Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Happy New Year! Today, I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share the first paragraph of a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (2015) was a Christmas present and a book that I'm planning to read soon.

First paragraph of the Prologue:

"It was the first day of my humiliation. Put on a plane, sent back home, to England, set up with a temporary rental in St. John's Wood. The flat was on the eighth floor, the windows looked over the cricket ground. It had been chosen, I think, because of the doorman, who blocked all inquiries. I stayed indoors. The phone on the kitchen wall rang and rang, but I was warned not to answer it and to keep my own phone switched off. I watched the cricket being  played, a game I don't understand, it offered no real distraction, but still it was better than looking at the interior of the that apartment, a luxury condo, in which everything had been designed to be perfectly neutral, with all significant corners rounded, like an iPhone. When the cricket finished I stared at the sleek coffee machine embedded in the wall, and at two photos of the Buddha--one a brass Buddha, the other wood--and at a photo of an elephant kneeling next to a little Indian boy, who was also kneeling. The rooms were tasteful and gray, linked by a pristine hallway of tan wool cord. I stared at the ridges in the cord."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The End of Year Edition

Happy holidays to you!

My reading lately has been a bit eclectic--mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction. There are few new authors to me, and then the tried and true with Agatha Christie and two of my favorite writers of crime, Sophie Hannah and Elizabeth Haynes.

With world events and the season, I wanted something this past week that wouldn't tax my brain too much. That's what led me to Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. There's  something comforting about Miss Marple, and Christie's stories are fun. Several of the tales take place with a dinner group where each person shares a story of a mystery, and the group tries to solve the mystery. Of course, no one is a match for Miss Marple. Other stories are stand alone stories. While some characters are skeptical of Miss Marple's abilities, she's able to solve each mystery relying on her knowledge of human nature and her eye for seemingly meaningless details. I loved all these stories. 

Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me. I picked up a volume of three of her novels and read two novels--The Bookshop and The Gate of Angels. In The Bookshop, Fitzgerald takes the reader to a small English sea village in 1959 where middle aged widow Florence Green buys an old building, known as The Old House, where she plans to open a book shop. Florence faces challenges with the aging building and running a bookshop. The village is full of eccentric people, but there are the forces at work that don't want the bookshop to succeed. This is a quick read and one I enjoyed. 

The Gate of Angels (also by Penelope Fitzgerald) takes place in Cambridge of 1912. Fred Fairly, a Cambridge student of physics at the fictional St. Angelicus College, finds himself riding his bicycle on a dark road when a farm cart pulls into the road. To avoid hitting the cart, he collides with another bicyclist, Daisy. Fred and Daisy, both unconscious, are taken to a nearby farm to recuperate. The family that helps them assumes that the Fred and Daisy are married since Daisy wears a wedding ring. Fred awakes in a bed with Daisy and immediately falls in love her before she disappears. As a student of St. Angelicus, Fred has pledged to live a life of celibacy, but he can't forget Daisy. Gate of Angels has lots of twists and turns along with Fitzgerald's lovely writing. 

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah is the fifth novel in the series featuring detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. Fliss Benson receives a card at work which has sixteen numbers arranged in four rows made up of four numbers. The numbers seem meaningless at first, but when Fliss finds out that her new project will be a documentary about three mothers who've been falsely accused of killing their infant children, things become more clear. I was a bit ambivalent about the subject matter of the book, but I've loved each book I've read by Sophie Hannah, and A Room Swept White did not disappoint.

The setting for Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes is an isolated Yorkshire farm, the last place you want to be in a blizzard with no electricity, no telephone, and a killer on the loose. The story begins with Sarah Carpenter who lives alone on her farm. Her husband died several years ago, and her children have left the nest. Two men from her past come back into her life. One rents her guest cottage, while the other one pops up at odd times. Sarah's best friend, Sophie, disappears, and Sarah soon finds out which one of these men she can trust. I enjoyed Never Alone, but it took me about fifty pages to connect with the book. After that, I found Never Alone hard to put down.

How It All Began is the first novel I've read by Penelope Lively, and it won't be the last. The story begins with the mugging of Charlotte, an elderly woman. She breaks her hip and must move in with her daughter and son-in-law. Charlotte's circumstances set in motion a chain of events that affect numerous people. I loved the character of Charlotte and the fact that she's a voracious reader. With a distinctive narrative voice and lots of interesting characters, I really loved this book. 

I recall the hype surrounding Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Maybe that's what took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally got around to giving Rules of Civility a try. The novel reminded me of one of those old 1930s films that has beautiful women, handsome men and snappy yet sophisticated dialogue. In the novel, Katey Kontent, Eve Ross, and Tinker Grey are fantastic characters. Thanks to that fateful night in 1930s New York City when the milk truck hit Tinker's roadster, their lives are intertwined. The novel begins with an older Katey looking back on her life, and it's quite a story.  

I would love to know what you're reading.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wishing You A Happy Thanksgiving

It's hard to believe Thanksgiving is here! 

It's been awhile since I've blogged (and I've missed it). I've been reading and even managed to sneak in some reading while my husband and I traveled to England this past month. I'm looking forward to sharing what's been going on, and I'm excited to catch up on what's been happening with book blogs and what you've been reading.

In the meantime, I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

James Jebusa Shannon, Jungle Tales (Contes de la Jungle), 1895
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: A Look Back at August

Here we are in September, but I'm still thinking about August reads. I highlighted The Reef by Edith Wharton, American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, Spectacles by Sue Perkins, and the Mary Stewart novels. I also wanted to share some other books that I had the pleasure to read in August. 

I love reading about the literary scene in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, and I enjoyed learning more about Sylvia Beach and her famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in the Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh (2010). This volume of letters includes Beach's letters from her early life. She was fearless and adventurous, and I particularly enjoyed the accounts of her time during World War I as a volunteer farm laborer in France and then as a volunteer for the Balkan Commission of the Red Cross in Serbia. Many of the letters after World War I deal with the day to day running of Shakespeare and Company. Beach was a dynamo with her bookshop and lending library as well as maintaining all her connections in the literary world and the daunting task of publishing James Joyce's Ulysees (1922). These letters also show how temperamental Joyce could be and how he much he relied on Beach, often treating her as a secretary. With the changes in the world after World War II, it was sad how much Beach's life also changed, and Shakespeare and Company lost its luster. These were fascinating letters, and I look forward to reading more about Sylvia Beach and her contemporaries.

Undue Influence by Anita Brookner (2001) is the first novel I've read by Brookner. Undue Influence tells the story of Claire Pitt, a young woman living in London in a flat with her mother who has recently died. Claire's lonely and begins a part time job at a bookstore. Here, she meets Martin Gibson. When Martin's wife dies, Claire wants to become more than just a friend. I liked Brookner's writing style but not the structure of the book. Claire gets caught up in so much introspection about what's happening and what might happen that it brings the plot to a standstill. If you've read any of Anita Brookner's novels, I'd be interested to know ones you recommend.

A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith (1965) is a fabulous page turner. Sydney Bartleby, an American screenwriter, lives with his British wife, Alicia, in a farmhouse in Suffolk. Their marriage has its problems, and with his temper, Sydney's not very likable. When Alicia leaves to take a break from the marriage, Sydney starts to fantasize in great detail about how he'd kill Alicia. When she doesn't come back, their friends and family start to wonder what's happened to Alicia, and that's when fact and fiction start to mingle. A great read that I highly recommend.  

A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (1963) is an early Adam Dagliesh murder mystery that takes place in a psychiatric clinic for the rich in London. The clinic offers such treatment as psychoanalysis, electroshock therapy, and LSD therapy. The clinic's administrator, Enid Bolam, has been found in the records room dead with a stake through her heart. In life, Miss Bolam was no nonsense and managed to anger most everyone on the clinic's staff. It's up to Dagliesh to figure out the relationships among staff and determine the motive. This is a quick read at around 200 pages that I recommend. 

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (1945) is good fun. It's comedy from beginning to end about MacDonald's life with her first husband. Once they're married, MacDonald thinks that they're headed for an idyllic life only to discover that her husband's idea of heaven is a broken down chicken farm in an isolated part of Oregon. The story takes place in the 1920s and has an impressive array of characters and funny situations. While her chapters on running the house had their fair share of amusing moments, MacDonald's story made me feel grateful for modern conveniences of running water and electricity. I've seen the film adapted from the novel with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and I found it to be true to the book.

I hope that your August reading went well. What are you reading?