Tuesday, August 25, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Settled Blood by Mari Hannah

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which book bloggers share a bit about a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

Today, my choice is the second book in the Kate Daniels mystery series by British author Mari Hannah, Settled Blood, published in 2012.


A slight vibration passed through her body. It took a moment to register that she was no longer on her feet, no longer waiting for her instructor to show. It was dark now. And then she remembered . . . one minute she had been tweeting about her day, the next she was hitting the deck. He hadn't made a sound as he approached. A sharp pain in her shoulder and he was helping her gently to the ground, acting the hero."

From Goodreads:

"When a young girl is found dead at the base of Hadrian's Wall, it's not long before Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels realizes her death was no ordinary homicide. She was thrown from a great height and probably alive before she hit the ground. Then a local businessman reports his daughter missing, has Daniels found the identity of her victim, or is a killer playing a sickening game? As the murder investigation team delve deeper into the case, half truths are told, secrets exposed, and while Daniels makes her way through a mountain of obstacles time is running out for one terrified girl."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood

Awhile back, I was reading about Lady Caroline Blackwood--heiress to the Guiness brewery fortune, writer, Bohemian, and bon vivant. She was the wife of painter Lucian Freud (they eloped to Paris when she was 21), and her last husband was the poet Robert Lowell. Great Granny Webster (1977), thought to be autobiographical and considered Blackwood's masterpiece, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It's also included in the New York Review Books classics series, so I bought the book thinking it must be good. Unfortunately, Great Granny Webster was not all that I had hoped the novel would be. 

The story takes place a few years after World War II and begins with our narrator, a fourteen year old girl, being sent to her great grandmother's house to recuperate from an operation because Great Granny Webster lives by the seaside near Brighton. Great Granny Webster is a strict taskmaster in her dark villa where she sits by a fireside that's never lit and runs the house like the war is still going on. She has no friends, only her servant, Richards, an old woman who wears an eye patch and can barely get up and down the stairs. 

What our young narrator wants more than anything is to go to the beach, but Great Granny Webster won't allow that. Instead, the woman hires a chauffeur who periodically drives the two in his Rolls Royce, going up and down with the seafront, with the windows open just enough to get a whiff of the sea air. Great Granny Webster would not dare mix with the vacationers whom she refers to with great disdain as "trippers."

We get a chance to meet other eccentric family members. There is mention in the story of Great Granny Webster's daughter who was put away for her behavior years earlier at a christening where she tried to run away with the baby (the brother of the narrator), threatening to kill him. Great secrecy surrounds what happened to the woman and where she eventually ended up. Then there is the beautiful, elegant Aunt Lavinia, who loves parties, drinking and marrying millionaires. She is possibly the most cheerful and witty suicidal character I've ever read about. 

These interesting characters should make for a great story, but Great Granny Webster has no real plot to speak of. At times it felt like reading vignettes about people's lives. I kept anticipating that something would happen to bring everything together in the end, but I was disappointed.

Great Granny Webster is full of dark humor. Even though I'd never want to stay at Great Granny Webster's villa, I couldn't help liking her. I just wanted more from the novel. 

Are you familiar with Caroline Blackwood's books?

Lady Caroline Blackwood (1931-1996)

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Issac Israels, Donkey Rides on the Beach, ca. 1890-1901

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas

It's been awhile since I posted something for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. For the category of a classic novella, I read the novellas included in Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas by Edith Wharton:

The Touchstone (1900)

Stephen Glennard is in love with Alexia Trent but doesn't have enough money. He had a past relationship with the intensely private Margaret Aubyn, an author who is dead, but there is a great deal of interest about Aubyn's personal life. Glennard removes his name from the love letters and publishes them with the help of an acquaintance, Flemel. Glennard lies to Flemel and tells him the letters belong to a friend, and Glennard doesn't tell his fiancee about the letters. Meanwhile, the book of letters becomes a huge success. Everywhere Glennard turns, he can't get away from the success of the book. It provides the means to get married, but soon, Glennard is in the depths of despair about his betrayal of Aubyn, the deception of his wife, and his inability to sever ties with the manipulative Flemel.

I'm often amazed at how contemporary Edith Wharton's stories can seem in this day and age. I felt this way when I read Custom of the Country and had the same feeling with The Touchstone. It's a magnificently crafted story.

Sanctuary (1903)

Kate is engaged to Denis Peyton, who takes part in a deception involving an inheritance he received from the death of his brother. At first, Kate decides that she can't marry a man who finds it easy to mislead and lie, but in the end, she decides to go forward with the marriage in hopes that she can protect any children they might have from the influences of such a duplicitous father.

Years later, Kate's son, Dick, begins his career as an architect. His father died not too long after he was born after squandering the inheritance. Kate has been an overprotective mother, but this hasn't stopped Dick from becoming engaged to a superficial young woman or being faced with a decision he must make on his own involving a deception which could affect the future of his career. Is Dick more like his father than Kate realized?

The tension and pacing of this story made it impossible to stop reading. Wharton captures perfectly another timeless and universal situation where Dick faces a moral dilemma with everyone around him telling him to go ahead, but he must decide what is right. Also, there is a bit of a twist as Kate tries to help the situation go in the direction she wants it to. This is a powerful tale, deftly told.

Madame de Treymes (1907)

Set in Paris, John Durham wants to help Fanny Frisbee, who is now Fanny de Malrive, obtain a divorce so that John and Fanny can be married. Fanny knows that her husband's family will never agree to a divorce and allow her son to leave France. The only hope is for John to appeal to Fanny's influential sister-in-law, the mysterious Madame de Treymes. 

Wharton has created a subtle story, dealing with the social differences between America and France. The story illustrates how little power a married women in France had when the husband's family made all decisions and religion played such a large role in society. This story was a bit hard to follow at times. I found some of the language a bit stilted as well. This novella did not capture my imagination like the other novellas and was my least favorite. 

The Bunner Sisters (1916)

Ann Eliza and Evelina Bunner are the unlucky older sisters who live in their shabby millinery shop in a downtrodden neighborhood of New York City. For Evelina's birthday, Ann Eliza (the older sister) buys a clock from a nearby shop. Soon, the German clock maker, Herman Ramay, becomes part of their lives. Ann Eliza is interested in Ramay, but Evelina has always been the pretty one. It appears that Ramay fancies Evelina. With an impending marriage to one of the sisters, the naive ladies have placed their trust in Ramay far too easily, not realizing that he hides a damaging secret that will affect all their lives.

I was absolutely riveted by The Bunner Sisters. Wharton is so effective in writing about characters navigating the upper class of society, but she is equally effective in a setting where the characters are those less fortunate. Even though this was a heartbreaking story, it was my favorite of the novellas. 

This was my first experience in reading some of Edith Wharton's novellas. I highly recommend this collection, especially for those readers who love Edith Wharton's writing. There is a little something for everyone and a lot to like about this collection.

Earlier this year, Lark Writes . . . on books and life wrote an excellent post in which she talked about her thoughts on The Bunner Sisters and Madame de Treymes.

Have you read any of Edith Wharton's novellas, or are you new to them like me?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Rules of Civility

Happy Tuesday and welcome to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea where book bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

I may be one of the few people who hasn't read Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011). I picked up this novel earlier this year at a book sale, and I'm planning to read it soon.

The opening:

"It was the last night of 1937.

With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground."

From the back cover:

"On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel her on a yearlong journey, toward the upper echelons of New York society--where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Title Acrostics

Inspired by Lory at Emerald City Book Review and her post about book title acrostics, I decided to join in, too! While I'm familiar with the concept, I'd never heard the term acrostic in which a certain letter in a series of lines spells out a word, or in this case, a name. It was fun to look back over the books I've read, and these were the titles I came up with:

I had so much fun, I decided to do it all again with book titles from my TBR list:

Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Ice House by Nina Bawden

Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

How about you? What does your name in book titles look like?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Salutations

Welcome to Sunday Salutations! 

In my life, I've been making it pretty well without cane or knee walker. Although they've been trusty and steadfast, it's been nice not to have to rely on them. The weeks seem to be going by fast, and it's hard to think of the summer coming to a close soon!

On the blog . . .

A late edition of Sunday Salutations at the beginning of the week

ForFirst Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, my selection was Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Thursday's post was Remarks on Recent Reads

Friday's post was a beautiful John Singer Sargent painting

My reading . . .

I have a few pages left of Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas by Edith Wharton. I'm not too far into This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart or A Finer End by Deborah Crombie, but I've read enough of both to know that they're the kind of books I'll really enjoy.

Watching . . .

What I've been watching this week has been all about British productions, and they've been really good:

I hope that you've had a great week! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

John Singer Sargent, En route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878
Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Remarks on Recent Reads: August Edition

Welcome to Remarks on Recent ReadsI hope that your August is going well. Here are five books with a little something for everyone here--cremation, funerals, castles, beaches, seaside towns, first love, and romantic comedy. I'm also interested to know what you've been reading lately. 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty (2014) 

This book is many things--part autobiography, a frank look at the cremation and funeral industry, and Doughty's opinions about the way we view death in our society. I loved Doughty's writing style and reading about her experiences at the crematory. This book has given me a lot to think about, and I highly recommend it. 

Angels by Marian Keyes (2002) 

Angels is the third in the series of Keyes' books about the Walsh sisters. It's the story of Maggie, the good girl of the sisters, who loses her job and discovers that her husband is having an affair. She goes home to her family in Dublin, but living with her family doesn't work out so well. She pays her best friend, Emily, a visit. Emily is a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles. As Maggie navigates the unusual ways of the film world, there is much of Keyes' characteristic romantic comedy with laugh out loud situations. More serious issues that are also dealt with such as depression and miscarriage. I particularly enjoyed what happened when the Walsh family pays a visit to Maggie in Los Angeles. I recommend Angels for a great summer read. 

Secrets by Freya North (2012)

Joe is a bridge builder with a rambling house by the sea in northeast England. He comes and goes as he pleases, enjoying his lack of commitment to several of the women he spends time with in cities where he goes for work. The new house sitter, Tess, shows up on his doorstep with her small daughter. She's not at all what he had in mind. Eventually, he can't seem to get her out of his mind. She's a bit of a mystery to him, but he's not without his own secrets. This book was so much fun to read. Freya North has an interesting writing style, and I loved the characters, the setting, and the journey Tess and Joe take. This novel is also a great summer read.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1999, originally published in 1948) 

I absolutely adored this delightful classic with its story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her eccentric family, the Mortmains, who live in an old English castle in the 1930s. The book is told in epistolary style from Cassandra's point of view, and it's her coming of age story. Cassandra wants to be a writer while her sister, Rose, longs for a husband and a better way of life from the poor existence in the castle. An affluent family, the Cottons, with two sons of marrying age moves near by, and all the lives of the Mortmains are affected. I highly recommend this wonderful book. 

The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor (1953)

The novel has to do with middle-aged Vinny, who visits a seaside town to console a friend, Isabella, whose husband has died. He looks out a window and sees a young woman walking on the beach and is quite taken with her. Emily, the young woman on the beach, lives a very sheltered existence. She's awakened by Vinny's love, not unlike the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. The Sleeping Beauty has elements that I've come to love in Taylor's novels--subtlety and her way of creating characters whose lives become intertwined. This is a difficult book to write about without giving too much away. I found it hard to connect to the story and the characters. Of the several novels I've read by Taylor, this is not my favorite. 

If you've read any of these books, what are your thoughts? What are you reading this summer?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share the first chapter or two of a book they are reading or thinking of reading soon.

My selection is Ray Bradbury's autobiographical story of a twelve-year-old boy's magical small town summer, Dandelion Wine, originally published in 1957. I plan to start reading this book soon.

The opening:

"It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from our window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in this third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . ."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sunday Salutations: The Belated Edition

Hello and welcome to this belated edition of Sunday Salutations!

I'm happy to report that my doctor told me that I can stop taking it easy and start working on walking a little more (five minutes a day to start with this week). It's been a challenge not to overdo it! 

This weekend, the weather was fabulous, and my husband and I enjoyed a local peach festival with great barbecue, wonderful peach cobbler and ice cream, fantastic live music, and interesting conversation. 

This week has been full of reading and catching up on murder mysteries like Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple (with the wonderful Joan Hickson). 

There is some unfinished business concerning July, and I wanted to take a look back at what I read last month:

This past week, I finished these books:

Recently on the blog:

August Rain . . .

A review of Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros featured The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor

A review of Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg

Have A Lovely Weekend painting

I'm trying to decide what to read next. There are so many books I want to read, it's a bit daunting. At the moment, I'm leaning toward Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart which is set in Corfu. 

On the horizon is a trip next month to the Hudson River Valley in New York state. It's always fun to have something to look forward to, and the planning is half the fun.

I hope that your reading is going well. What are your reading plans for this week?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg

One of the selections of the British Library Crime Classics series, Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg, was originally published in 1935. 

In this mystery, Edwin Marriott, Bishop of Cootamundra in Australia, is in on vacation in England and interested in flying lessons. While he's at Baston Aero Club, the plane of George Furnace crashes. It's hard for everyone at the aerodrome to imagine that a flyer as accomplished as Furnace would crash his plane. Did he crash, or did he commit suicide over a lost love? 

The Bishop, it turns out, knows a thing or two about murder investigations and has his own observations and questions. When it's learned that Furnace actually died from a gunshot wound to the head right before the plane went down (when no other airplanes were in the sky), this revelation sets in motion a plot which goes from London to France and then to Glasgow.  

The characters are amusing and some of them a bit quirky. It's hard to go wrong with names like Lady Crumbles, Lord Entourage, Sally Sackbut, Bernard Bray, and there are others.

I like mysteries that take place during the 1930s, and I enjoyed this one. Death of an Airman is a quick read, and the plot took interesting twists and turns. There were surprises that kept me reading to see how it would all work out in the end.

I recommend Death of an Airman and look forward to reading more from the British Library Crime Classics series.

I was provided an electronic copy of this book from Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Sleeping Beauty

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where book bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon. 

I've come back to the work of British novelist Elizabeth Taylor for a book that's on my summer reading list, The Sleeping Beauty (originally published in 1953). My edition is the 2014 Virago Modern Classics edition, and I'm halfway through the book.

The opening:

"'There's Vinny going in with the wreaths,' Isabella had once said.

Now that her own time to be consoled had come, she was glad of him. The wreaths she had mentioned were a figure of speech--her way of associating Vinny with condolences and gloom; for disaster could always bring him to a scene. He went with sympathy professional in its skill; yet adept, exquisite. More personal than the professionals whom he excelled--doctors, priests, undertakers--he fired his reliability with talent and imagination. His letters to the bereaved never expressed inadequacy on his part: they seemed simply to be the reason for his existence. Flippant people--Isabella was one--felt that his presence was a foreboding, or a dismal signal, like drawn blinds: but behind the closed doors where sorrow was, he sustained and comforted."

From the back cover:

"Vinny Tumulty is a quiet, sensible man. When he goes to stay at a seaside town, his task is to comfort a bereaved friend. Vinny is prepared for a solemn few days of tears and consolation. But on the evening of his arrival, he looks out of the window at the sunset and catches sight of a mysterious, romantic figure: a beautiful woman walking by the seashore. Before the week is over Vinny has fallen in love, completely and utterly, for the first time in his middle-aged life. Emily, though, is a sleeping beauty, her secluded life hiding bitter secrets from the past."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

I've mentioned before on the blog that I have an ever growing collection of books by or about the Mitford sisters--Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. I've read several of Nancy Mitford's novels (The Blessing, Christmas Pudding, Pigeon Pie), and I've read Deborah's memoirHons and Rebels is the memoir of Jessica Mitford (1917-1996) and covers the times of her unconventional childhood, difficult teenage years, and life with her first husband, Esmond Romilly (1918-1941) up to the time of World War II.

Growing up in the Mitford house meant having eccentric parents and unusual siblings. Jessica's mother didn't believe that women should have an education, a sore spot for Jessica who longed to go to school. Her father was very opinionated about most everything, and he didn't like people. Another sticking point was the difference in political beliefs that she had with her sisters. Diana and Unity adored the Nazis (with Unity going to Germany and becoming one of Hitler's inner circle). Hitler was present at Diana's wedding to fascist Oswald Moseley. Jessica, meanwhile, considered herself a communist. 

Her second cousin, the anti-fascist Esmond Romilly, whom Jessica had worshiped from afar, constructed an elaborate plan for Jessica to flee England with him when she was nineteen. They went to Spain in the midst of the Spanish Civil War and caused quite a sensation in England. They eventually married in 1937. (Unity reported that news of Jessica's marriage to Esmond caused the Fuhrer to put his head in his hands in despair.) 

Jessica's life with Esmond was an adventurous one where they traveled and ended up in the United States in 1939. They lived like Bohemians, never having enough money, but Esmond had lots of confidence. They tried several odd jobs such as selling silk stockings or working as bartenders and made good friends along the way such as Katherine Graham of the Washington Post and her influential family. The fun ended, though, with Esmond's death in 1941. 

I loved this account of Jessica's with its conversational writing style that made me feel like she was telling me her story over a cup of tea. At times, I had to remind myself that this amazing story was actually a memoir even though it felt like fiction. If you love reading about the Mitfords, or if you like reading about the time between World War I and World War II, I'd recommend this book for you.

The Mitfords in 1921
(Left to right) Lady Redesdale, Nancy, Tom, Diana, Pamela, Lord Redesdale; 
(Bottom row) Unity, Jessica, and Deborah

August Rain . . .

"August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time."
Sylvia Plath, from The Journals of Sylvia Plath