Tuesday, April 28, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

Hope you are having a good week so far. I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

I'm taking a few days off for some much needed vacation. My husband and I are enjoying some time on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Maryland, so my reading has gone toward vacation kind of reading.

Today, my selection is My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart (1959).

From the back cover:

"Nothing ever happened to Camilla Haven--until a stranger approached her in a crowded Athens cafe, handed her the keys to a black car parked by the curb, and whispered, "A matter of life and death."

The ride was Camilla's first mistake . . ."

The first few paragraphs:

"Nothing ever happens to me. 

I wrote the words slowly, looked at them for a moment with a little sigh, then put my ballpoint pen down on the cafe table and rummaged in my handbag for a cigarette.

As I breathed the smoke in I looked about me. It occurred to me, thinking of that last depressed sentence in my letter to Elizabeth, that enough was happening at the moment to satisfy all but the most adventure-hungry. That is the impression that Athens gives you. Everyone is moving, talking, gesticulating--but particularly talking. The second one remembers in Athens is not the clamour of the impatiently congested traffic, or the perpetual hammer of the pneumatic drill or even the age-old sound of chisels chipping away at the Pentelic marble which is still the cheapest stone for building. . . . what one remembers about Athens is the roar of the talking."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Scent of Water

I'm taking part in Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week, hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and for this, I've read The Scent of Water (1963).

This is the first book I've read by Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984). The book was such a delight. In The Scent of Water, Mary Lindsay inherits a country house, The Laurels, from an older cousin Mary recalls having met met once when she was a child. Mary decides to leave behind her life in London and to move to the village of Appleshaw where she takes up residence at The Laurels. We get to meet the inhabitants of the village. As Mary finds her way and becomes part of the community, she learns more about her cousin through journals that she discovers in the house, and Mary comes to learn more about herself. 

There are so many wonderful elements in the The Scent of Water. I loved that the main character is an older woman; the story is rich with interesting characters who are flawed but who are impossible to dislike; and Goudge's characters who are children are are written in a realistic way. Some serious issues are explored like starting over, mental illness, faith and spirituality. 

I found something quite comforting about The Scent of Water. The writing is beautiful. I have many favorite scenes, but there is one that takes place on Christmas night that is magical. Even though Goudge reminds us that the world with its problems goes on outside Applesaw, I found the little village a lovely place to visit and look forward to reading more of her work. 

Have you read any of Elizabeth Goudge's books?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sunny Days, 1874
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Remembering Rupert Brooke on the Centenary of His Death

 (August 3, 1887-April 23, 1915)

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
Rupert Brooke, 1914: The Soldier.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married

Happy Tuesday! On Tuesdays, I like to take part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about a book they are reading or thinking of reading soon. 

I like the way Marian Keyes tells a story, and I've been in the mood lately for one of her books. Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married (1997) has been in my TBR pile for quite some time.

From the back cover:

"What happens when a psychic tells Lucy that she'll be getting married within the year? Her roommates panic! What is going to happen to their blissful existence of eating take-out, drinking too much wine, bringing men home, and never vacuuming?

Lucy reassures her friends that she's far too busy arguing with her mother and taking care of her irresponsible father to get married. And then there's the small matter of not even having a boyfriend.

But then Lucy meets gorgeous, unreliable Gus. Could he be the future Mr. Lucy Sullivan? Or could it be handsome Chuck? Or Daniel, the world's biggest flirt? Or even cute Jed, the new guy at work? 

Maybe her friends have something to worry about after all . . ."

From the opening:

"When Meredia reminded me that the four of us from the office were due to visit a fortune-teller the following Monday, my stomach lurched.

"You've forgotten," accused Meredia, her chubby face aquiver.

I had.

She slapped her hand down on her desk and warned, "Don't even think of trying to tell me that you're not coming."

"Damn," I whispered, because that was just what I had been about to do. Not because I had any objections to having my fortune told. On the contrary--it was usually good for a laugh. Especially when they got to the part where they told me that the man of my dreams was just around the next corner. That part was always hilarious."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Around this time of year, I start seeing the college rowing crews out on the river as I cross the bridge into town on my way to work. The crews fascinate me, and I've wondered what it must be like to be part of such a team, oars moving through the water in unison. Thanks to The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013), I have a greater appreciation of the sport of rowing and the philosophy behind it, as well as the opportunity of reading a corker of a story about the underdog University of Washington rowing team that won the 1936 gold medal in Berlin as Hitler looked on.

Here are some of the things that I liked about this book: the poignant story of Joe Rantz, his heartbreaking personal setbacks and his rowing challenges as he struggles to find a way to belong; the stoic and quiet wisdom of Coach Al Ulbrickson who wants so much for his team; the wise words of George Pocock, the famed British rower and maker of racing shells, his presence valuable in so many ways to the Washington team; and the wonderful writing that captures the races leading up to the Olympics, and the nail biter of a spectacular Olympic race (At times, I felt like I was in the boat, too!). Brown does a good job of bringing the story to life amid the Depression and the atmosphere in Nazi Germany leading up to World War II.  

Needless to say, I recommend this book. Along with reading the book, I also listened to portions of the audio book, and what I heard was excellent narration by Edward Herrmann.

Have you read Boys in the Boat

Friday, April 17, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

John Constable, Osmington Village, 1816 to 1817
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Edna St. Vincent Millay and A Bittersweet Life

I read Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford (2001), which is 608 pages, as part of my participation in the Chunkster Challenge.

Today, it's hard to imagine a poet having the celebrity status that Edna St. Vincent Millay enjoyed in her lifetime (1892-1950). She had the kind of star quality that attracted people to her. During the Depression, her books of poetry were bestsellers. She went on tours across the United States, reading her poetry in literary salons and selling out concert halls and auditoriums to standing room only audiences, entranced by hearing the beautiful 5'1" poet recite her work.

In her biography, Nancy Milford details a bittersweet life lived in brilliance and excess against the backdrop of two world wars, the Jazz Age, and the Depression. The biography is quite detailed with journal entries, letters, and Millay's poetry.

Although Millay had been writing since she was eight, her fame as a poet began in 1912 when she was twenty with the lyric poem "Renascence." She entered "Renascence" in a poetry contest, but he fact that she did not win when her poem was considered by many to be the best got her much publicity. Here is the first stanza of "Renascence":

"All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood; 
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around til I was come
Back to where I started from; 
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood." 

Not long after, Millay caught the attention of wealthy socialite Caroline Dow, who heard Millay reciting poetry. Dow became Millay's patron and used her influence to get Millay into Vassar. 

After Vassar, Millay lived a Bohemian kind of existence in Greenwich Village and travelled around Europe. Her charismatic personality drew men and women into her circle, and she had affairs (and lots of them) with both sexes. She drank to the point of becoming an alcoholic, had abortions, and later became a drug addict. Amid all of this, she wrote brilliant poetry, plays, and short stories, and at one time, she joined an acting group. Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

In 1923, Millay married a handsome Dutch exporter twelve years older than she, Eugen Boussevain. He understood her artistic temperament and took care of the details of her life, keeping the world at bay, so that Millay could concentrate on writing her poetry, at their farm in upstate New York known as Steepletop

Theirs was an open marriage, and each had lovers. Millay met poet George Dillion, fourteen years her junior, in 1928. Millay took off for Paris to be with Dillon. When their affair ended, she returned to Steepletop, and was welcomed back by Eugen.

Sadly, Millay's excesses would catch up to her, and she died alone at Steepletop in 1950, one year after Boussevain's death.

While this was such a fascinating book, I wished for more information about Millay's creative process and wanted to know more about who influenced her writing. What I found hardest to read was the section of the book about Millay's final years and her struggle with alcohol, morphine and barbiturates. 

If you enjoy biographies, Millay's poetry or reading about life during the Jazz Age in New York City, I would recommend Savage Beauty.  There's much more to the book than I've included here. I found the biography absorbing, intense, and hard to put down.

"Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!"
"Second Fig" from A Few Figs from Thistles (1922)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Point of Rescue

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share the first paragraph of a book they are reading or thinking of reading soon. It's really fun, and anyone can join in.

My selection is The Point of Rescue by British author Sophie Hannah (2008).

From the back cover:

"Sally is watching the news with her husband when she hears a name she ought not to recognise: Mark Bretherick.

Last year, a work trip Sally had planned was cancelled at the last minute. Desperate for a break from her busy life juggling her career and a young family, Sally didn't tell her husband that the trip had fallen through. Instead, she booked a week off and treated herself to a secret holiday. All she wanted was a bit of peace--some time to herself--but it didn't work out that way. Because Sally met a man--Mark Bretherick.

All the details are the same: where he lives, his job, his wife Geraldine and daughter, Lucy. Except that the man on the news is someone Sally has never seen before. And Geraldine and Lucy Bretherick are both dead . . ."

The opening:

"Monday, 6 2007

Or your family.

The last three words are yelled, not spoken. As Pam elbows her way through the crowd in front of me, I hear nothing apart from that last spurt of viciousness, her afterthought. She made it four syllables instead of five: 'Or your fam-ly', four blows that thump in my mind like a boxer's jabbing fist.

Why bring my family into it? What have they ever done to Pam?"

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Adriaan de Lelie, The Art Gallery of Jan Gildemeester Jansz, 1794-1795
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Classics Spin Has Chosen . . .

The result of the Classics Spin for me is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. This book has been at the bottom of my TBR pile for several years. Yes, I've been a little intimidated by it. Now that fate, in the form of Classics Spin #9, has chosen this book, I'm cautiously optimistic about getting started. 

From the back cover:

"An audacious revision of the stories of Faust and Pontius Pilate, The Master and Margarita is recognized as one of the essential classics of modern Russian literature. The novel's vision of Soviet life in the 1930s is so ferociously accurate that it could not be published during its author's lifetime and appeared only in a censored edition in the 1960s. Its truths are so enduring that its language has become part of the common Russian speech.

One hot spring, the devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful witch and an immense talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. The visitors quickly wreak havoc in a city that refuses to believe in either God or Satan. But they also bring peace to two unhappy Muscovites: one is the Master, a writer pilloried for daring to write a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate; the other is Margarita, who loves the Master so deeply that she is willing literally to go to hell for him. What ensues is a novel of inexhaustible energy, humor, and philosophical depth, a work whose nuances emerge for the first time in Diana Burgin's and Katherine Tiernan O' Connor's splendid English version."

Have you read The Master and Margarita?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Boys in the Boat

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

My choice today is a book club selection that I'm about to start, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013). To be honest, the opening doesn't exactly grab me, but the blurb about the book makes me want to read it. I love the story of an underdog.

From Goodreads:

"Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936."

The opening:

"Monday, October 9, 1933, began as a gray day in Seattle. A gray day in a gray time."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

It's Time for a Classics Spin

Classics Spin #9 is almost upon us. Being a new member of The Classics Club, I'm excited to join in and am posting my list in the nick of time. When a number between 1 and 20 is drawn tomorrow morning, I'll update this post about which book corresponds with the number on my list that I'll be reading next for The Classics Club. 

Here is my list:

1. Bronte Charlotte. Villette

2. Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Master and Margarita

3. Flaubert, Gustave. Sentimental Education

4. Jameson, Storm. Company Parade

5. Mayor, F.M. The Rector's Daughter

6. Delafield, E.M. Diary of a Provincial Lady

7. Mitford, Nancy. Love in a Cold Climate

8. West, Dorothy. The Living is Easy

9. Various. The Penguin Book of World War I Stories

10. Pym, Barbara. Excellent Women

11. Smith, Dodie. I Capture the Castle

12. Foote, Shelby. Follow Me Down

13. Highsmith, Patricia. Eleven

14. Lehmann, Beatrix. Rumour of Heaven

15. Templeton, Edith. The Surprise of Cremona

16. Woolf, Leonard. The Wise Virgins

17. Woolf, Virginia. Jacob's Room

18. Forster, E.M. The Longest Journey

19. Edwards, Dorothy. Rhapsody

20. Waugh, E.M. Scoop

Friday, April 3, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Balthasar van der Ast. Basket of Flowers, ca. 1622
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Welcome, April

Winter's done, and April's in the skies,
Earth, look up with laughter in your eyes.
Charles G.D. Roberts, An April Adoration.