Friday, May 29, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Dance of the Nymphs, ca. 1865
Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to 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 planning to read soon.

I read about Disclaimer awhile back in Library Journal and couldn't resist pre-ordering the book. The novel has arrived on my Kindle, and I've taken a peek. The first chapter looks promising.

From Goodreads:

"Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead."

The first paragraph:

"Spring 2013

Catherine braces herself, but there is nothing left to come up. She grips the cold enamel and raises her head to look in the mirror. The face that looks back at her is not the one she went to bed with. She has seen this face before but hoped never to see it again. She studies herself in this new harsh light and wets a flannel, wiping her mouth then pressing it against her eyes as if she can extinguish the fear in them."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Salutations

Welcome to another installment of Sunday Salutations where I mention what's going on in my life and in my bookish life.

In My Life . . .

I'm still dealing with my foot, but help has come in the form of my new best friend, the knee walker:

No more hobbling around on crutches! I'm really glad to have this because it has made getting around much easier. 

I've been in Austin for the past few days, catching up with family. I got to attend my niece's choir performance where she had a solo. I may be biased, but I was so impressed with her poise and her beautiful singing voice. She's not quite a teenager, so I'm enjoying this time with her because she's so close to taking off with her life. The next time I see her, she'll probably be much busier with activities and friends.

On the Blog . . .

My First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro post was about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

I posted a review of Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf.

The Friday Zen painting was Ebbing Tide by James Whitelaw Hamilton (1896).

Reading . . .

I finished The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor, and a review is forthcoming.

Also, I finished the audio book of Sylvester by Georgette Heyer which was really good.

It's amazing how many audio books I've downloaded and not listened to yet. So, I've started Bossy Pants written and narrated by Tina Fey and Heartburn by Nora Ephron, narrated by Meryl Streep.

Looking forward to . . .

Next up in my reading is The Blessing by Nancy Mitford. Also, The Disclaimer  by Renee Knight has arrived on my Kindle, and it looks really interesting. 

I'm going to catch up on some episodes I've missed of the British show Outnumbered. I'm so happy that it's free on Hulu.

Also, I'm planning to do some listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra where there's an adaptation of Enchanted April and there are some episodes of the comedy, Clare in the Community, available. It's amazing what's on BBC radio. If I look around, I'm sure there is more I'll find to listen to.

I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday weekend! What have you been reading?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

James Whitelaw Hamilton, Ebbing Tide, ca. 1896
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf

I approached Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (1922) with a bit of trepidation, expecting something in the way of stream of consciousness, since this was Woolf's first foray into modernism. Instead, what I found was a series of short snapshots of time depicted through two or three sentences or longer vignettes in which the reader gets a chance to learn about Jacob Flanders.

The most challenging aspect of this book is that it has no plot and is basically a character study of Jacob. Seeing Jacob through the eyes of the other characters keeps him at arm's length. At times, I found this frustrating because I wanted to know how Jacob felt or what he thought at certain times. 

For most of the novel, Jacob's Room takes place in pre-World War I England, following Jacob's time at Cambridge. He travels through Italy and Greece when he is in his twenties as he searches for what he wants to do with his life. 

Most of what the reader learns about Jacob is seen through the women in his life. His mother, widowed Betty Flanders and mother of three boys, is prominent throughout the story. Clara, the sister of his friend Timothy Durrant, is a young woman who has unrequited love for Jacob. Florinda is an art student with whom he has an affair before realizing that he's not the only man she's seeing. When Jacob travels to Italy and Greece, he meets a couple, British travelers Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth Williams, and he falls in love with Mrs. Wentworth Williams, known as Sandra.

Although World War I is not talked about extensively in the novel, the war hovers in the background of the story. The title of the novel refers to the end of the book in which Jacob's mother and his friend, Bonamy, are trying to decide what to do with Jacob's possessions. We learn that Jacob has died in the war.  

Jacob's Room is a quick read at 178 pages. I found that the best way to approach the novel is to enjoy Woolf's prose, and there are so many passages that represent Woolf's wonderful writing. One of the things I love about Woolf's writing that I've found in several of her novels is her depiction of scenes that take place at night, and there are some of those in Jacob's Room. The novel does require a bit of work from the reader, and at times, reading the novel felt a bit like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. 

If you have an interest in Virginia Woolf or modernism, I would recommend this book.

I read Jacob's Room as one of my selections for the Classics Club.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to 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 planning to read soon.

Today, my selection is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2014). I haven't started this book yet, but it looks interesting, And from what I've read, people seem to either love this novel or hate it.

From the back cover:

"Rosemary doesn't talk very much, and about certain things, she's silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it's been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell.

Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can't go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone."

First chapter of the prologue:

"Those who know me now will be surprised to learn that I was a great talker as a child. We have a home movie taken when I was two years old, the old-fashioned kind with no sound track, and by now the colors have bled out--a white sky, my red sneakers a ghostly pink--but you can still see how much I used to talk."

At the end of the Prologue, Rosemary explains that she's going to start the story in the middle.

First paragraph of Chapter One:

"So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996. By then, we'd long since dwindled to the family that old home movie foreshadowed--me, my mother, and unseen but evident behind the camera, my father. In 1996, ten years had passed since I'd last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn't told you that, you might not have known. By 1996, whole days went by in which I hardly thought of either one."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Salutations

I always enjoy reading everyone's Sunday posts, so I thought I'd try a post looking back on the week in my life and on the blog.

In My Life . . . 

It's been a crazy week where I've had to take a deep breath. On Tuesday, I managed to stumble and ended up with a broken bone in my foot. (I'm still mad at myself!) I'll be wearing an unsightly boot on my foot that goes all the way up to my knee and using crutches.  Ugh!

It's been a time for reflection about slowing down and doing things in different ways. My husband and I planned a trip to northeast Texas to visit my family, and my doctor told me it would be okay. Wheelchair assistance at the airport is a great thing. So, I'm at my mother's house for the next two weeks which is good because my mother always makes me feel better.

On the Blog . . .

On Monday, I continued with my selections for the Back to the Classics Challenge with Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym.

My First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro post was about The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.

I love literary quotes and couldn't resist sharing some Words on the Month of May.

My Friday Zen post was this painting.

Reading this past week . . .

Not much to report, but I managed to finish Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married by Marian Keyes. It will be a selection for a mini-review soon.

Currently reading/listening to . . .

I've started two novellas, Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf and Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys.

On deck are books by the usual suspects in my reading these days, Nancy Mitford and Elizabeth Taylor. 

In my audio book world, I've started Sylvester by Georgette Heyer, narrated by he of the lovely voice, actor Richard Armitage.

Looking forward to . . .

Actually, what I look forward to the most for the next two weeks is time to read and work on my blog. I'll be seeing family and friends but mostly trying to keep the activity level low so my foot will heal.

Also, I'm planning to catch up on the podcast Home Front, a BBC Radio 4 drama about life during World War I in the British town of Folkestone. I really enjoy this drama, but I'm way behind on episodes.

In the future, I'm hoping to check out the Vanessa Bell exhibit at the Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

I hope that you've had a great week, and happy reading!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Sir Martin Archer Shee, A Woman in a Landscape, ca. 1840
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Words On the Month of May

For this is May! who with a daisy chain
Leads on the laughing Hours . . . 
And the glad earth, caressed by murmuring showers,
Wakes like a bride, to deck herself with flowers.
Henry Sylvester Cornwell, May.

The voice of one who goes before, to make
The paths of June more beautiful, is thine
Sweet May!
Helen Hunt Jackson, May.

Oh! that we two were Maying
Down the stream of the soft spring breeze; 
Like children with violets playing,
In the shade of the whispering trees.
Charles Kingsley, The Saint's Tragedy, Act ii, sc. 9.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy


Happy Tuesday! I hope that you're having a good week so far, a great week of reading and that the pollen is not affecting you. It's crazy here with pollen. I'm in an area which has been dubbed by the local news media as the "perfect storm" of pollen! Yikes! But on to reading . . .

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.

Today, my selection is a novel of Southern fiction set in New Orleans, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961).

From the back cover:

"On the eve of this thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to the movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a quest--a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and sends him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic."

The opening:

"This morning I got a note from my aunt asking me to come for lunch. I know what this means. Since I go there every Sunday for dinner and today is Wednesday, it can mean only one thing: she wants to have one of her serious talks. It will be extremely grave, either a piece of bad news about her stepdaughter Kate or else a serious talk about me, about the future and what I ought to do. It is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, yet I confess I do not find the prospect altogether unpleasant."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

Some Tame Gazelle (1950), Barbara Pym's first novel, is the story of the Bede sisters, the spinsters Belinda and Harriet, who live together in an English village in Oxfordshire. Of the two sisters, Harriet is the more vivacious. She plays the piano and is quite attractive. She enjoys the periodic marriage proposal from a charming Italian count who also lives in the village. Of course, Harriet must refuse him. Harriet also has an interest in curates and wants to be an important figure in their lives, especially when a new curate comes to town. Sometimes it seems like Harriet wants to be more of a mother figure to the new curate, but at other times, it appears that Harriet has more of a romantic interest.

Belinda, on the other hand, keeps most of her thoughts to herself. Possibly the worst kept secret of hers is her abiding adoration of Archdeacon Hoccleve, a pompous, arrogant man who was her first love. He is in a loveless marriage with the sometimes difficult Agatha. Belinda is able to overlook his multitude of faults and only see the man that she loves. 

In this traditional village, the subject of marriage is an important one. When a suitor comes to town with a marriage proposal for one of the sisters, the question becomes whether marriage will be a happier proposition for this particular Bede sister than continuing to live as she has done with her sister.

While Some Tame Gazelle is not big on plot, it is a nice, quiet kind of story. I love Pym's writing about the little post World War II village and its happenings. She has a lovely way of revealing little bits and pieces about the characters, and the book has much humor. 

This is my second Barbara Pym book, having read An Unsuitable Attachment last year. An Unsuitable Attachment is a different kind of book, and I liked it more, but I also recommend Some Tame Gazelle.

I read Some Tame Gazelle for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate, for the category of Forgotten Classic.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah

The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah (2013) is the first book of the DCI Kate Daniels series. This gritty police procedural takes place in northeast England. It begins with Daniels' discovery of the bodies of a priest and a young woman in a church, murders that go unsolved. Months later, when Daniels is offered the lead on a murder investigation, things seem to be looking up for her career. 

The only problem is that Daniels knows who the murdered man is, and revealing to her superiors how she knows the man could jeopardize her career. When a close colleague is charged with the murder, Daniels' personal life gets more complicated, especially when it gets tangled up in her professional life. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose, but he also finds time to lurk in the shadows, watching Daniels' every move.

Although there were a lot of moving parts to the story, it was always gripping. It was fun to get to know Daniels--a hardworking, intelligent, flawed and believable detective. Hannah created a truly despicable character in the serial killer of the story. I found The Murder Wall to be unputdownable, and it had a humdinger of an ending. 

I look forward to reading more of Mari Hannah's books in this series. Have you read any of the Kate Daniels mysteries?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Spencer Frederick Gore, Tennis at Hertingfordbury, 1910
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury by Alison Light (2008) appealed to me because I love reading about the Bloomsbury Group. The title is a bit deceiving because the book is about much more than Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). It's a an interesting social history of women's lives in domestic service in England from the Victorian era up until the Second World War. Along with this narrative, the book looks at Virginia Woolf and her relationship to her servants.

Being a maid was the top employment for women from the Victorian era until after World War II. Many of these women were under twenty years of age and came from foundling homes or from rural England. Working and living conditions varied widely, depending upon whom a woman worked. (At Virginia Woolf's early home, 22 Hyde Park Gate, the maids lived in the dark, cold basement, and one of the servants lived in the attic where temperatures were extreme, depending on the season.) The average hours were long, anywhere between 80-100 hours a week, and a domestic servant who got a day off from time to time was considered lucky.

As the Bloomsbury Group loved to flout social convention, several members of the group did away with the requirement for their servants to wear uniforms, and it wasn't uncommon for a maid to be invited to have a meal or join in a party with her employers. However, Virginia Woolf's relationship to servants was one of ambivalence. She saw them as an intrusive presence in her life and struggled to be independent of them, an impossibility because she needed the help of a servant to run the house so that she could write. Also, Virginia was dependent upon servants and nurses when she was recovering from a nervous breakdown.

The book concentrates on Virginia's relationship with Nellie Boxall (1890-1965) who had previously worked for the artist Roger Fry before she joined the Woolfs in 1916. (Nellie stayed in the Woolfs' employ for eighteen years.) Nellie and Virginia argued quite often, which would end in Nellie's threatening to quit. Later, the two would make amends. Virginia wrote in her diary of the challenges and frustrations of dealing with Nellie. Ironically, when Nellie did leave, she landed in a much better situation, working for British film star, Charles Laughton, and his glamorous wife, the actress Elsa Lanchester, in their lavish London home with all the modern conveniences that the Woolfs' residences lacked.

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury is a fascinating look at women's lives, not only domestic servants but their employers, and how changes in society and technology as well as two world wars affected the role of the domestic servant. Changes also took place in Virginia Woolf's world. She'd won some independence from servants such as learning to cook and only needing the help of one daily servant. Until the day she died, Virginia tried to come to grips with how to take part in domestic life and still maintain a writing life.  

I'd recommend Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life for anyone who enjoys reading about Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, or women's history.

If you've read this book, I love to know your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Husband's Secret

Happy Tuesday! 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 planning on reading soon.

My choice is a book that's been on my Kindle for some time--The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (2013).

From Goodreads:

"Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter to be read after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contained his deepest, darkest secret--something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across the letter while your husband is very much alive . . . Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all--she's an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia--or each other--but they, too, are about the feel the earth shattering repercussions of her husband's secret." 

The opening:

"It was all because of the Berlin Wall.

If it weren't for the Berlin Wall, Cecilia would never have found the letter, and then she wouldn't be sitting here, at the kitchen table, willing herself not to rip it open.

The envelope was gray with a fine layer of dust. The words on the front were written in a scratchy blue ballpoint pen, the handwriting as familiar as her own. She turned it over. It was sealed with a yellowing piece of sticky tape. When was it written? It felt old, like it was written years ago, but there was no way of knowing for sure."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Welcome, May

Among the changing months, May stands confest
The sweetest, and in fairest colours drest.
James Thomson, The Month of May.

Remarks on Recent Reads: April Edition

April flew by for me! In the midst of it, I read a hodgepodge of good things.

Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore (2013). I watch the British crime drama "Scott and Bailey," and I'm a fan of Ameila Bullmore who plays the smart, officious and mostly serious boss, Gill Murray. Bullmore is the author of the play Di and Viv and Rose. I wished that I could have transported myself to the West End of London this past winter to see the play. It's the story of three girls who become friends through sharing a house at university. When we first meet the three young women, they are 18. Di, Viv and Rose are funny and enthusiastic. The play catches up with them in the different decades that follow. The play has its comic moments and at times, it is a moving look at friendship and how time alters and possibly threatens to tear apart their friendship through the years. If you like reading plays, I recommend this one. It's under one hundred pages. One day, I hope that I'll get a chance to see Di and Viv and Rose.

Now May You Weep by Deborah Crombie (2003). Hazel Cavendish has been a character a bit in the background in this series. She's been the supportive friend and landlord of Detective Gemma James in this series. However, in Now May You Weep, Hazel steps out to the forefront as she and Gemma take a trip to the Scottish Highlands. Gemma realizes too late that Hazel has some secrets as well as ulterior motives on this trip that turns into a mystery involving murder, family rivalries, lost love, and an interesting look at what goes into the business of whiskey distilling. I recommend this book. 

Big City Eyes by Delia Ephron (2001). The title of this book comes from main character Lily Davis' column that she writes for the weekly local newspaper. Lily has moved from Manhattan to rural Long Island, mainly to get away from the bad influences of the city on her fifteen year old son. Life in a small town presents challenges such as gossip, her son's new Klingon speaking girlfriend, Lily's undeniable attraction to a very married police officer, and then, there is a dead body. This was a fun read with crackling good dialogue. I recommend this novel. 

The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters of Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1953-1973 by Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill (2005). In the early 1940s, British writer Nancy Mitford worked at Heywood Hill's bookshop in Mayfair until the end of World War II, which began a friendship with Hill that lasted until Mitford's death in 1973. The letters in this collection are edited by John Saumarez Smith who also worked at Heywood Hill and later ran the shop. I wondered if Smith took too heavy a hand with his editing because in some cases there is a snippet here and a snippet there when I would've liked more. What is in the book are letters that illustrate the warmth of Mitford and Hill's friendship, often including gossip about the glitterati of the day as well as information about the book trade and the challenges of running a bookshop. Nancy Mitford was was never at a loss for a good party invitation which makes for fun gossipy tidbits. Some of the characters mentioned are Violet Trefusis, Evelyn Waugh, Osbert Sitwell, Jane Asher, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, and some of the surviving members of Bloomsbury, just to name a few. If you like reading about the Mitford Sisters like I do, you'll enjoy this book.   

What are you reading?