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.