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<>
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?