Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Scent of Water

Happy Tuesday to you! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share the first paragraph of something they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

My selection is The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge (1963). I'm reading this novel for the upcoming Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week (April 24-30), hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review.

From Goodreads:

"Mary Lindsay is a born and bred Londoner who has enjoyed her city life--a prestigious job and friends with whom she takes in the city pleasures of theatre, art, and music. But the fleeting memories of a childhood visit to her father's elderly cousin out in the country are revived with the news that the woman has willed her home, The Laurels, to Mary. She makes an uncharacteristically sudden and life-changing decision to leave London for the country. The gradual unfolding of her understanding of herself, of the now-deceased woman who bequeathed the home to Mary, and of the people of Appleshaw, all weave together in a most memorable story of love's redemptive power."

Here is the opening:

"Mary, you will regret this."

Mary Lindsay settled herself in the driving seat of her small car and pulled on her gloves. She looked apologetically at her friend and said, "It's not irrevocable, Catherine." Yet she knew it was and so did Catherine as she said irritably, "You'll go to seed." 

"Things do in the country," said Mary. "They have to, for there is seed-time and harvest there. Catherine, this may be my last chance to live it." 

What to you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Subtle and Deceptively Simple: The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor

Everyone probably knows a person like Flora, the main character of British novelist Elizabeth Taylor's The Soul of Kindness (1964). People are drawn to Flora because of her beauty and charm, the world revolves around her, and she has a knack for always getting her way. She would never think of herself as a manipulator. She sees herself as a caring person, but her good works involve managing other people's lives. She simply thinks she knows what's best for everyone.

The people in Flora's circle go along with her, mainly because it's easier, and because no one wants to see Flora upset. There are several victims of Flora's kindness: her father-in-law, Percy (my favorite character in the book) and his mistress, Barbara; Flora's friend, Meg, and her brother, aspiring actor Kit; Flora's husband, Richard; the struggling writer, Patrick; and Flora's own mother, Mrs. Secretan. Then someone comes along who refuses to be a follower but has the distance and the perspective to see Flora in a way that others do not--Liz, a brash Bohemian artist. Liz's actions throw Flora's world into a tailspin. 

Taylor creates interesting characters, and even the secondary characters are compelling. What I love about the novel is that the writing is subtle. Taylor weaves her story in a deceptively simple way. Some of Flora's actions are far-reaching, and it's fascinating to see how intertwined the lives of the characters become. Taylor is a masterful writer, and The Soul of Kindness is a book that I'll read again.

Have you read The Soul of Kindness or any of Elizabeth Taylor's novels?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Night Music by Jojo Moyes

Happy Tuesday! I hope you're having a good week so far. I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share the first paragraph of a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

My selection is Night Music by Jojo Moyes (2008). 

From the back cover:

"Isabel has always taken her gifted life for granted. But when her husband dies suddenly, leaving her with a mountain of debt, she and her two children are forced to abandon their home and move to a crumbling pile in the country.

With the house falling down around their ears, and the last of her savings fast disappearing, Isabel turns to her neighbours, not knowing that her mere presence there has stirred up long-standing obsessions.

As she fights to make her house a home, passions and lives collide. Isabel will discover an instinct for survival she never knew she had--and that a heart can play a new song . .  ."

The first two paragraphs:

"We never really belonged in the Spanish House. Technically, I suppose, we owned it, but ownership suggests some level of control and no one who knew us--or the house--could ever have suggested that we had any control over what happened there.

And despite what it said on those bits of paper, it never felt as if it truly belonged to us. It felt too crowded from the start. You could almost feel other people's dreams projected on it, sense the waves of envy, or distrust, or desire that permeated its walls. Its history was not our history. There was nothing--not even our dreams--binding us to it."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bloggiesta Bound

I only learned a couple of days ago about the first ever week long Bloggiesta which is March 23-29. The sign-up page is here. This event couldn't have come at a better time as I've been thinking about doing a couple of things in the way of blog maintenance.

Here are my goals for the week:

1.  Spiff up my sidebar with some categories and a button or two. I played around with the elements in my sidebar, but in the end, I decided I liked the sidebar the way before. :)

2.  Take a look at my "About" and "Review Policy" pages and do some updating.
3.  Attend 2 or more Twitter chats.
4.  Join the Classics Club, complete the list of books I'll be reading for this, and post the list to my blog.
5.  Add labels to older posts and revise some labels.

This is my first time to participate in Bloggiesta, and I'm looking forward to a fun and informative week! Hope to see you there.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcome, Spring!

Claude Monet, The Artist's Garden at Giverny, ca. 1900
Yale University Art Gallery

Beneath the crisp and wintry carpet hid
A million buds but stay their blossoming; 
And trustful birds have built their nests amid
The shuddering boughs, and only wait to sing
Till one soft shower from the south shall bid,
And hither tempt the pilgrim steps of Spring.
Robert Bridges, The Growth of Love. Sonnet vi.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Remarks on Recent Reads: March Edition

A few of my recent reads have leaned toward mysteries or stories with an element of mystery, and then there were a couple of books that couldn't keep my attention. 

And Justice There Is None by Deborah Crombie (2003). What I love about Deborah Crombie's mysteries is that they all have to do with a particular subject, and I always come away having learned something interesting. The plot of this novel revolves around Portobello Market in London, past and present, and the relationships among a group of antiques dealers. The solution to the murder mystery lies in the past, and it was fun reading the flashbacks to London of the 1960s. Then there is the subplot involving the personal life of Scotland Yard's Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James. They've rented a house now that Gemma is pregnant, and Duncan's son, Kit, from another marriage is joining the family along with Gemma's young son, Toby. I enjoyed this novel and recommend it.

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908). Last year, I read an article about Rinehart (1876-1958), known as the Agatha Christie of America, and downloaded several of her books to my Kindle. This is the first book of hers I've read. The story is narrated by Rachel Innes, a spinster, who has rented a large summer home in the country called Sunnyside for a vacation with her adult niece and nephew. A mysterious murder of a man Rachel doesn't know (but turns out to be the local banker's son) happens in the middle of the night inside the house and sets Rachel on a course to solve the crime. This story has it all--someone assuming a false identity, an illegitimate child, a secret room, an elusive woman with a secret, things that go bump in the night, that mysterious circular staircase, and more. Also, Rachel is very opinionated and very funny. This is a fast read, and a lot of fun. I recommend The Circular Staircase.

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford (1940). Taking place during World War II, this is the story of Lady Sophia Garfield who volunteers for the war effort but discovers a ring of Nazi spies intent on destroying London. The book is a satire on the English upper class, and the plot reminded me a bit of a screwball comedy. But there was something about the writing that made me feel like I was watching everything from a distance. I still recommend this novel, but I enjoyed Christmas Pudding more.

I tried a couple of novels that I couldn't finish. A book club selection, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks (2012) details the life of Budo, an imaginary friend of nine year old Max. Max has Asperger's Syndrome, and getting through the day can be a heartbreaking challenge for him. I read a third of this book and never finished it mainly because other books got my attention. Another book that I tried was Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub (2012) about a teenager who runs away to 1920's Los Angeles, is discovered and becomes a big star. I read the first fifty pages and just couldn't get into it. I've put these books aside and am hoping to return to them soon.

This week, The Soul of Kindness by British author Elizabeth Taylor has been hard to put down. Also, I'm also reading Big City Eyes by Delia Ephron which also looks promising.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Soul of Kindness

Happy Tuesday and Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where anyone can share the first paragraph of a book, either that the person is reading or thinking of reading.

My selection is The Soul of Kindness by British author Elizabeth Taylor, first published in the UK in 1964. My edition is a 2013 reprint by Virago.

From the back cover:

"The soul of kindness is what Flora believes herself to be. Tall, blonde, and beautiful, she appears to have everything under control; her home, her baby, her husband Richard; her friend Meg; Kit, Meg's brother, who has always adored Flora; and Patrick the novelist and domestic pet. Only the bohemian painter Liz refuses to become a worshipper at the shrine.

Flora entrances them all, dangling visions of happiness and success before their spellbound eyes. All are bewitched by this golden tyrant, all conspire to protect her from what she really is. All, that is, except the clear-eyed Liz: it is left to her to show them that Flora's kindness is the sweetest poison of them all."

The first paragraph:

"Toward the end of the bridegroom's speech, the bride turned aside and began to throw crumbs of wedding cake through an opening in the marquee to the doves outside. She did so with gentle absorption, and more doves came down from their wooden house above the stables. Although she had caused a little rustle of amusement among the guests, she did not know it: her husband was embarrassed by her behaviour and thought it early in their married life to be so; but she did not know that either."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quotography Monday

If you've had a chance to look around here, it should come as no surprise that I love a literary quote. I have several books full of them--that's how much I love quotes. kelley at the World Goes Ever On told me about her Quotography feature on Mondays. Kelley provides words as inspiration. Awhile back, I noticed that a possibility for today was trapping, and I've included a quote below from William Cowper. 

The photo comes from part of a page from a leather bound notebook that I got years ago in a dusty London secondhand bookshop. The notebook is very old, and it has all kinds of poems and thoughts that someone so carefully put down in this book. I couldn't leave it behind.

And with poetic trappings grace thy prose.
William Cowper, The Task, Bk. v, 1. 679

Friday, March 13, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Paul Sandby RA, 1731-1809, Hackwood Park, Hampshire. 1764
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Unforgettable Read: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Over the weekend, I couldn't stop reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (2014), and today, I'm still thinking about the characters.

Sisters Yolandi, nicknamed Yoli, and Elfreida, known as Elf, grew up in a Mennonite community in northern Canada. Elf was a child prodigy who played the piano, which presented certain challenges for the family since the Mennonite elders did not approve of the playing of instruments. The girls became lively teenagers, each rebelling against the Mennonite way of life.

When we first meet Elf and Yoli, Elf is in a psych ward in Winnipeg. Although the beautiful, talented and seemingly successful Elf has led a glamorous life, playing in concert halls around the world, she doesn't want to live. She's tried to kill herself, and it's not the first time. Yoli, the narrator of the story, has come from her home in Toronto to help her mother who's exhausted from dealing with Elf as Elf refuses to cooperate with the doctors and nurses and has stopped eating. 

Yoli's life is a complicated juggling act. She has a teenage son and daughter from two different marriages, and she's going through a divorce from her second husband.  She has experienced some success as the author of a series of books for girls known as the Rodeo Rhonda series, but she's trying to finish her first literary novel. Yoli carries the manuscript of this novel everywhere in a Safeway bag. Yoli drinks too much and makes bad decisions about most everything.

At one point in All My Puny Sorrows, Yoli wonders if there is a suicide gene that can affect a family. Elf and Yoli's father killed himself and so did their cousin. As Yoli struggles to find a way to help Elf, in the end, what Elf wants is for Yoli to take her to Switzerland so she can die in a way that she desires. Yoli halfheartedly gets the details together but procrastinates about finalizing such a trip.

Although the subject matter is grim, there is humor in the book.  The back story of Elf and Yoli's years growing up has situations that made me laugh out loud. In Winnipeg, Yoli manages to get into some comical situations trying to deal with Elf, her mother, her teenage children from long distance, her soon to be ex-husband (via text messages) and a mechanic who was a classmate from high school.

The title of the book comes from a poem by Coleridge:

"I too a sister had, an only sister--
She loved me dearly and I doted on her!
To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows."

Complicated, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, I recommend All My Puny Sorrows.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh, something to love!
Thomas Haynes Bayley

Happy Tuesday! Today, I'm joining in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers can share the first paragraph of a book they are reading or thinking of reading soon.

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym has the honor of being her first novel published in England (in 1950) but her last published in the United States (in 1983). I've chosen this novel as one of the reads for my participation in the Back to the Classics Challenge.

From Goodreads:

"The Misses Bede occupy the central crossroads of parish life. Then into their quiet lives come a famous librarian, Nathaniel Mold, and a bishop from South Africa, Theodore Grote--who each take to calling on the sisters for rather unsettling reasons."

Here is the first paragraph:

"The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down. Belinda had noticed it when they had met him for the first time at the vicarage last week and had felt quite embarrassed. Perhaps Harriet could say something to him about it. Her blunt jolly manner could carry off these little awkwardnesses much better than Belinda's timidity. Of course, he might think it none of their business, as indeed it was not, but Belinda rather doubted whether he thought at all, if one were to judge by the quality of his first sermon."

I have to admit that I didn't know what Pym meant by his combinations being tucked into his socks, and I learned that combinations were a kind of men's underwear of pants and a vest in one garment. 

What to you think about the opening? Would you keep reading? 


Monday, March 9, 2015

Thoughts About The Girl on the Train

I'll start off by saying that my thoughts about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2014) will be in the minority. Having read so many glowing reviews of this book, I feel a little let down. 

Rachel rides the same train every morning which slows down near a house where she often sees a couple on their terrace. She makes up stories about them, referring to them as Jess and Jason. She imagines their lives are like the one she left behind in that very neighborhood, a few doors down from where Jess and Jason live. 

One day, she sees Jess (whose real name is Megan) kissing a man who isn't her husband. When Megan turns up missing, Rachel takes the information to the police. Even though Rachel thinks she understands the couple on the terrace, all is not what it seems, and Rachel discovers this the hard way.

Each of the chapters of the book are told from the perspective of Rachel, Megan, or Anna, new wife of Rachel's ex-husband, Tom.

From this point on, I'm going to mention a few particulars about the plot which might be considered spoilers.

It bothered me that this novel, written by a woman, doesn't have a likable woman in the story. The women who are the main characters have such messed up lives. For example, when alcoholic Rachel is drunk, she calls her ex-husband, Tom, sends e-mails, or does other things that she doesn't remember later. She finds outrageous ways to insert herself into the murder investigation and into the life of Megan's husband. Even Megan lost me when she follows her psychiatrist home, seduces him, and then gloats about it. 

Anna is not having an easy go of it as Tom's new wife, and it's no wonder with Rachel calling at all hours of the night or showing up on the doorstep. Tom and Anna have a baby, but Anna longs for the old days when she and Tom were lovers, having their clandestine meetings, and pulling the wool over Rachel's eyes. Anna happens upon the identity of the killer, but I found her reaction and what follows when Rachel gets involved a bit incredible. 

While the women in this novel are difficult to like, it's the same with the male characters. Apart from the unethical psychiatrist, there is Rachel's philandering, manipulative ex-husband whom she still loves, and Megan's controlling, abusive husband.

It was hard to suspend my disbelief throughout much of the book. Many of the situations felt like melodrama. The only thing that kept me reading was finding out who killed Megan, and that wasn't hard to guess. 

Having said all this, The Girl on the Train would be a good selection for a book club. There are lots of possibilities for a robust discussion about many aspects of this novel.

If you've read The Girl on the Train, I'm interested to know your thoughts.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

John Varley, A View along the Thames Towards Chelsea Old Church, between 1810 and 1815
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Back to the Classics: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

On the face of it, the plot of Night and Day seems simple. Published in 1919, the novel is set in London before World War I where Katherine Hilbery, a lively, headstrong young woman lives with her parents. Her now deceased grandfather was a famous poet, and the house is a place where the intellectuals of the day meet. As Katherine and her flighty mother work on a biography of the grandfather, Katherine's mother proves to be quite comical in her quest to come up with new details to add to the book, much to Katherine's consternation.

William Rodney, Katherine's fiance, is a mediocre poet and writer of Elizabethan drama. He's in his thirties, although he acts much older. Pompous, egotistical, and exacting, he wants to mold Katherine into his ideal. Although I didn't like William, I found him humorous at times in his thinking about women.

Katherine's life seems planned, but there are other characters in the mix who change the dynamics of the story. Another suitor appears through Ralph Denham. Katherine knows Ralph because he writes articles for her father's periodical. Ralph,who supports his large family of his mother and his brothers and sisters, can't stop thinking about Katherine. The practical Mary Datchet, a suffragette, is a working woman who has her own flat. Mary has an unrequited love for Ralph and finds herself in a position of influence since she is a confidante of both Katherine and Ralph. 

Another wrinkle to the story is Katherine's eccentric cousin, Cassandra, who spends her time playing the piano and growing silk worms in her bedroom. She catches William's eye to such an extent that his engagement to Katherine might be in peril. 

While there is a comedic element to Night and Day, there is something deeper going on. The novel deals with the role of women in society and in marriage, if women have to get married to be happy, and whether love is necessary for a successful marriage. Virginia Woolf perfectly captures the complexities of relationships between men and women.

What I love about Virginia Woolf's writing is the way she uses such beautiful language, especially to create lovely ethereal scenes of night time in London, whether it's one of the characters walking at night, or Ralph looking out his window into the evening. Night and Day is an intricate story full of details, and I loved visiting that time period of Edwardian pre World War I London.

I read Night and Day as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge at Books and Chocolate for the category of Classic by a Woman Author.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Welcome, March

March came in with ice and snow in my neck of the woods, but I'm glad that we're getting closer to spring. Here are a few literary quotes about March:

Ah, March! we know thou art
Kind hearted, spite of ugly looks and threat,
And, out of sight, art nursing April's violets!
Helen Hunt Jackson, March.

Now are the winds about us in their glee, 
Tossing the slender tree;
Whirling the sands bout his curious car,
March cometh from afar.
William Gilmore Simms, Song in March

Up from the sea the wild north wind is blowing
Under the sky's gray arch;
Smiling, I watch the shaken elm boughs,
It is the wind of March.
J.G. Whittier, March.