Wednesday, July 18, 2018

#ReadingMuriel2018: Phase 3

Happy Wednesday, reading friends! I wanted to pop in and talk about my choices for Phase 3 of #ReadingMuriel2018, sponsored by Heavenali. I had big plans for Phase 3, but life got in the way a bit, but I read three novels and liked two of them.

The Driver's Seat (1970) felt like a rollercoaster. A woman leaves her job and gets on a flight bound for Italy. This seems fairly routine until Chapter 3 when a revelation about the ending changes everything. You'd think knowing the ending would ruin the book, but it made me scrutinize every action and every character to work out exactly how Muriel Spark would take this character from A to B. The Driver's Seat is a study of a woman's descent into madness. At times, I felt like I was in Patricia Highsmith territory. The novel was a quick read and a page turner. I highly recommend it.

Not to Disturb (1971) is a novel I reviewed in June. Not to Disturb is full of atmosphere and mystery with strange and sinister events. I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it.

The Abbess of Crewe (1974) was a challenge for me. Something about the story and the characters made it hard for me to connect to the novel. Set in a benedictine convent, Abbess Alexandra has the convent under electronic surveillance, and she's rigged her own election. I've read that the novel is a satire on Watergate, and perhaps with the events of today, the story didn't seem that funny. Or maybe it was the fact that most of the story dealt with a group of women who seemed determined to undermine one another. Or perhaps it was the wrong time for me to read this book. In any event, I didn't enjoy The Abbess of Crewe. My opinion seems to be in the minority, so I point you in the direction of excellent reviews by book word and Savidge Reads, and doveygreyreader.

Have you read any of these novels? I hope you are having a wonderful week of reading!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner (1967)

Happy Thursday! I hope that you're having a good week. I've been trying to escape the Texas heat by reading, and high on my list of writers is Wallace Stegner. All the Little Live Things has been on my TBR for A Century of Books (ACOB).

All the Little Live Things (1967) introduces the crotchety, cantankerous retired literary agent Joe Allston. He and his wife, Ruth, have moved to a remote part of California. The parents of a reckless son who has died in a freak accident, the Allstons think that living in this quiet space will provide peace, and Allston looks forward to being without people. 

Of course, nothing goes to plan for Allston. He struggles against nature to plan the kind of garden he wants even though pests are plentiful. Then there is the arrival of Jim Peck--he of the counterculture, with a beard, a loud motorcycle, and his love for drugs, sex and yoga. Allston takes an instant dislike to Peck but he's enough like Allston's son that Allston relents to Peck's request to camp out on part of their property, which supposedly is to be a temporary arrangement.  

Another development which at first disturbs Allston's calm is the arrival of Marian. She and her husband and her young daughter become neighbors of the Allstons. Marian is a young woman who sees the best in everyone and has a knack for drawing people together. 

All this activity upends the Allstons lives' and affects the lives of people living nearby who are drawn to Marian, while some of the neighbors become friends with Peck. Allston falls under Marian's spell and feels quite protective since she's pregnant, frail, and in the fight of her life against cancer. 

A quality of Wallace Stegner's writing that I love is how precise his words are. Sentences are so finely crafted and have a lovely rhythm. I found myself going back to reread some of these sentences and paragraphs, marveling at their beauty. 

What I also loved was the relationship between Joe and Ruth. Stegner's portrayal of these characters is honest and true. It was a pleasure to read about a couple at this time in their lives who know each other so completely, warts and all, and who love each other.

All the Little Live Things is a powerful novel but not a very hopeful one. My favorite Stegner novel continues to be Crossing to Safety, but I recommend All the Little Live Things as well.

What is your favorite Wallace Stegner novel?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Paris in July: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Bonjour, tout le monde! I'm taking part in the second week of Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea.  

For this challenge, I read a gem of a book written by Olivia de Havilland, Every Frenchman Has One, originally published in 1962. It's a memoir of sorts about Olivia de Havilland's experiences when she moved to Paris with her young son. In Paris, she married her second husband, Pierre Galante.

In a witty way, de Havilland relates her personal experiences of navigating life in Paris from such topics as the proper manners for dinner parties, the challenges of shopping, finding an apartment, and dealing with a nosy concierge. There's also a funny chapter about the red tape involved in finding a good hairdresser. By the way, the title refers to livers and has to do with the care that the French take for their livers.

I loved this book in the same way that I love Julia Child's My Life in France as it's a snapshot of Paris from a particular time. The way in which de Havilland tells stories immediately drew me in and made me feel like we were chatting over a cup of tea. I found myself laughing out loud at several of de Havilland's anecdotes.

Every Frenchman Has One is a quick read. I hated for it to end.

My edition of the book was reissued in 2016 on Olivia de Havilland's 100th birthday, and there's a nice interview with her at the end of the book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Today I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, formerly hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, and now hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be at the Beach, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

I've been getting together the books I want to read this summer, and one novel that I'm excited about is The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. 

Here are the first two paragraphs from Chapter 1:

"The girl leaned, rather than walked, into the wind, clutching the damp package of fish and chips grimly under one arm even as the gale plucked at the paper, trying to unravel the parcel and send the contents skittering away down the seafront for the seagulls to claim.

As she crossed the road her hand closed over the crumpled note in her pocket, and she glanced over her shoulder, checking the long dark stretch of pavement behind her for a shadowy figure, but there was no one there. No one she could see, anyway."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Welcome, Summer

"Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass, of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by lifting glass to lip and tilting summer in."--Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine