Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

Happy Wednesday to you, Reading Friends! 

I'm taking part in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I'm excited about reading these books, many of which have been gathering dust on my bookshelves for too long. Here is my tentative list:

 1. 19th Century ClassicLady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862) 

 2. 20th Century Classic. Here Be Dragons by Stella Gibbons (1956) 

3. Classic by a Woman Author. Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston (1948) 

 4. Classic in Translation. Indiana by George Sand (1832)

 5. Classic Comic Novel. Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford (1934)

 6. Classic Tragic Novel. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

 7. Very Long Classic. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

 8. Classic Novella. In the Cage by Henry James (1898)

 9. Classic from the Americas (includes the Caribbean). The Orchid House by Phyllis Shand Allfrey (1953)

10. Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)

11. Classic from the Place You Lived. The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough (1925)

12. Classic Play. The Lamp and the Bell by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1921)

Are you familiar with any of these books? Are you taking part in a reading challenge this year? 

I hope that you're having a fantastic week in reading!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

January Reading: The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

Greetings, Bookish Friends! I hope that you've had a good month. I wanted to pop in and say a bit about my January reading. 

The month has flown by. It's been more quiet here than I planned, but I've been enjoying the four volumes that comprise The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott (1920-1978). I finished the series a couple of days ago and found it to be such compelling reading.

The volumes are the following:

The Jewel in the Crown (1966)
The Day of the Scorpion (1968)
The Towers of Silence (1971)
A Division of the Spoils (1974)

The story takes place in India amidst the final days of British occupation there. Scott has created wonderfully vivid characters who I came to love and some I had a dislike for, but they were never boring.

At the center of the story is the ill fated love affair between Daphne Manners and Hari Kumar. Daphne, an awkward young Englishwoman who has come to India to do good works, finds herself as much of an outsider in India as she did in England. 

She begins a relationship in secret with a young Indian man, Hari Kumar, himself even more of an outsider, having been raised in England. He's the graduate of a prestigious school, and his father's death and a lack of money have forced him to return to India where he struggles mightily to fit in. Whites resent him because he looks Indian but speaks with an upper class British accent, and Indians find him hard to take because he knows nothing of their culture or the language.

An ill fated tryst takes place in Bibighar Gardens between Daphne and Hari, but afterwards, he's beaten up by a group of thugs and she's raped. Kumar's arrest and horrible treatment by Ronald Merrick and the arrest of other youths who are innocent are not forgotten and follow Merrick for several years. What happened in the Bibighar Gardens also has reverberations throughout the story that touch the lives of several of the characters.  

I wondered when I last read about a villain as horrible as Ronald Merrick, who serves as the District Superintendent of Police when the story begins. He's arrogant and a racist on a power trip, and he's manipulative and sadistic not to mention sadomasochistic. He happens to turn up at the oddest places, and he gets involved in so many people's lives, often to their detriment.

Scott weaves the story of these characters and others. He moves forward and backward in the story, revealing what's happening through several different characters' points of view. Along with class and race, there are many themes which Scott explores in this epic story.

The Raj Quartet contains rich writing, and Scott shows the reader the beauty of India and the harshness not only of the land and climate but also of the circumstances in which India fought for independence. I loved The Raj Quartet. It's been on my bookshelves for awhile, and I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it.

I haven't watched Jewel in the Crown, but I have the DVD's at the ready and will be watching them soon.

If you've read The Raj Quartet, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I hope that you're having a great week in reading!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Wishing You A Happy New Year.

Wishing you all the best for health, happiness and fantastic reading in the New Year!

Remarks on Recent Reads: A Farewell to A Century of Books

Welcome to my last post of mini reviews for A Century of Books, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book.

At Random: Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf by Bennett Cerf is a wonderful memoir of the life of Bennett Cerf (1898-1971). Cerf was a Renaissance man, bon vivant, celebrity, jokester, panelist on What's My Line? and one of the founders of Random House. The book contains talk about books and anecdotes about writers such as Dorothy Parker, Ayn Rand, William Faulkner, and Clifford Odets, to name a few. The memoir reflects the history of the publishing industry in the United States and the rise of several American authors. It's obvious that Cerf loved working with authors, and he enjoyed being a celebrity. This was a fun read. 

Bloomsbury Recalled by Quentin Bell is a delight. Quentin Bell has a wonderful conversational style that made me feel like we were having a cup of tea and a chat. I'm always interested to read about the Bloomsbury Group, and Bell's memories of various members, both founding and those more on the periphery, are interesting and insightful. 

Part of the Furniture by Mary Wesley tells the story of Juno Marlowe who, at the beginning of the novel, is running to find shelter during an air raid. A chance meeting with a young man and a card he gives her with an address changes the course of her life. This is another novel in which Wesley assembles interesting characters, and at the center of the book, she explores the meaning of family and love. I liked this book although I felt that the middle of the book was a little slow.

The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine  is the first book I've read of Ruth Rendell's books in which she's writing as Barbara Vine. What I found was a complex story about Gerald Candless, famed novelist, and his family. When the story begins, Gerald dies suddenly. One of the daughters decides to write a biography of her father and uncovers family secrets and the reasons for the strained relations among the family members. The Chimney Sweeper's Boy was part mystery and part family drama that I really enjoyed.

Every Eye by Isobel English is about a newlywed couple's journey by train to take a boat in Ibiza. I'm probably in the minority, but I didn't care for this book. Also, the book hints at some big revelation at the end of the novel and did not deliver.

A Finer End by Deborah Crombie is the seventh book in her series about Scotland Yard Detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. Duncan's cousin invites him to Glastonbury to investigate a murder, and of course, Gemma comes along. Crombie keeps a lot of balls in the air in this mystery which deals with an Arthurian legend, a medieval monk, family history, and a little mysticism. I love Deborah Crombie's books, and I loved this one.

The Lighthouse by P.D. James is an Adam Dalgliesh mystery and a many layered one about a group of people on a remote and exclusive island where world leaders and the rich and famous go for a respite. When a famous writer is found hanged, Dalgliesh brings his team, and they begin to unravel the relationships between the people on the island and discover that the answer to the murder lies deep in the past. This book has hints of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. The Lighthouse is the first P.D. James book I've read in ages, and it reminded me why her mysteries are so good.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan has such rich and beautiful language and tells a heartbreaking story about a young couple on their wedding night. The story reveals the ramifications of bad communication and decisions that can alter the trajectory of a person's life. Although this is such a bittersweet story, I loved the writing. 

So ends A Century of Books for me. I had such a great experience discovering books on my bookshelves. I managed to read a fair number of new authors--fifty-two by my count. 

This time last year, I was making a list of books for the challenge and gathering my books together. I veered off my trusty list a few times. It's interesting how certain books revealed themselves that weren't on my list, and then there were a few books that fell into the DNF category. At times, I did feel some pressure to read, and towards the end of the year, I gravitated toward shorter reads, but I felt that A Century of Books provided me with a rewarding experience.

My thanks to Simon for hosting the challenge, and thanks to you for reading this post!

For a complete list of the books I read, please feel free to check out the A Century of Books tab at the top.

Thoughts on #ReadingMuriel2018

Greetings and Happy New Year's Eve, Bookish Friends!

This is my wrap up post for #ReadingMuriel2018, hosted by heavenali.

Before I get to the proceedings, I have some unfinished business as there were three Muriel Spark novels that I read earlier this year but procrastinated in mentioning them on the blog. 

What probably made me procrastinate was the challenge of talking about The Only Problem without giving away too much of the plot. Harry Gotham, wealthy industrialist, is holed up in a French cottage where he's writing about the problem of Job. His estranged wife has been accused of being a terrorist. Into this story come several memorable characters whose lives get tangled up with one another. The novel may or may not be a loose retelling of the Book of Job. While The Only Problem kept my attention, I found it a difficult read.

Reality and Dreams in which Muriel Spark delves into the world of filmmaking tells the story of Tom Richards, a not very likable film director. He's had a fall while working on a film and is confined to his bed. He's trying hard to maintain control over the project. Then there's a mystery involving the disappearance of his daughter. Again, this novel held my attention, but it wasn't one of my favorite Spark novels.

This brings me to the superb novel, A Far Cry from Kensington, narrated by the fabulous Mrs. Hawkins, a war widow and confidante of those she meets. She works at a publishing house in London after World War II. The novel is filled with quirky and eccentric characters from the publishing world and from the rundown boarding house where Mrs. Hawkins lives. Over the course of the story, Mrs. Hawkins makes a transformation, and it's interesting to see how others perceive her and how she sees herself. The novel has wonderful dialogue that made me laugh out loud. I loved A Far Cry from Kensington, and it's a novel that I'll return to again.

For #ReadingMuriel2018, I read a total of 15 books (14 novels and 1 small collection of short stories). I didn't read any of Spark's nonfiction even though I've managed to collect several of her books. Also, I didn't read a biography or Curriculum Vitae even though I had big plans for reading. But it's nice to know I can delve into these in the future.

I've chosen my top five novels (in no particular order):

1. Robinson
2. The Ballad of Peckham Rye
3. The Girls of Slender Means
4. A Far Cry from Kensington
5. Symposium

#ReadingMuriel2018 has been fun this year, and I want to thank Ali for hosting this challenge. Muriel Spark's writing is so rich and compelling, and I look forward to reading more more of Spark's novels and her nonfiction.