Wednesday, November 20, 2019

In Praise of Autumn

Greetings, Bookish Friends. In my neighborhood, Christmas decorations are going up, Christmas decorations have appeared in the stores, and Christmas advertisements are becoming more frequent, but I'm still enjoying autumn. 

Below are some favorite sayings from a season I love . . .

"Delicious autumn! My soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns." --George Eliot

"Days decrease, and autumn grows, autumn in everything."--Robert Browning

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."--Emily Bronte

"The trees had stripped down to their black bones and had heaped leaves in drifts against hedges and walls. Children played amongst them, tossing armfuls into the air, screaming in and out like swimmers at the sea's edge."--J.L. Carr

I'm attempting to read two books this week, a challenge with the distractions of the news. Continuing with the Dance to the Music of Time, I'm into Book 9, The Military Philosophers by Anthony Powell. In nonfiction, I've started An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir by Lillian Hellman.

I hope you're having a wonderful week. What are you reading?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Remarks on Recent Reads: The Books of October

Greetings, Bookish Friends. In October, I read books for the Halloween season and continued on with the next two novels of A Dance to the Music of Time. It was a satisfying month of reading. 

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie (1969) is a Hercule Poirot novel and one of Christie's later novels. The story takes place at Woodleigh Common. At a children's party, Joyce Reynolds, thirteen years old and well known for her tall tales, divulges that she's witnessed a murder but didn't realize at the time that it was a murder. She's later found drowned in the tub used to bob for apples. The eccentric writer Aridane Oliver, guest at Woodleigh Common and attendee at the Hallowe'en party, prevails upon her good friend Poirot to solve the murder mystery. I found Hallowe'en Party to be readable but not as interesting as Christie's earlier novels.

I wrote a post earlier in October about A House and its Head by Ivy Compton Burnett (1935), the story of a Victorian family and the reverberations created by the death of the mother of the family. It's a fascinating study of a family and its attempt to withstand scandal while retaining its good name. Compton-Burnett's writing style in this novel is notable for its absence of any kind of exposition and feels at times like reading a play.

Where the Truth Lies by Julie Corbin (2010) is another one of Corbin's tightly written thrillers set amidst a seemingly perfect family. Cracks develop when Claire finds out that her attorney husband has been getting threatening letters about harming their three year old daughter unless he divulges information on the whereabouts of a key witness in an important trial. This is the second novel I've read by Julie Corbin, and I found myself reading late into the night to find out how the story would end.

Starlight by Stella Gibbons (1967), which I talked about in an earlier post, was my favorite read of October and a great Halloween read. Gibbons' novel has unforgettable characters, a spooky house, and the presence of an evil spirit. Starlight has dark humor, suspense and horror, and I loved it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959), featured in a post, is a riveting horror novel about four people who spend time in the mysterious Hill House to research ghostly activity. The story is intense and suspenseful, and the novel makes me want to read more by Shirley Jackson.

I continued on with my reading of novels 6 and 7 of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. The Kindly Ones (1962) begins with flashbacks of Nicholas Jenkins' boyhood while the rest of the novel deals with the days leading up to World War II. I found myself engrossed in the poignant story and wonderful writing and hated for the novel to end. The Valley of the Bones (1964), known as the first novel of the war trilogy, has to do with Jenkins joining up with his regiment as the second lieutenant. Much of the novel deals the different personalities Nick encounters, and of course, Widmerpool is never far away. While I found the novel readable, I didn't enjoy it as much as The Kindly Ones.

At Mrs. Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor (1945) is Taylor's first novel, and I found it quite brilliant. It's a multi-layered story of a family during World War II, and all the complications that arise out of living in Mrs. Lippincote's house. Julia and her husband, Roddy, have a complicated marriage and a young son, Oliver. Julia's a bit unpredictable and a dreamer. She lacks the adoration for her husband that he'd like although he gets that adoration from his unmarried cousin, Eleanor, who also lives with the family. The story has the subtly and social comedy of Elizabeth Taylor's writing that I love. There's also a sense of foreboding and even spookiness that comes from the house and a strange young relative of Mrs. Lippincote's who comes and goes at odd times. Although not my favorite of Taylor's novels, I still loved the story and the lovely writing. 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware (2018) begins with Harriet Westaway, known as Hal, a young woman who's a tarot reader on the boardwalk in Brighton. She receives a letter about a mysterious bequest which she thinks has been sent to the wrong person. Hal struggles to make ends meet and fears for her life from a criminal to whom she owes money. She leaves town to meet the Westaway family and the lawyer about her supposed bequest. While this novel was entertaining and had shades of Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart, much of the novel hinges on a "secret worth dying for" that ultimately didn't live up to the hype for me.

My favorite reads of October were Starlight and At Mrs. Lippincote's. Ivy Compton-Burnett, Shirley Jackson, and Ruth Ware were new authors to me. 

What was your favorite read of October?

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Welcome, November.

"Most people, early in November, take last looks at their gardens, and are then prepared to ignore them until spring. I am quite sure that a garden doesn't like to be ignored like this. It doesn't like to be covered in dust sheets, as though it were an old room which you had shut up during the winter. Especially since a garden knows how gay and delightful it can be, even in the very frozen heart of winter, if only you give it a chance."
                                                                                                               --Beverley Nichols

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wishing You A Happy Halloween

"Halloween shadows played upon the walls of the houses. In the sky the Halloween moon raced in and out of the clouds. The Halloween wind was blowing, not a blasting of wind, but a right-sized swelling, falling and gushing of wind. It was a lovely and exciting night, exactly the kind of night Halloween should be."  
                                                                                        --Eleanor Estes, The Witch Family

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Perfect Autumn Read: Starlight by Stella Gibbons

Hello, Bookish Friends. One of my favorite reads of October is Starlight by Stella Gibbons (1967). You've probably heard of Stella Gibbons (author of Cold Comfort Farm).  I have a few of Gibbons' novels on my shelves, and I've been saving Starlight for this time of year.

The two main characters of Starlight are Gladys and Annie Barnes, both eccentric, who live in a run down flat in a shabby house in a part of Highgate in London that still bears the damage done by World War II. In the attic flat lives Mr. Fisher, an elderly gentleman, who changes his name every month, makes odd little dolls to sell, and who has some secrets of his own. 

The sisters live a quiet life and are barely able to make ends meet on Gladys's meager earnings since Annie is bedridden with a mysterious ailment. Into this quiet existence comes a criminal known as the Rackman. He's purchased the house and thrown out Gladys and Annie's downstairs neighbors so that the Rackman's wife, Mrs. Pearson, can redecorate the downstairs rooms of the house and live there.

Gladys and Annie experience equal parts fear and excitement at these changes afoot in their midst. While Gladys befriends Mrs. Pearson, and her daughter, Peggy, it becomes apparent that there is something strange about Mrs. Pearson. She claims to have been a medium in her younger days, and her behavior leads Gladys and Annie to believe that she may be possessed by an evil spirit.

Gibbons has created some memorable and inventive characters and a scary story with a bit of dark humor. Along with the main action of the story, I love those small moments when Gibbons describes the sights of autumn and the changing of the seasons or the details of the day to day existence of Gladys and Annie.  

I enjoyed Starlight and found it to be a great Halloween read.

Have you read Starlight? What's your favorite Stella Gibbons novel?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Haunting of Hill House

Happy Tuesday, Bookish Friends! It's been awhile, but I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where bloggers share the first paragraph of a book they're reading or about to read, now hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be At the Beach.

I haven't encountered anything by Shirley Jackson since I read "The Lottery" many moons ago in my junior high school English class. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959) has been on my bookshelf for awhile, and I decided to delve into it for some Halloween reading. The novel is compelling and scary but without relying on blood and guts horror. I want to read more of Shirley Jackson's work. 

The opening paragraph:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

From the back cover:

"Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?