Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Happy Tuesday and soon to be Happy New Year! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they are reading or thinking about reading.

My selection is Watermelon by Marian Keyes (1998), the first novel in her series about the five Walsh sisters. I haven't read the series in order, so my first introduction to the sisters was in Rachel's Holiday which was excellent. Last year, I read Anna's story, Anybody Out There? which was also great. Claire's story, Watermelon, has been in my TBR pile for quite awhile.

From the back cover:

"Claire has everything she ever wanted: a husband she adores, a great apartment, a good job. Then, on the day she gives birth to their first baby, James informs her that he's leaving her. Claire is left with a newborn daughter, a broken heart, and a postpartum body that she can hardly bear to look at. 

She decides to go home to Dublin. And there, sheltered by the love of a quirky family, she gets better. So much so, in fact, that when James slithers back into her life, he's in for a bit of a surprise."

From the prologue:

"February the fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth I can only assume the two events weren't entirely unrelated.

I knew I should have followed my instincts."

What do you think? Should I keep reading?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

George Henry Durrie, Winter in the Country, c. 1858 
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Christmas Pudding

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they're reading or thinking of reading. It's really fun, and anyone can join in.

Continuing on with reading books that are set at Christmastime, I'm back with a Nancy Mitford comedy, Christmas Pudding (1932). I've read a couple of chapters, and it's very funny.

Here is information about Christmas Pudding from the back cover of the book:

"In Christmas Pudding, an array of colorful characters converge on the hunt-obsessed Lady Bobbin's country house, including her rebellious daughter, Philadelphia, the girl's pompous suitor, a couple of children obsessed with newspaper death notices, and an aspiring writer whose first novel has been acclaimed as the funniest book of the year, to his utter dismay."

Here is the first paragraph from Chapter 1. This intro doesn't exactly grab me, but it's interesting because you can't tell from this opening just how funny Christmas Pudding is:

"There is a certain room in the Tate Gallery which, in these unregenerate days, is used more as a passage-way towards the French pictures collected by Sir Joseph Duveen than as an objective in itself. There must be many lovers of painting who have hurried through it countless times and who would be unable to name or even to describe a single one of the flowerings of Victorian culture which hang there, so thoroughly does the human mind reject those impressions for which it has no use."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron (1997) is a quick read because it's a slight book. I had high hopes for this story set in New York City at the beginning of America's involvement in World War I.

Well to do Rosemary is shopping one rainy evening and sees a shivering young woman standing under a street lamp. Rosemary invites this young woman, Eleanor, home for a cup of tea. When Rosemary's fiance, Phillip, arrives and can't take his eyes off Eleanor, Rosemary sends the young woman on her way with a raincoat and some money. Rosemary thinks this will be the last she'll see of Eleanor. Unbeknownst to her, Rosemary's best friend, also taken with Eleanor, gives Eleanor a contact for a job which ensures that the mysterious Eleanor will be on the periphery of Rosemary's life and very much in Phillip's life.

What I wanted from this book was more character development. The writing is so sparse that it was hard to know the characters. I kept reading to see if more would be revealed about them. Why was Eleanor standing under the street lamp that night? Was she waiting for someone, or was she a prostitute? We don't find out much about Eleanor. It was hard to get too invested in a story where the reader is kept at arm's length.

Also, I wanted a more authentic feel to the story. The ending was quite dramatic but felt a little contrived. And I wasn't crazy about the theme that if you do something nice for someone, something terrible will happen.

As I said, I had high hopes for A Cup of Tea, but it left me a bit disappointed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--Water Like A Stone

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they're reading or thinking about reading. It's a lot of fun, and anyone can join in.

My reading has slowed down a bit lately with the holidays, but I've lined up some reads that are set during Christmas. First up is Water Like A Stone (2007) by Deborah Crombie. I'm making my way through Crombie's mystery series where the main characters are Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones, both detectives at Scotland Yard, and partners not only at work but also in life. I've enjoyed the books I've read so far in the series, and each book has been better than the last.

From the back cover of the book:

"Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, take their sons to picturesque Cheshire for their first family Christmas with Duncan's parents--a holiday both dreaded and anticipated. But not even the charming town of Nantwich and the dreaming canals can mask the tensions in Duncan's family, which are tragically heightened by the discovery of an infant's body hidden in the wall of an old dairy.

As Duncan and Gemma help the police investigate the infant's death, another murder strikes closer to home, revealing that far from being idyllic, Duncan's childhood paradise holds dark and deadly secrets . . . secrets that threaten everything and everyone Duncan and Gemma hold most dear."

First two paragraphs from the Prologue:

Late November

"Mist rose in swirls from the still surface of the canal. It seemed to take on a life of its own, an amorphous creature bred from the dusk. The day, which had been unseasonably warm and bright for late November, had quickly chilled with the setting of the sun, and Annie Lebow shivered, pulling the old cardigan she wore a bit closer to her thin body.

She stood in the stern of her narrowboat, the Lost Horizon, gazing at the bare trees lining the curve of the Cut, breathing in the dank, fresh scent that was peculiar to water with the coming of evening. The smell brought, as it always did, an aching for something she couldn't articulate, and an ever-deepening melancholia. Behind her, the lamps in the boat's cabin glowed welcomingly, but for her they signaled only the attendant terrors of the coming night. The fact that her isolation was self-imposed made it no easier to bear."

Here is the first paragraph from Chapter 1:


Gemma James would never have thought that two adults, two children, and two dogs, all crammed into a small car along with a week's worth of luggage and assorted Christmas presents, could produce such a palpable silence."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014

Hello! It's time for Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish. The task is to round up a list of the top ten authors I read in 2014 that were new to me. The list includes links to reviews of the books I read that got me hooked on their work:

Vera Brittain

Sophie Hannah

Patricia Highsmith

Lily King

Eleanor Moran

Frances Partridge

Barbara Pym

Francoise Sagan

Elizabeth Taylor (British novelist)

Dorothy West

Which authors did you choose for your list?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Willa Cather Reading Week: A Lost Lady (1923)

For Willa Cather Reading Week over at heavenali, I read Cather's 1923 novel, A Lost Lady. The novel centers on the complex Marian Forrester, wife of one of the last railroad aristocrats, Captain Forrester. Marian is beautiful, but twenty five years younger than her husband. They live in the declining Nebraska town of Sweet Water, and compared to the local people, their lives in the big house are lavish and exciting.

Cather presents the story of Marian through the eyes of local boy, Niel Herbert, who is twelve when the story begins. Niel and his friends are playing in the marsh near the Forresters' home when a bully, Ivy Peters (described as being eighteen or nineteen), appears and does something unspeakable to a bird. In an attempt to put the bird out its misery, Niel instead falls out of a tree and breaks his arm. He's taken to the Forrester house where Marian plays the role of nurse, and Niel becomes somewhat infatuated with her.

As Niel grows older, his life becomes more intertwined with the Forresters, and even with the time he spends with Marian, Niel can't seem to grasp that his idealized view of her is not realistic. Marian is lively and brightens every room she enters, and she is the perfect hostess. She appears to love her husband and enjoys doting on him, but when Niel discovers that Marian has a lover, he becomes disillusioned.

As Captain Forrester loses his fortune and his health declines, their way of life is greatly altered. Before, they only spent the warmer months in Sweet Water, but now they spend the year there. Marian does her best to cope with these events and even has to clean the house since they can't afford the servants they had before. Once the Captain dies, Marian continues to entertain, but the standards have changed. The guests are no longer her husband's important friends. Marian's lover is now Ivy Peters who has become an attorney.

Niel hangs on to his idealized view of Marian, and in that way, she is always lost to him. He never really grasps the difficulties that Marian faces in the harsh world of Sweet Water. He only seems to love the part of her that is the wife of Captain Forrester, where she is genteel, loving and charming.

It's been awhile since I've read anything by Cather, and I found A Lost Lady to be a remarkable novel and a reminder of the brilliance of Willa Cather. The writing is beautiful and at times powerful. 

I highly recommend A Lost Lady.

If you have thoughts on the novel, I am interested to know.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Edouard Manet, Flowers in a Vase, 1882
Alisa Mellon Bruce Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Love in Bloomsbury: Memories by Frances Partridge

One of the books I read over the Thanksgiving weekend had me delving into the sometimes complicated but never dull world of the Bloomsbury Group through the eyes of diarist and translator Frances Partridge in her memoir Love in Bloomsbury: Memories (1981). Before reading this book, I knew very little about Frances Partridge other than she was considered the last surviving member of the Bloomsbury Group until her death in 2004 at age 103. 

Frances was born in London as Frances Marshall, the youngest of six children. She obtained her degree at Cambridge. It was at Cambridge that she encountered her first link to the Bloomsbury Group through her friendship with Julia Strachey, niece of writer Lytton Strachey. 

Another connection to the group came after she graduated from Cambridge and began working in a bookshop near the British Museum in London. The bookshop was owned by two stalwart writers of Bloomsbury, David Garnett and Francis Burrell. She became acquainted with Leonard and Virginia Woolf and other members of Bloomsbury who purchased their books there. During this time, she met Ralph Partridge, a World War I hero, who worked for the Woolfs in their Hogarth Press. 

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
From left to right: Dora Carrington, Ralph Partridge, Lytton Strachey, his brother, Oliver Strachey, and Frances Partridge.

Frances Partridge tells her story in a lovely, conversational writing style. I enjoyed the tales of her childhood. (Her mother was a suffragette.) Also, I liked learning about her time at Cambridge, and her reminiscences of her vivacious life in London during the 1920s when Ralph Partridge wasn't her only suitor. This memoir covers her life into the 1930s.

Much of Love in Bloomsbury: Memories is told in excerpts from her diaries and letters. These reveal the intensity of her love affair with Ralph and what a tenuous position Frances found herself in with the artist Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey. Ralph was still married to Carrington (who herself had an unrequited love for Strachey) when Ralph met and fell in love with Frances. Carrington, Ralph and Strachey had lived together at Ham Spray, a rambling country house in Wiltshire, for a time, and the presence of Frances caused a bit of tension.

Regarding others in the Bloomsbury Group, it was interesting to learn that Frances preferred Vanessa Bell's company to that of Vanessa's sister, Virginia Woolf. Frances considered Vanessa to be a warm person while she found Virginia somewhat peculiar and hard to talk to. And I was happy to read her accounts of how charming and fun loving Duncan Grant was, even until he was in his 80's!

This would be a great book for anyone with an interest in the Bloomsbury Group. Love in Bloomsbury: Memories was a fast read and one that I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Intro Tuesdays hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers reveal a bit about what they're reading or thinking about reading. 

My selection is Nancy Mitford's 1940 satire, Pigeon Pie

From the back cover:

"In Pigeon Pie--set at the outbreak of World War II--Lady Sophia Garfield dreams of becoming a beautiful spy yet manages not to notice a nest of German agents right under her nose. That is, until the murder of her maid and the kidnapping of her beloved bulldog force them on her attention, and her actions prove heroic."

Here is the opening paragraph:

"Sophia Garfield had a clear mental picture of what the outbreak of war was going to be like. There would be a loud bang, succeeded by inky darkness and a cold wind. Stumbling over heaps of rubble and dead bodies, Sophia would search with industry but without hope, for her husband, her lover and her dog. It was in her mind like the End of the World or the Last Days of Pompeii, and for more than two years now she had been steeling herself to bear with fortitude the hardships, both mental and physical, which must accompany this cataclysm." 

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Truth-Teller's Lie by Sophie Hannah

As psychological thrillers go, The Truth-Teller's Lie (also published as Hurting Distance) by British author Sophie Hannah is a humdinger. I read the 2010 reprint edition from Penguin Books.

Naomi Jenkins meets married lorry driver Robert Haworth each Thursday in Room 11 of the same seedy motel. Robert tells Naomi that he plans to leave his wife for her. When he doesn't show up for their next meeting, Naomi knows something is wrong and tells the police. She drives to Robert's house in desperation and peeks in the downstairs window. Naomi sees something, although later she can't recall what, but it causes her to have a severe panic attack.

When she feels the police aren't taking Robert's disappearance seriously, Naomi goes back to the police, accuses Robert of something heinous and writes a detailed statement. Naomi knows the details well, but Robert wasn't the one involved in what happened to her on that horrible night three years ago. In fact, no one close to her knows what happened.

Naomi has the attention of the police, but the detectives on the case figure out she's lying. Police Sergeant Charlie Zailer discovers that the events Naomi described did happen and that there are other victims who've had a similar experience. What follows is an investigation full of twists and turns and harrowing events where nothing is a coincidence.

Part of the story is told from Naomi's point of view in a letter to Robert, but it doesn't take long to see that she's not a reliable narrator. We also see the story from Charlie's point of view. She's a flawed individual but an excellent detective who supervises a group of men. Charlie's in love with one of the detectives, Simon Waterhouse, but it appears to be a one-sided kind of thing on her part. 

The Truth-Teller's Lie is the best psychological thriller I've read in quite some time, and the way the plot is constructed is superb. It's a very dark story but one I couldn't put down. The stunning ending was not what I expected.

In reading about the book, I discovered that The Truth-Teller's Lie is the second in a series of psychological crime fiction featuring Zailer and Waterhouse. I'm excited about this and look forward to reading more by Sophie Hannah.

If you've read The Truth-Teller's Lie, I'd like to know your thoughts.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron

Happy Tuesday! Since it's Tuesday, that means it's time for First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros over at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a bit about what they're currently reading or might read in the future. I've chosen A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron (1997).

Here are the two opening paragraphs:

"New York City
January, 1917

A young woman stood under a street lamp. It was difficult to make her out at first because she was standing almost in shadow and the mist from the ground, the rain, and approaching night made the air and the street seem similarly gray and damp. It was dusk. A light rain was falling.

A man walked up and solicited her. It startled her. She shook her head and turned away. Without another thought of her, he hailed a cab which stopped for him at once. She pulled the thin sweater, hardly protection from the rain, tighter around her shoulders as she stepped back from the curb to avoid the spray of dirt and water as the taxi pulled away."

From the back cover:

"Born to privilege, Rosemary Fell has wealth, well-connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Phillip Alsop. One cold and rainy night she sees, under a streetlamp, the mysterious Eleanor Smith huddled against the elements. In a moment of beneficence, Rosemary invites the penniless young woman home for a cup of tea.

Arriving on the scene, Phillip notices Eleanor warming herself by the roaring fire. When Rosemary sees them exchange an unmistakable look, she promptly sends the girl packing. But she's too late. In one brief moment, Rosemary's carefully sculptured life has cracked beyond repair . . .

Inspired by the classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea springs to life from its rich cast of characters and brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I. This darkly romantic novel engages us with impeccable plotting and a deep sense of foreboding, propelling us toward its shocking conclusion."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart is one of Stewart's later novels, published in 1997. The story takes place during the summer of 1947. Londoner and young war widow Kate Herrick is sent by her grandmother to Rose Cottage, located in the village of Todhall in the north of England. Kate grew up in Rose Cottage with her grandmother and her aunt. Her task is to pack up some of her grandmother's belongings and arrange for these things along with some furniture to be sent to Kate's grandmother in Scotland.

High on the list are the contents of a hidden wall safe. When Kate arrives at Rose Cottage, she can't find the key to the safe. With the help of childhood friend and now carpenter, Davey, they get into the safe and discover the contents gone. Also, a stranger has been in the village asking questions about Kate's family. There have also been reports of a light at night and strange visitors lurking around Rose Cottage.

Along with these mysterious goings on, Kate has some questions of her own. She was born out of wedlock. When Kate was a child, her mother ran away with her lover only to die in a bus crash in Ireland. Kate has never known the identity of her father.

All of these issues get resolved in the enchanting Rose Cottage. Mary Stewart has created a delightful novel with interesting characters and a lovely village. This is a wonderful story of second chances, and there is a nice romance. I'd recommend Rose Cottage for anyone looking for a light read with great writing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

Earlier this year, I read House of Mirth in which Lily Bart is very much of New York society. On the other hand, Undine Spragg, the main character of Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country (published in 1913), is an outsider from the fictional town of Apex. Undine is spoiled, self-centered, shallow and exasperating, and I couldn't put the book down.

Undine has come to New York City with her parents because she wants to move up the social ladder. Along the way, she makes mistakes but somehow always manages to regroup and formulate a plan to gain back the ground she's lost, whether it's in Apex, New York City, or Paris. Her beauty and charm carry her a long way, but to get what she really wants, Undine needs money and lots of it.

Part of the fun in reading Custom of the Country is seeing how Undine gets herself out of her current situation and into another that she thinks will be more advantageous. Undine gives no thought as to how her actions affect those around her, and she has no problem going through her father's money or her current husband's money. She's a bit naive in not realizing how getting a divorce or taking a married lover might affect her standing in society. And she has a secret. Once the secret is revealed, it has ramifications that Undine didn't plan on, especially for her ex-husband, Ralph Marvell. In the end, Undine may think that she has finally gotten what she wanted, but has she?

I enjoyed Custom in the Country. Although the book has its humorous moments, it's not the kind of satire that I expected and sometimes seems like Wharton's comment on society. The story of Undine is timeless. If it were told today, Undine would be the star of her own reality show. 

I love the plot and the characters, and I also love Wharton's writing. There are passages in the book that make me happy because the writing is so exquisite. Needless to say, I highly recommend Custom of the Country.

If you've read Custom of the Country, I'm interested to know what your thoughts are.

About the painting: In Custom of the Country, Mr. Popple, a character based on the artist John Singer Sargent paints portraits of society ladies, including one of Undine. The painting above is Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent, 1893, Scottish National Gallery, © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Truth-Teller's Lie

Happy Tuesday! Today, I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers reveal a bit about what they are reading or thinking about reading.

I've never read a book by Sophie Hannah, and the one I've got in my TBR pile is the psychological thriller, The Truth-Teller's Lie. The edition I have was published by Penguin Books in 2010, but this novel was also published under the title Hurting Distance. I've been on the fence about The Truth-Teller's Lie because from what I've read about it, people seem to love this novel, or because of the dark subject matter, they hate it. 

The book begins with an e-mail, and I've included the first paragraph:

"From: NJ<nj239@hotmail.com>
To: Speak Out and Survive
Subject: This is not my story
Date: Mon, May 18, 2003 13:28:07 +0100

This is not my story. I'm not sure I want to share that, or my feelings, with strangers, on a website. It would seem phony, somehow. Phony and attention-seeking. This is just something I want to say, and your website gives no address for submitting letters."

Here is the first chapter of Part 1:

Part 1

Monday, April 3

I could explain, if you were here to listen. I am breaking my promise to you, the only one you ever asked me to make. I'm sure you remember. There was nothing casual about your voice when you said, 'I want you to promise me something.'"

From the back cover:

"Naomi Jenkins knows all about secrets: three years ago something terrible happened to her, so terrible that she's never told anyone about it. Now, Naomi has another secret: her passionate relationship with the unhappily married Robert Haworth. When Robert vanishes without explanation, Naomi knows he must have come to harm. But the police are less convinced, particularly when Robert's wife insists that he is not missing. In desperation, Naomi decides that if she can't persuade the detective that Robert is in danger, she'll convince them that he is a danger to others. Naomi knows how to describe the actions of a psychopath; all she needs to do is dig up her own traumatic past . . ."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--I Capture the Castle

Happy Tuesday! Today, I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros over at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they are reading or planning to read.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is a book that has been on my TBR pile for awhile. Originally published in 1948, my edition is the reprint from St. Martin's Press.

From the back cover of the book:

"I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not so genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the hart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments."

Here is the first paragraph:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy. I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring--I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house. Though even that isn't a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn't write any more of it."

What do you think? Should I keep reading?

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood, published in 2012, takes place around the murders of several women by a serial killer in the resort town of Whitmouth in England. The dingy seaside town is the home of Funnland, an amusement park, where cleaner Amber Gordon finds the body of a murder victim. 

As the press descends on Whitmouth, Kirsty Gordon, a tenacious reporter, arrives and has a chance to interview Amber. The two women realize immediately that they know each other. This meeting is the first time they've met in twenty five years.

The women were eleven years old when they were put away for killing four-year-old Chloe. Upon their release, the two were given new identities, and one of the conditions of their release was that they never to speak to one another again. Amber Gordon was Annabel from a prominent family while Kirsty Gordon was Jade who came from a poverty stricken family. 

Luck and opportunity have shaped Kirsty's life. She has been able to create a life for herself with a somewhat successful career in London along with a loving husband and two children who have no idea of her true identity. Amber has not been so lucky and has a depressing day to day existence in a dead end job and an abusive live in boyfriend. She has also worked hard to conceal her identity. How these two first met and got involved in a murder is a parallel story line revealed little by little as the plot moves forward.  

In the present, the serial killer is closer than Amber and Kirsty realize. Also, they discover what they are willing to do to protect the secret of who they really are when they realize the danger of someone finding out.

I would recommend The Wicked Girls to readers who like psychological thrillers. Alex Marwood has created some seedy and scary characters in the town of Whitmouth. The plot has all the suspense you could want along with a gripping ending. I found the novel hard to put down.

Have you read The Wicked Girls?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Evening Glow, ca. 1884
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

Happy Tuesday! Today, I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a bit about what they are reading or thinking of reading.

My selection is Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, published in 2012.

From the back cover of the book:

"In 1920, Elsa Emerson is born to the owners of the Cherry County Playhouse in Door County, Wisconsin. Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child's game of pretend. While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Hollywood Mogul Irving Green, who refashions her as an exotic brunette screen siren and renames her Laura Lamont. But fame has its costs, and while Laura tries to balance career, family, and personal happiness, she realizes that Elsa Emerson might not be gone completely. Ambitious and richly imagined, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures is as intimate--and as bitter-than-life--as the great films of the golden age of Hollywood."  

The first paragraph of Chapter 1:

Summer 1929

"Elsa was the youngest Emerson by ten years; the blondest, happiest accident. It was John, Elsa's father, who was the most pleased by her company. His older daughters already wanted less to do with the Cherry County Playhouse, and it was nice to have Elsa skulking around backstage, her white-blond hair and tiny pink face always peeking out from behind the curtain. Elsa was a fixture, the theater's mascot, and the summer crowds loved her."

What to do you think? Would you keep reading? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Wedding by Dorothy West

Although Dorothy West was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance (1917-1935), The Wedding was published in 1995. I was surprised to learn that The Wedding was her second novel.

At first glance, The Wedding is about Shelby, the beautiful, blond, blue-eyed, African American young woman from the upper middle class Coles family. Shelby has defied her family's wishes and plans to marry a white jazz musician from New York, Meade. It is August of 1953, and the extended family have gathered on Martha's Vineyard in the affluent African American summer community known as the Oval for Shelby and Meade's wedding. The novel deals with the different generations of the Coles family, showing how this family came to have its prominent place in society.

Amid the story of the past, there are plenty of events happening around the time that the wedding is to take place. Lute McNeil has managed to use his connections to rent the house next door to the Coles. He wants Shelby and the status her family represents and has decided that she will be the new mother to his three young daughters. Lute is volatile, sexy, and mysterious, and Shelby has some pre-wedding jitters. Her family considers Lute unsuitable. His mother was a prostitute and his standing in the community does not equal the Coles' (he makes furniture for white people), and his skin is dark.

Then there are Shelby's parents, who have a complicated marriage, which is on the brink. Corrine, Shelby's mother is ignorant of this fact. Shelby's great grandmother, known as Gram, is in her nineties and has lived quite a life. Gram worries because she has an uneasy feeling that that something bad is about to happen;she feels death in the air.

West takes the reader to earlier generations of the Coles family. The stories of Shelby's parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are all integral to seeing how the decisions, sacrifices and marriages, often not based on love, have made the Coles the family that they are. And we see how difficult it is for Shelby's parents to face the fact that not only is Shelby marrying a white man, but she is marrying outside her class. To the stalwarts in the family, skin color and class mean everything.

Dorothy West's writing style is simple yet lyrical, and the story is so much more than I'd anticipated. After the first few pages, I knew that I was in the hands of an expert storyteller. I highly recommend the complex, thought provoking and wonderful The Wedding.

I am new to the work of Dorothy West (1907-1998). In reading about her life, I learned that during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, Miss West wrote short stories and poetry. She was also an editor of two literary magazines. Her first novel, The Living Is Easy, was published after the Harlem Renaissance, in 1948. At that time, she left New York for her family's summer home at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, where she lived year round for the rest of her life. 

In 1982, The Feminist Press reprinted The Living Is Easy, which introduced Miss West to a new generation. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, then an editor at Doubleday, approached Miss West about another novel. Mrs. Onassis became the editor for Miss West's work in progress that would become The Wedding. Although Mrs. Onassis died before the publication of The Wedding, Miss West dedicated the novel to her.

Writer Dorothy West

Have you read The Wedding?

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

I've read a novel for the Halloween season, and it's The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958). My edition was published in 1942.

Roddy, a journalist, and his sister, Pamela, have fled the fast pace of London life for their dream home in the country. The house, known as Cliff End, is on the Devonshire coast. Despite warnings and gossip from the locals about the house being haunted, Roddy and Pamela decide to move in and fix up the place. They learn the hard way that Cliff End is haunted by an unhappy spirit, but they decide to solve the mystery of who the spirit might be.

The Uninvited is not a blood and gore supernatural thriller. What Macardle has created is an intriguing mystery about what happened in the house in the past, and resolving this mystery ultimately comes down to good versus evil. The novel has a spooky and genuinely creepy and suspenseful atmosphere.

The things that happen, while not scary by today's standards, are still otherworldly like several appearances of a white ghostly figure that likes to float down the stairs, a room that is always cold and sometimes has the strong smell of mimosa, and a seance, just to name a few. Along with the goings on, there is a love story between Roddy and Stella, the beautiful young woman who is the granddaughter of the previous owner of Cliff End. The spirit haunting the house might be Stella's mother who died when she was a child, or is it? And was Stella's mother the lovely person everyone thought her to be? 

This was a fun read, and I recommend The Uninvited to anyone who loves Daphne du Maurier. Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print, but if you come across it as I did at a book sale or perhaps in a library, The Uninvited is worth a read.

I also recommend the stylish 1944 film starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, based on the book. It's a great film that stays true to Dorothy Macardle's story.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Custom of the Country

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a bit about what they are reading or planning to read.

My choice is a book that has been on my shelf for far too long--The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I have the 1997 Scribner paperback edition.

From the back cover:

"First published in 1913 and regarded by many critics as her most substantial novel, The Custom of the Country is Edith Wharton's powerful saga about the beautiful, ruthless Undine Spragg. A woman of extraordinary ambition and exuberant vitality, Undine is consigned by virtue of her sex to the shadow world of the drawing room and boudoir. Marriage remains the one institution through which she can exercise her will as she entrances man after man, marrying one after the other with protean facility and almost monstrous avidity. A novel that ranges from New York to Paris, from Apex City, Kansas, to Reno, Nevada, The Custom of the Country stands as a dark satire of American business, society, and the nouveaux riches, and as Edith Wharton's contribution to the tradition of the American epic."

The first few chapters:

"Undine Spragg--how can you?" her mother wailed, raising a prematurely-wrinkled hand heavy with rings to defend the note which a languid "bell-boy" had just brought in.

But her defence was as feeble as her protest, and she continued to smile on her visitor while Miss Spragg, with a turn of her quick young fingers, possessed herself of the missive and withdrew to the window to read it.

"I guess it's meant for me," she merely threw over the shoulder at her mother.

What do you think? Should I keep reading?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

In a Summer Season by British novelist Elizabeth Taylor

Known as an underrated writer and contemporary of Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen and Rosamond Lehmann, among others, British novelist Elizabeth Taylor wrote several short story collections and twelve novels. Thanks to Virago, her work is widely available today. Recently, I read her eighth novel, In a Summer Season, published in 1961.

The story takes place in an English village during the early 1960s. Taylor uses the first section of the book to introduce the characters. Kate Heron is in her forties with two children. Her son, Sam, is in his early twenties and working for his grandfather, while her daughter, Louisa, is sixteen and home from boarding school for the summer. Kate is married to her second husband, Dermot, ten years younger than she, and who is adrift in his life, not able to latch on to a career or even a job, for that matter. Also living in the house is cello playing Aunt Ethel, who is an interested observer of events, especially the state of Kate's marriage. Aunt Ethel relays all to her friend, Gertrude. Mrs. Meacock is the cook who loves preparing American meals.

The action takes place in the second part of the book when Charles and his daughter, Araminta, move back to their old house in the village. When Kate's first husband was alive, he and Kate were good friends with Charles and his wife, Dorothea, but Dorothea has recently passed away. 

The presence of Charles and Araminta sets certain events in motion. Tom, accustomed to girls pursuing him, becomes love struck over the quirky yet sexy aspiring model, Araminta. She enjoys being aloof. She is also noticed by Dermot. Meanwhile, with Charles in her life again, Kate is reminded of old feelings and realizes that she has more in common with Charles than Dermot. As Aunt Ethel and Gertrude predicted, Kate needs more than a physical relationship with a man.

What I liked about In a Summer Season was how the story takes place against the backdrop of Taylor's subtle comedy where she has a light touch. She creates believable characters and gets inside their hearts and minds in a way that made me enjoy getting to know them. Even Dermot, who I was prepared to dislike, is someone I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for. The story is resolved in a way I had not anticipated with a real surprise of an ending.

I recommend In a Summer Season and look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Taylor.

While I was reading this book, I wondered about Taylor's life and if having the name Elizabeth Taylor was a hindrance to her writing career. Then I discovered a biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman, from 2009, which is going on my TBR pile:

Have you read In a Summer Season or any of Elizabeth Taylor's work?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Wedding by Dorothy West

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros over at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a little something about the books they are reading or about to read.

I'm thinking about reading The Wedding (1995) by Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West (1907-1998). This is another book I picked up at a recent used book sale. It caught my eye because I haven't read anything by Dorothy West, and I haven't read much by writers of the Harlem Renaissance period. 

Here is information about The Wedding from Amazon:

"Set on bucolic Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s, The Wedding tells the story of life in the Oval, a proud, insular community made up of the best and the brightest of the East Coast black bourgeoisie. Within this inner circle of 'blue-vein society' we witness the prominent Coles family gather for the wedding of the loveliest daughter, Shelby, who could have chosen from a 'whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions.' Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to to be married to Meade Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. A shock wave breaks out over the Oval as its longtime members grapple with the changing face of its community. "

I've included the first three paragraphs of the first chapter:

"One morning in late August, the morning before the wedding, the sun rising out of the quiet sea stirred the Oval from its shapeless sleep and gave dimension and design to the ring of summer cottages.

The islanders were already astir. There was milk to deliver to the summer visitors, stores to open for their spending sprees, grass to cut for them, cars to wash for them, an endless chain of petty jobs demanding preference, particularly in the Oval, whose occupants were colored, and inclined to expect special treatment. 

The Oval was a rustic stretch of flowering shrubs and fall trees, designated on the old town maps as Highland Park. The narrow dirt road that circled it was Highland Avenue. But since in no islander's memory had there ever been signposts to bring these ambitious titles to life, the area had long ago been assigned the descriptive name that better suited it."

Should I keep reading?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn in Words and Pictures

Fruit bearing autumn (Pomifer autumnus.)
Horace, Odes. Bk. iv, ode 7, 1.11.

The tints of autumn--a mighty flower garden blossoming under the spell of the enchanter. Frost.
Whittier, Patucket Falls.

Behold, congenial Autumn comes,
The Sabbath of the year!
John Logan, Ode Written on a Visit to the Country in Autumn.

It was Autumn, and incessant
Piped the quails from shocks and sheaves, 
And, like living coals, the apples
Burned among the withering leaves.
Longfellow, Pegasus in Pound.

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn 
Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn.
Thomas Hood, Ode to Autumn, l. 1.