Friday, August 29, 2014

Have A Wonderful Holiday Weekend!

Auguste Renoir, Regatta at Argenteuil, 1874
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Stories of the East by Leonard Woolf

Before he married Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) spent the years 1904 through 1911 as a civil servant and administrator in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which was then part of the British Empire. Woolf became something of a jack of all trades, serving in such roles as police magistrate, judge, supervisor of various projects, adviser on farming, and tax collector, to name a few of his jobs. He chronicled his experiences in his diaries but wrote fiction about Ceylon in his novel The Village in the Jungle. He also wrote a trio of short stories, known as Stories of the East, first published by the Hogarth Press in 1921.

The short stories illustrate the conflict between the rule of the British and the native society in Ceylon. My favorite of the stories was "The Two Brahmans" which deals with the strong caste system and what happens when two Brahmins go against their caste. One man tries fishing and loves it even though it is forbidden, and another man digs a well and carries the dirt on his head, also forbidden, instead of paying someone to do it for him. These men are ostracized by the caste, and their actions have unintended consequences for future generations of their families. Another story, "Pearls and Swine" is about a civil servant who supervises the operation of a pearl fishery and the death of a diver.

The story I liked the least was "A Tale Told by Moonlight," the tragic tale of a British man who visits his friend who works in Ceylon. The visitor falls in love with a native girl who is a prostitute. While I understand that this story is at the heart about the clash of cultures, Woolf compares the relationship between the two lovers to the love a dog has for his master. In the analogy, which is used several times in the story, the young woman is the animal. This kind of analogy created a distraction to my enjoying the story.

I didn't like these stories as much as I expected and have read that they are not typical of Woolf's writing. Although these stories did not appeal to me, I would like to read more of Woolf's fiction.

I would recommend these stories to someone studying Leonard Woolf's writing or his life as Stories of the East is considered to be somewhat autobiographical and reflects Woolf's anti-imperialist view. I would also recommend the stories to someone interested in the history of the British rule of Ceylon. 

If you are interested in reading more about Leonard Woolf's life, Victoria Glendinning's book Leonard Woolf: A Life is an excellent biography.

Have you read any of Leonard Woolf's fiction?

The photos below are stock images of Sri Lanka. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want To Read But Don't Own Yet

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in the Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish where the task is to name ten books that I want to read but don't own yet. My selections are made up of fiction and non-fiction, in no particular order:

The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child because I want to add this to my collection of cookbooks.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. I love reading about the Walsh sisters, and this is the latest about Helen.

Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee Stung Lips by Michael Ankerich is a biography of one of the stars of the silent film era who had quite an exciting life and apparently her star fell quickly. 

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel is a choice because of my continuing interest in how war affects the lives of writers and influences literature. This book got my attention because of the description from Amazon of how the war in London became a "vivid source of inspiration, the blazing streets scenes of exhilaration in which fear could transmute into love. In this powerful chronicle of literary life of the Blitz, Lara Feigel vividly conjures the lives of five prominent writers: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and the novelist Henry Green."

Longbourn by Jo BakerI've read a lot of good things about this book about the lives of the servants at Longbourn. 

I discovered Maddie Grigg a couple of years ago through her wonderful blog, The World from My Window. Her book, A Year in Lush Places, has gotten rave reviews, and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of it.

Deborah Crombie's latest Duncaid Kincaid/Gemma James mystery, To Dwell in Darkness, comes out in September. This is a fantastic series. 

I love British writer Hazel Osmond's writing, and she does a marvelous job with romantic comedy. There is usually something in one of her books that makes me laugh out loud. I've pre-ordered her latest book, The Mysterious Miss Mayhew, which will be out in paperback in November.

Frances Spalding is a leading expert on the Bloomsbury Group and has curated the exhibit about Virginia Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her book associated with this exhibit is Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision.  

And then there is the anthology of Women's Writing of the First World War. I really liked reading Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, and it has made me curious about the writing of other women during World War I.

What books are on your list?

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Reading Habits

Talking about reading habits seems to be a popular thing to do as I've seen several book bloggers answering questions on the subject. I've been asked by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review to answer some questions about my own reading habits. Lory did a fantastic video about what she's up to with her reading, but I'm not quite brave enough to make a video, so my answers are below.

1. Do you have a certain place for reading at home?
I read either downstairs in the living room on the couch or upstairs in bed.

2. Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?
Both. Sometimes I use a piece of paper. Lately, I've been making use of a couple of paper bookmarks. I do have a few really nice bookmarks that I hesitate to use because I'm afraid I'll lose them.

3. Can you just stop reading or does it need to be at the end of a chapter or a certain number of pages?
Most often I stop at the end of the chapter. Sometimes, if I'm really tired, I stop where I am.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?
I have a drink, but most of the time, I get so engrossed in the story that I'm not good at doing other things while I read.

5. Do you read one book at a time or several at once?
I have more than one book going at a time. I keep one book upstairs and one book downstairs. At some point, one of the books usually becomes more interesting, and then the upstairs/downstairs thing no longer applies because I have to finish that book. Then, it's kind of nice to finish one book and be involved in another book. 

6. Do you read out loud or silently in your head?
I read silently. 

7. Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?
I don't read ahead or skip pages, although I am known to skim pages if there is a slow section because I'm anxious to get on with the story.

8.  Breaking the spine or keeping it new?
My intent is never to break the spine, but it does happen.

9. Do you write in your books?

10. What are you currently reading?

I'm deep into the last of my summer reading, The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran, and I'm really enjoying the novel.

Also, I'm coming to the end of a read along of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've read several Austen novels but never got around to reading this one.

And I recently started What's It Like Out? by the English writer Penelope Gilliatt, and the book is a collection a short stories originally published in 1968. I'd never heard of her but came across this Virago Modern Classics edition at a recent used book sale I went to. So far, I like what I've read.

Thanks so much, Lory, for asking me to participate in answering the questions!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Winslow Homer, East Hampton Beach, Long Island, 1874
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I'm including another beach scene as we come to the last days of summer. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bookish Quotes

I'm in the mood for some quotes about books. All the craziness in the world makes me appreciate my books and the importance of finding solace in reading. 

That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed with profit.
--Amos Bronson Alcott, Table Talk: Bk. 1, Learning-Books.

Books are the treasured wealth of the world, 
the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
--Thoreau, Walden: Reading

They support us in solitude . .  . They help us to forget the 
coarseness of men and things, compose our cares and our passions, 
and lay our disappointments to sleep.
--Comtesse de Genlis, Memoires

With faded yellow blossoms 'twixt page and page, 
To mark great places with due gratitude.
--Robert Browning, Pippa Passes, Pt. ii

The peace of great books be for you,
Stains of pressed clover leaves on pages
Bleach of the light of years held in leather.
--Carl Sandburg, For You

What are your favorite quotes about books?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday: The Hand That First Held Mine

Happy Tuesday! I had so much fun last week with First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea that I'm back again. This is the place where someone can share the first paragraph from Chapter 1 of a book that one has read or is about to read. 

My selection today is The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell, published in 2010.

From the book jacket:

"Lexie Sinclair cannot wait for her life to begin. She escapes to London and takes up with magazine editor Innes Kent, thriving amid the artists and writers of post-war Soho. Later, in present-day London, a painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood as her boyfriend, Ted, finds fatherhood calling up lost memories that don't match his family's stories. but Ted's search for answers may reveal something that connects these two women--something heartbreaking and beautiful that none of them could have ever expected.

A gorgeous, spellbinding story of love and motherhood, this is an extraordinary portrait of how even our most accidental legacies connect us."

Here is the first paragraph of Chapter 1:

"Listen. The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves. A breeze is coming in gusts off the sea, and it is almost as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head-tossing impatience, that something is about to happen."

Should I keep reading?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Patricia Highsmith's Carol

In April, I read a piece in the Books Blog section of the The Guardian about the crime writer Patricia Highsmith and realized that I'd never read any of her books. In trying to decide where to start first, I read about one of her books that was published under a pseudonym, and I got curious.

Fresh off her success of her first novel, Strangers on a Train, Highsmith wrote what would be published in 1952 as The Price of Salt (also published as Carol) under the name Claire Morgan, because her publisher did not want Highsmith to be associated with a novel about two women falling in love. Carol has gained quite a bit of notoriety over the years for the fact that it is considered the first lesbian love story to have a happy ending, but the novel is a bit more complex than that. 

Therese Belivet works as a shop assistant in the toy section of Frankenberg's department store in New York City. When the story begins, it is the Christmas season, and Therese helps a beautiful woman, Carol Aird, with her purchases and gets Carol's address, so her packages can be mailed. Therese can't stop thinking about Carol and sends her a Christmas card. Carol calls Therese, and the two meet for a drink. 

The two women are at different places in their lives. Therese is in her twenties and wants to be a successful stage designer but struggles to get meaningful work or any work. She is engaged to a man she doesn't love, and his love makes her feel smothered. Carol is divorced, and she and her husband are entangled in trying to work out a custody agreement for their only child, a daughter. Carol is of the middle class and a society woman. 

Therese and Carol become friends, although Therese would like more. With the stress of her divorce, Carol suggests that the two drive cross country. The story then becomes a thriller as Carol's husband has hired a private detective to follow the two women. He wants dirt that can be used against Carol so that he can have sole custody of their daughter. 

Away from New York City, Therese gets what she wants, and the two fall in love, not realizing that they are being followed. But once they discover what is happening with the private investigator, their relationship faces challenges that they didn't anticipate that eventually drives them apart.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Carol because it's not the kind of book I normally read, but I really liked Highsmith's writing. The book is part thriller and part love story, and I found it hard to put down. Highsmith has created a very suspenseful and tense thriller. One of the reasons it became so tense is that while we know how Therese feels about Carol, Highsmith never lets us know exactly how Carol feels until deep into the book. There is something about Therese that is a bit naive, and I found myself really worrying about what will happen to her. 

It was fun to read about New York City in the fifties when everyone was smoking and drinking too much. While the novel hints at what could be a happy ending for Therese, Carol gives up a lot because of her love for Therese, so I'm not sure that it has a truly happy ending.

I would recommend Carol and would be interested in reading more of Highsmith's work.

Have you read Carol?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer in the Country Review

Summer in the Country by Edith Templeton was first published in 1950 and was the first novel of Czech writer Edith Templeton (1916-2006). The edition that I read for this review was a 1985 reprint by Hogarth Press that I got at a used book sale, and to be honest, I'm not that crazy about the book cover.

Summer in the Country is the story of the Birk family who live at Castle Kirna in central Bohemia. The time is summer sometime after World War I. The heads of the family are old Mrs. Birk and her brother, Tony. Mrs. Birk has two daughters, the stern Alice, and the reserved Bettine. 

The family awaits the arrival of visitors. First, there is Raoul Marek, an attorney from the city, who has been invited by Alice as a suitor for Bettine. Marek has an unusual connection to the family that no one realizes. Then there is Margot, Alice's beautiful and sensitive daughter, who is married to Oscar Ritter. 

Ritter is the villain of the piece whom no one in the family really likes. He is a millionaire, and it is his money that keeps Castle Kirna afloat, something he won't let the Birks forget. The only problem is that Margot can't stand being married to Ritter with his wandering eye and his overbearing manner, and she is thinking of leaving him.

Templeton has created interesting characters in the Birks, their visitors, and the servants at the castle. I love Templeton's writing style. It is amazing to me that English was not her first language because you could never tell by her lovely use of the English language. 

She has written a story that resembles a drawing room comedy but with a different take on this. Although the setting for Castle Kirna is beautiful, the castle itself is a bit dingy with its worn rugs and shabby furniture. The family lives in a certain way with with their customs and traditions of the way things have been done for generations which makes life rather difficult for the outsiders, Marek and Ritter. 

If you are looking for a fast moving plot, Summer in the Country is not your story. I found the novel to slow down a bit midway, but there is a surprise ending that I didn't see coming.

Have you read Summer in the Country or any of Edith Templeton's novels?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Last Time I Saw You

Happy Tuesday! Today, I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea in which someone can share the first paragraph from Chapter 1 of a book that one has read or is about to read. Today, my selection is The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran, published in 2013. This is a selection from my summer reading list that I'm about to start.

A little bit about this novel from the book jacket:

"When Olivia Berrington gets the call to tell her that her best friend from university has been killed in a car crash in New York, her life is turned upside down. Her relationship with Sally was an exhilarating roller coaster, until a shocking betrayal drove them apart. But if Sally really had turned her back, why is her little girl named after Olivia?

As questions mount about the fatal accident, Olivia is forced to go back and unravel their tangled history. But as Sally's secrets start to spill out, Olivia's left asking herself if the past is best kept buried."

The first chapter is a couple of sentences, so I've decided to share the first two paragraphs of Chapter 1:

"Tuesday's not the kind of day you expect your life to change for ever. That feels like a job for Friday, or Saturday - a flashier, shinier day that has surprise sprinkled over its surface like hundreds and thousands.

This particular Tuesday I'm doing the end of the day soft-shoe shuffle, glancing between the clock, my computer screen and my bat-shit scary boss Mary, trying to work out which will give way first. It's a huge, retro-looking wall clock, with thick black hands that are currently crawling sluggishly towards six thirty. The wall behind it is papered with pastel pink roses, and the room is peppered with big velvet sofas that are designed to encourage the kind of impromptu brainstorms and shared confidences that never quite seem to happen. Mary presides over the room from her huge glass desk at the top, mistress of all she surveys. It's like a twisted sort of nursery - soft on the outside, with an underlying air of menace."

What do you think? Would you keep reading? My review is coming soon!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Apple Tree Yard

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, published in 2013, is one of the books I downloaded to my Kindle awhile back. One of my goals for the summer was to read more of the books on my Kindle, but so far, this is the only book I've read. I can't help it--I love holding an actual book in my hand!

Apple Tree Yard, part thriller and part courtroom drama, is the story of successful 52 year old geneticist, Yvonne Carmichael. She is married to Guy, also a geneticist, and they have two grown children and live in London. She has spent her life doing the right thing and is starting to regret it.

Yvonne goes to Parliament to testify before a select committee. She meets a man who claims to have a security job there, and the attraction she feels for him is so strong that she gives in to this passion in an encounter with him in a broom closet. She finds this very exciting, and part of the excitement is that she doesn't know his name. We don't find out his name until about halfway through the novel.

The affair she embarks on becomes her undoing. Although she thinks she is good at leading a double life, she learns that a co-worker is on to her. The co-worker is a vile man who does something horrendous which sets into motion the murder that Yvonne and her lover are on trial for at the Old Bailey when the novel begins.

Yvonne is the narrator of the story, telling the events of the trial and revealing more through letters that she writes to her lover. Yvonne's life is not what it appears to be. Her son is bi-polar which has presented challenges for her and her family, and her marriage is loveless and complicated.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, Doughty does a brilliant job with the scenes at the Old Bailey in her portrayals of the major players and their motivations. These scenes were compelling and tightly written, and they were what made me want to keep reading.

On the other hand, I had a problem with Yvonne. It was hard to comprehend how such a successful and intelligent woman could make such bad decisions. I understand that Yvonne's personal life is so dismal that she needs a little excitement. But she puts her trust in her lover even though she knows little about him. Certain truths come out about this man in the course of the trial, and Yvonne learns the hard way what a mistake she has made.

I spent the book feeling sorry for Yvonne. I can't recommend Apple Tree Yard.

Have you read Apple Tree Yard? What are your thoughts?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Recommendations

Today I'm taking part in Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and The Bookish. The task is to name the top ten books to recommend to readers. My list is a bit random with mystery, fiction, short stories, classics, and a couple of non-fiction selections included.

For the reader who has never read an Agatha Christie book, I'd recommend Death on the Nile. A cruise on the Nile with an interesting cast of characters, including a glamorous newlywed couple, and a murder solved by Hercule Poirot. What's not to like?

For the reader who has never read one of Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James murder mysteries, I'd recommend Dreaming of the Bones. Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James find themselves embroiled in solving the murder of Kincaid's ex-wife. There are many layers to this story, and something happens that forever changes Duncan Kincaid's life. 

For the reader who has never read a book by Daphne du Maurier, I'd recommend Rebecca, a classic tale of mystery, suspense, murder and love.

For the reader interested in any of Eudora Welty's short stories, I'd recommend A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, a solid collection that illustrates Welty's gift for storytelling, especially "Why I Live at the P.O."

For the reader who has never read anything by British writer Mary Wesley, I'd recommend The Chamomile Lawn. Five cousins holiday together in the summer of 1939. After that summer, things will never be the same. The story tells how World War II changes each of them in wartime England.

For the reader who is interested in a book by Edith Wharton, I'd recommend House of Mirth, about the beautiful but tragic Lily Bart, set against the backdrop of wealthy New York society during the Gilded Age.

For the reader who has never read a book by Virginia Woolf, I'd recommend To the Lighthouse, the story of the Ramsay family and their holidays spent at their vacation home on the Isle of Skye.

For the reader wanting to read the best book adapted to film--this would be a tie between To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Switching gears to non-fiction, for someone interested in a World War I memoir, I'd recommend Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. This is a powerful and compelling memoir about Brittain's experiences as a nurse during the war.

I love classic films and reading about early Hollywood. For someone interested in a book about women in the early days of Hollywood, I'd recommend Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp. This is an excellent book which chronicles the exciting life of screenwriter and Academy Award winner Frances Marion during a time when it was not uncommon for women to write and direct films. Marion was good friends with Mary Pickford and wrote screenplays for several of Pickford's films. 

What books do you recommend?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Testament of Youth

I'm excited to talk to you about Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1893-1970). Since this year is the 100th anniversary of World War I, I wanted to read something about the wartime experience from a woman's point of view. Testament of Youth, first published in 1933, was exactly what I was looking for.

Brittain's memoir doesn't begin with the war. It starts earlier with her upbringing in a well to do middle class British family. She was educated in a boarding school and led a fairly sheltered life.

Before the war began, Brittain was accepted to Oxford University in 1913, something which was still new for women at that time. Something else happened, too. Her brother, Edward, brought home a friend, Roland Leighton, and Brittain and Leighton fell in love. When he went off to fight, she courageously decided to leave her studies and become a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse where she served for much of World War I. Her main reason for becoming a nurse was to feel closer to Leighton, but as the war went on, her reasons would change.

Brittain found herself called upon to do things she never imagined, having grown up with servants, but she did not shy away from responsibility. Her experiences highlighted the terrible conditions that nurses had to endure--working amazingly long days on little sleep, returning each night to living conditions in which there was no running water and sometimes no way to get hot water. One can't help but admire her ability to do her job in the face of these challenges. Brittain worked in England, France and Malta. In France, some of the soldiers she cared for were German prisoners, and at times, she worked dangerously close to the Western Front.

This is Brittain's story, but it is also the story of Leighton (who became her fiance), her beloved brother Edward, and his friends who were also her friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. While I had some idea of what the outcome would be for these young men, there were times when it was difficult to read the book. At the same time, I couldn't stop reading.

While Testament of Youth dealt primarily with World War I, Brittain also chronicled her life after the war until the mid 1920s. She discussed the difficult period of adjustment and the emotional issues she faced. She also wrote about the challenges when she unexpectedly fell in love and tried to decide if she wanted to marry.

I highly recommend this book. Brittain was a talented writer, and her memoir is compelling and poignant. 

A sequel, Testament of Experience, which I have not read, covers the years 1925 through 1950 and was published in 1957.

If you have an interest in the role of women during World War I, there is an excellent podcast on BBC Radio 4 about how World War I changed the life of women. Vera Brittain's daughter, Baroness Shirley Williams, is a participant in the discussion:

Have you read Testament of Youth? What books do you recommend about World War I?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories

Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1921. The edition I read for this review was the Dover Thrift Edition published in 1997.

I have read several of Virginia Woolf's novels but not much in the way of her shorter fiction. This collection was hit or miss for me. What I liked about the stories, though, was the way in which Woolf experiments with the form of the short story. 

My favorite of this collection was "A Society" about a group of women who form a society to study men's intelligence. The story was really funny and had some laugh out loud moments. Another story that I liked was "Kew Gardens." Woolf employs the stream of consciousness writing that she was famous for, and it is a snapshot of time, depicting what is happening in Kew Gardens from nature to the various conversations and descriptions of people and what they are doing.

Three of the stories are just a few paragraphs. Of these, I liked "A Haunted House" the best, which tells of a ghostly couple revisiting their old house in search of something. The other two stories, "Monday or Tuesday" and "Green & Blue" were not as accessible, and it was a bit difficult to grasp exactly what Woolf was describing.

I recommend Monday or Tuesday: Eight Short Stories if you like Virginia Woolf's writing. If you've never read any of her fiction, To the Lighthouse would be a better place to start. 

Have you read Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories or any of Virginia Woolf's other short stories?