nevil Shute novels all the time and talk about what excellent manly virtues his heroes exhibit.  We could sip our whiskey/port/other suitably manly beverage and toss off comments like “but Warren never lost his dignity” and “he sacrificed himself to save an entire town” and then get slightly teary and sentimental and it would all be wonderful.”

Manja by Anna Gmeyner – “…certainly not one of the happy, domestic Persephone titles but it may just be my favourite.  It is the story of five young children, four boys and one girl, the eponymous Manja, growing up in Germany during the inter-war period.”

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson – ” In the course of one wonderful, whirlwind day Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a forty-year old down-trodden governess/maid-for-hire finds herself swept up in the wake of the glamourous Miss LaFosse and, as a result, Miss Pettigrew’s entire outlook is radically altered.  It pure fairy tale, fantastical and wonderful, but, as with most fairy tales, there are dark shadows lurking at the edges.”

Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan – “I am always intrigued by and love to read about the relationships between parents and their adult children, especially about mothers who must learn the limits of their influence and control.  Princes in the Land proves an excellent guide for what not to do.”

Swiss Sonata by Gwethalyn Graham – A somewhat messy novel set at a Swiss finishing school on the cusp of World War II.  Full of poorly drawn characters and hinging on a sloppy plot but it is still features some fascinating Issue discussions, particularly around racism and feminism.

Happy reading everyone!

 

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Library Lust

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

Library Loot 1

Falling in Honey by Jennifer Barclay – an “I ran away from my boring life to a place full of sunshine and romantic-looking people who know how to enjoy life unlike my repressed fellow Brits” book.  Which is to say, my favourite sort.

O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King – have seen a number of reviews lately for various books in King’s Mary Russell series and felt the urge to revisit an old favourite (my copy is in storage, hence the library).  This isn’t the cover I have but it is too pretty to resist showing off (as are all the covers for the Allison & Busby editions).

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Ann Goldstein – Lahiri’s reflections on learning Italian.

Library Loot 2

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller – a group biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, looking at how their lives and careers reflected and influenced their generation.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth – A historical novel about fairy tales, featuring the Brothers Grimm and a fraught romance?  It ticks too many boxes not to appeal to me.

The Just City by Jo Walton – really looking forward to this.

Library Loot JC

What I’ve really been craving the last few days is lots of Jennifer Crusie.  One of my spring holiday traditions is listening to Crusie’s books on my morning walks and, after listening with delight to The Cinderella Deal (for the umpteenth time), all I’ve wanted to do is reread her books.  I’ve already sped through Manhunting (a perfect choice for my flight home) and Crazy for You and am smiling my way through Charlie All Night right now.  I still have Strange Bedpersons, Welcome to Temptation, and, the cream of the crop, Bet Me at the ready.  If they last through the weekend I’ll be shocked.  The audiobook of Maybe This Time, which is cheering up my lunch hour walks, might last a little longer.

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust

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