Friday, December 23, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The End of Year Edition

Happy holidays to you!

My reading lately has been a bit eclectic--mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction. There are few new authors to me, and then the tried and true with Agatha Christie and two of my favorite writers of crime, Sophie Hannah and Elizabeth Haynes.

With world events and the season, I wanted something this past week that wouldn't tax my brain too much. That's what led me to Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. There's  something comforting about Miss Marple, and Christie's stories are fun. Several of the tales take place with a dinner group where each person shares a story of a mystery, and the group tries to solve the mystery. Of course, no one is a match for Miss Marple. Other stories are stand alone stories. While some characters are skeptical of Miss Marple's abilities, she's able to solve each mystery relying on her knowledge of human nature and her eye for seemingly meaningless details. I loved all these stories. 

Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me. I picked up a volume of three of her novels and read two novels--The Bookshop and The Gate of Angels. In The Bookshop, Fitzgerald takes the reader to a small English sea village in 1959 where middle aged widow Florence Green buys an old building, known as The Old House, where she plans to open a book shop. Florence faces challenges with the aging building and running a bookshop. The village is full of eccentric people, but there are the forces at work that don't want the bookshop to succeed. This is a quick read and one I enjoyed. 

The Gate of Angels (also by Penelope Fitzgerald) takes place in Cambridge of 1912. Fred Fairly, a Cambridge student of physics at the fictional St. Angelicus College, finds himself riding his bicycle on a dark road when a farm cart pulls into the road. To avoid hitting the cart, he collides with another bicyclist, Daisy. Fred and Daisy, both unconscious, are taken to a nearby farm to recuperate. The family that helps them assumes that the Fred and Daisy are married since Daisy wears a wedding ring. Fred awakes in a bed with Daisy and immediately falls in love her before she disappears. As a student of St. Angelicus, Fred has pledged to live a life of celibacy, but he can't forget Daisy. Gate of Angels has lots of twists and turns along with Fitzgerald's lovely writing. 

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah is the fifth novel in the series featuring detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. Fliss Benson receives a card at work which has sixteen numbers arranged in four rows made up of four numbers. The numbers seem meaningless at first, but when Fliss finds out that her new project will be a documentary about three mothers who've been falsely accused of killing their infant children, things become more clear. I was a bit ambivalent about the subject matter of the book, but I've loved each book I've read by Sophie Hannah, and A Room Swept White did not disappoint.

The setting for Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes is an isolated Yorkshire farm, the last place you want to be in a blizzard with no electricity, no telephone, and a killer on the loose. The story begins with Sarah Carpenter who lives alone on her farm. Her husband died several years ago, and her children have left the nest. Two men from her past come back into her life. One rents her guest cottage, while the other one pops up at odd times. Sarah's best friend, Sophie, disappears, and Sarah soon finds out which one of these men she can trust. I enjoyed Never Alone, but it took me about fifty pages to connect with the book. After that, I found Never Alone hard to put down.

How It All Began is the first novel I've read by Penelope Lively, and it won't be the last. The story begins with the mugging of Charlotte, an elderly woman. She breaks her hip and must move in with her daughter and son-in-law. Charlotte's circumstances set in motion a chain of events that affect numerous people. I loved the character of Charlotte and the fact that she's a voracious reader. With a distinctive narrative voice and lots of interesting characters, I really loved this book. 

I recall the hype surrounding Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Maybe that's what took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally got around to giving Rules of Civility a try. The novel reminded me of one of those old 1930s films that has beautiful women, handsome men and snappy yet sophisticated dialogue. In the novel, Katey Kontent, Eve Ross, and Tinker Grey are fantastic characters. Thanks to that fateful night in 1930s New York City when the milk truck hit Tinker's roadster, their lives are intertwined. The novel begins with an older Katey looking back on her life, and it's quite a story.  

I would love to know what you're reading.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wishing You A Happy Thanksgiving

It's hard to believe Thanksgiving is here! 

It's been awhile since I've blogged (and I've missed it). I've been reading and even managed to sneak in some reading while my husband and I traveled to England this past month. I'm looking forward to sharing what's been going on, and I'm excited to catch up on what's been happening with book blogs and what you've been reading.

In the meantime, I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

James Jebusa Shannon, Jungle Tales (Contes de la Jungle), 1895
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: A Look Back at August

Here we are in September, but I'm still thinking about August reads. I highlighted The Reef by Edith Wharton, American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, Spectacles by Sue Perkins, and the Mary Stewart novels. I also wanted to share some other books that I had the pleasure to read in August. 

I love reading about the literary scene in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, and I enjoyed learning more about Sylvia Beach and her famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in the Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh (2010). This volume of letters includes Beach's letters from her early life. She was fearless and adventurous, and I particularly enjoyed the accounts of her time during World War I as a volunteer farm laborer in France and then as a volunteer for the Balkan Commission of the Red Cross in Serbia. Many of the letters after World War I deal with the day to day running of Shakespeare and Company. Beach was a dynamo with her bookshop and lending library as well as maintaining all her connections in the literary world and the daunting task of publishing James Joyce's Ulysees (1922). These letters also show how temperamental Joyce could be and how he much he relied on Beach, often treating her as a secretary. With the changes in the world after World War II, it was sad how much Beach's life also changed, and Shakespeare and Company lost its luster. These were fascinating letters, and I look forward to reading more about Sylvia Beach and her contemporaries.

Undue Influence by Anita Brookner (2001) is the first novel I've read by Brookner. Undue Influence tells the story of Claire Pitt, a young woman living in London in a flat with her mother who has recently died. Claire's lonely and begins a part time job at a bookstore. Here, she meets Martin Gibson. When Martin's wife dies, Claire wants to become more than just a friend. I liked Brookner's writing style but not the structure of the book. Claire gets caught up in so much introspection about what's happening and what might happen that it brings the plot to a standstill. If you've read any of Anita Brookner's novels, I'd be interested to know ones you recommend.

A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith (1965) is a fabulous page turner. Sydney Bartleby, an American screenwriter, lives with his British wife, Alicia, in a farmhouse in Suffolk. Their marriage has its problems, and with his temper, Sydney's not very likable. When Alicia leaves to take a break from the marriage, Sydney starts to fantasize in great detail about how he'd kill Alicia. When she doesn't come back, their friends and family start to wonder what's happened to Alicia, and that's when fact and fiction start to mingle. A great read that I highly recommend.  

A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (1963) is an early Adam Dagliesh murder mystery that takes place in a psychiatric clinic for the rich in London. The clinic offers such treatment as psychoanalysis, electroshock therapy, and LSD therapy. The clinic's administrator, Enid Bolam, has been found in the records room dead with a stake through her heart. In life, Miss Bolam was no nonsense and managed to anger most everyone on the clinic's staff. It's up to Dagliesh to figure out the relationships among staff and determine the motive. This is a quick read at around 200 pages that I recommend. 

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (1945) is good fun. It's comedy from beginning to end about MacDonald's life with her first husband. Once they're married, MacDonald thinks that they're headed for an idyllic life only to discover that her husband's idea of heaven is a broken down chicken farm in an isolated part of Oregon. The story takes place in the 1920s and has an impressive array of characters and funny situations. While her chapters on running the house had their fair share of amusing moments, MacDonald's story made me feel grateful for modern conveniences of running water and electricity. I've seen the film adapted from the novel with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and I found it to be true to the book.

I hope that your August reading went well. What are you reading?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Lancelot by Walker Percy

Happy Tuesday! I hope that you had a nice holiday weekend. I'm taking part 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 to read soon.

In my life, my husband and I have moved our belongings from our home in Maryland to our new home in Texas. We're back in Maryland for awhile this month to wrap up loose ends. It feels strange to be apart from my books, and I really miss them. I did leave a box of books here and found Lancelot by Walker Percy among them. Last year, I read The Moviegoer by Percy, and I really enjoyed it. I've read the first 25 pages of Lancelot and have to say that I'm intrigued.

The opening:

"Come into my cell. Make yourself at home. Take the chair; I'll sit on the cot. No? You prefer to stand by the window? I understand. You like my little view. Have you noticed that the narrower the view the more you can see? For the first time I understand how old ladies can sit on their porches for years.

Don't I know you? You look very familiar. I've been feeling rather depressed and I don't remember things very well. I think that I am here because of that or because I committed a crime. Perhaps both. Is this a prison or a hospital or a prison hospital? A Center for Aberrant Behavior? So that's it. I have behaved aberrantly. In short, I'm in the nuthouse."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Reading Mary Stewart: Three Novels of Suspense

Some of my August reading included three novels by Mary Stewart. She's on my list of favorite authors, and I want to read everything she's written. From what I've read about Mary Stewart, she didn't care to pigeonhole her books as romantic suspense. She only wanted to tell a good story. These three novels don't disappoint. They're all a little different but include the common elements of a good mystery, a likable and independent heroine, and a bit of romance.

I wanted to read Madam, Will You Talk? (1954) because it's Mary Stewart's first novel. The setting is the south of France. The story begins in Avignon in Provence where war widow Charity Selborne and her friend Louise are vacationing. Staying at their hotel is thirteen year old David and his step-mother, Lorraine. Charity befriends David but soon finds herself pursued by David's father and supposed murderer, Richard Byron, who is trying to get his son back. A cat and mouse game takes place throughout the south of France. But things are not all they seem as Charity has to figure out who the real villains are. This story is full of tension and at times reminded me of a Hitchcock thriller. I loved Madam, Will You Talk?

Touch Not the Cat (1976) is the story of Bryony Ashley who comes back to her home, Ashley Court, after her father dies. There is some talk of the entail in the will which, thanks to Downton Abbey, I understood. For this novel, I had to suspend my disbelief a bit since Bryony communicates telepathic messages with members of her family, such as her twin cousins, Emory and James. When it appears that Bryony's father has found a way from the grave to prevent Emory and James from getting their hands on Ashley Court, she has to use her wits to keep herself alive. Family secrets, lies, unexpected love, attempted murder and the setting of a crumbling estate with its own secrets kept me reading late into the night. 

Of these three novels, Stormy Petrel (1991) is most like a cosy mystery. I loved the setting of a sparsely populated island off the coast of Scotland. The title has to do with a species of bird on the island, but it's also the name of a boat that features prominently in the story. Cambridge teacher and writer Rose Fenemore takes a vacation to the island of Moila where she's rented a cottage. Her brother, Crispin, who has an interest in birds and amateur photography, plans to join Rose on her vacation but has been delayed when he injures his ankle. 

On a dark and stormy night, an intruder comes into the cottage in the form of the handsome and charming Ewen MacKay who tells Rose he grew up in the cottage. Another stranger drops by that same night looking for shelter who tells Rose that he's John Parsons, a geologist. Or is he? The mystery involves who these men really are and why they're on the island. The novel is full of vivid descriptions of the island and its wildlife. I also loved reading about Rose's day-to-day life at the cottage. A subplot about a developer that comes to the island makes the book drag a bit toward the end, but it didn't stop me from enjoying Stormy Petrel.

I recommend all these novels, especially if you're a Mary Stewart fan. What is your favorite Mary Stewart novel?

Mary Stewart (1916-2014)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Spectacles: A Memoir by Sue Perkins (2015)

One of my favorite television shows has become the The Great British Bake Off, a competition among amateur bakers taking on challenges posed by the judges, the lovely Mary Berry and the serious Paul Hollywood. It's a nice hour of television that focuses on baking and the contestants without everyone turning on one another. I resisted watching the show for the longest time, but the thing that drew me to The Great British Bake Off was the humor of the presenters.

Presenting the show is the comedy team of Sue Perkins and Mel Gierdoyc. I love the wit these women bring with the play on words and often naughty innuendo and the way they bring such a spirit of fun to the proceedings.

When I heard about Sue Perkins' recent autobiography, Spectacles, I wanted to read it. The book doesn't disappoint. I can't recall when I've laughed so hard while reading a book. Perkins writes with a distinctive voice and has the gift of telling a story in a hilarious way. Honestly, several times I had to put the book down and laugh. 

I enjoyed reading about Perkins' childhood as well as her time at Cambridge and how she became part of the illustrious comedy group, the Cambridge Footlights. It was also fun to read about how she met her comedy partner, Mel, and their beginnings as a comedy team. There's also a chapter about the Great British Bake Off that sheds a bit of light about what goes on behind the scenes. 

Spectacles isn't all laughs, though, and the book has its poignant moments. Several of those moments brought tears to my eyes.

Perkins' writing style is fantastic. I hope she'll try her hand at fiction one day.

Most of all, I appreciate the fact that Spectacles made me laugh. Laughter is a gift in this time when the news is so dreadful. 

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Way Back Home by Freya North

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part 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 to read soon.

The Way Back Home by Freya North (2015) caught my eye a few months ago, and I bought the book with summer reading in mind.

From the back cover:

"Born and brought up in an artists' commune in Debyshire, Oriana Taylor had freedom at her fingertips in a house full of extraordinary people. 

Malachy and Jed, two brothers, shared their childhood and teenage years with Oriana. In the rambling old mansion and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires took wing unchecked.

But too much freedom comes at a price. Something happened the summer they were fifteen. And now, almost twenty years later, Oriana is back."

This is their story."

The opening:

"When I was . . .

When I was born there were already other children at Windward. None was beyond toddling age and, as such, we were grouped together pretty much like the clumps of perennials in the garden, or the globs of paint on a palette in one of the studios, or the music which drifted from the top rooms--discordant notes that, as a whole, wove together into a quirky harmony of sorts. We were who we were, the children of Windward--a little ragtaggle tribe further defining the ethos and eccentricity of the place."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reading New England: American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

American Bloomsbury--Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever (2006) caught my eye earlier this year at a used book sale. I loved the title, and right away, I knew that a book about the Transcendentalists was something I wanted to read for the nonfiction category of Reading New England over at Emerald City Book Review.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, known as the "sugar daddy" of the group (Cheever's words, not mine), provided the financial means for this group to write as well as places in Concord for them to live. Although Emerson conducted lecture tours at various times in his life to generate income, he was also independently wealthy from the fortune he inherited upon his first wife's death. Emerson made much of this money available to finance the ventures of the Transcendentalists. Emerson's connections and his influence was also invaluable in launching the careers of several of the writers.

Cheever covers a lot of ground in American Bloomsbury, from 1840 through 1868, and she portrays the group as the hippies of their day, thumbing their noses at society. I loved knowing the background on writers' lives, and it was fascinating to read about the relationships between the writers.  

Cheever focuses at length on author and women's' rights advocate Margaret Fuller and her relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson's wife would burst into tears whenever Fuller appeared at the Emerson home where Fuller was a frequent visitor, often staying with the Emersons for weeks at a time. However, Hawthorne's wife, Sophia, treated Fuller as a friend and welcomed her husband's spending time with Fuller so that she could devote her time to her passion as an artist. Fuller's relationship with Emerson did her no good professionally. Fuller was the editor of his literary journal, The Dial, but Emerson refused to pay her the wages that he owed her. Eventually, she moved to Europe, only to die an untimely death in a shipwreck on a trip to the United States.

Although Cheever's narrative is a bit rambling at times, I learned a lot about the Transcendentalists. Cheever's enthusiasm for Concord makes me want to visit and see what the place is like. Also, reading American Bloomsbury has given me an interest in reading the work of Margaret Fuller and the early writings of Louisa May Alcott.    

I would recommend American Bloomsbury to anyone interested in these writers or reading about how the literary movement of the Transcendentalists came to be.

From left to right: Louisa May Alcott; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Margaret Fuller; Nathaniel Hawthorne; and Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Betrayal and Happenstance in The Reef by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton's 1912 novel The Reef is on my list for the Classics Club. I had the chance to delve into the novel last week, but it left me with mixed feelings. 

In The Reef, George Darrow is a diplomat travelling from London to France to propose to Anna Leath. George and Anna have known each other for years, but she's now a widow with a young daughter, Effie, and a stepson, Owen. Owen will soon inherit Givré, the estate where Anna, Effie and Owen live with Anna's mother-in-law, Madame de Chantelle. 

George's trip takes a different turn when he receives a telegram from Anna asking that he postpone his visit. Feeling weary of being put off by Anna, he decides to go to Paris. He meets Sophy Viner, a beautiful young woman who is also on her way to Paris to start her career in the theater. Sophy has no money, so George decides to show her Paris, and soon they begin an affair.

Months later, George gets his chance to propose to Anna. He visits her at Givré where a family drama is taking place. Owen wants to marry, but Madame de Chantelle doesn't approve of the young woman he wants to marry. George finds an unexpected and an unwelcome coincidence that Sophy is not only Effie's governess but also Owen's fiancée. 

George and Sophy try to keep their past relationship a secret. He's given little thought to Sophy or what happened between them in Paris. George tries to influence whether Sophy and Owen will marry and takes several opportunities to speak to Sophy in private, suggesting that she leave Givré and continue with her career in the theater. It soon becomes impossible for them to keep their secret. Much of the second half of the novel deals with the feelings of the characters and Anna's attempt to decide whether she can marry George after his betrayal.

Although I loved the writing in the novel and found the characters interesting, the last few chapters of the book left me wanting more. In these chapters, the story moved back and forth from the French countryside to Paris as Anna tried to decide what to do. The ending seemed a little ambivalent and abrupt. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, or what Anna finally decided. 

In reading about The Reef, I found a quote from Edith Wharton. Apparently, The Reef wasn't her favorite novel, and she called it "a poor miserable lifeless lump." I certainly wouldn't go that far, but I did want more from the story. Having said this, however, I would still recommend The Reef, especially for readers who enjoy Wharton's novels.

Have you read The Reef?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Heat and Dust

Happy Tuesday! I hope that you are staying cool in this hot weather. 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 to read. 

I mentioned Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala in my post from yesterday. The novel is a quick read at 180 pages. The writing is wonderful as is the story.

From the back cover:

"Set in India, Heat and Dust is the story of Olivia, a beautiful, spoiled, bored English colonial wife in the 1920s who is drawn inexorably into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply involved in plots and intrigues. Olivia outrages the tiny, suffocating town where her husband is a civil servant by eloping with the captivating Nawab.

It is also the story of Olivia's step-granddaughter who, fifty years later, is drawn to India by her fascination with the letters left behind by the now dead older woman, and by her obsession with solving the enigma of Olivia's scandal.

A penetrating and compassionate love story, this brilliant novel immerses the reader in the heat, dust, and squalor of India, while providing a compelling mixture of the spiritual and the sensual."

The opening paragraph:

"Shortly after Olivia went away with the Nawab, Beth Crawford returned from Simla. This was in September, 1923. Beth had to go down to Bombay to meet the boat on which her sister Tessie was arriving. Tessie was coming out to spend the cold season with the Crawfords. They had arranged all sorts of visits and expeditions for her, but she stayed mostly in Satipur because of Douglas. They went riding together and played croquet and tennis and she did her best to be good company for him. Not that he had much free time, for he kept himself as busy as ever in the district. He worked like a Trojan and never ceased to be calm and controlled, so that he was very much esteemed both by his colleagues and by the Indians. He was upright and just. Tessie stayed through that cold season, and through the next one as well, and then she sailed home. A year later Douglas had his home leave and they met again in England. By the time his divorce came through, they were ready to get married. She went out to join him in India and, like her sister Beth, she led a full and happy life there. In course of time she became my grandmother--but of course by then everyone was back in England."

What do you  think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The Getting Caught Up Edition

Happy Monday to you! My reading has been a bit sporadic, but I've managed to read some books in the past few months that I'd like to tell you about:

It's been awhile since I read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (originally published in 1932). What I recall about this book is that it's great fun and made me laugh out loud. The heroine is a likable young woman, Flora Poste. After the death of her parents, Flora leaves her life in London to move in with her distant relatives, the eccentric Starkadders, at Cold Comfort Farm near the village of Howling in Sussex. Flora sets about getting everything and everyone's lives in order. This was a fun read that I highly recommend.

In Excellent Women (originally published in 1952), Barbara Pym writes about human nature, lost love, repression and missed opportunities in a 1950s English village. We go into the world of Mildred Lathbury, the daughter of a clergyman. Life gets a bit more exciting when an anthropologist and his wife move to the village. I highly recommend this delightful novel.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975) is a recent acquisition that I found this past Saturday at a used book sale. I sat down on Saturday afternoon to read a couple of pages and couldn't stop until I finished. The writing is beautiful and the story compelling. Living in India in the early 1920s, Olivia is the beautiful but bored English housewife of hardworking civil servant, Douglas. She finds herself drawn to the charismatic, mysterious Indian prince Nawab, and it changes her life forever. The novel begins fifty years later with Olivia's step-granddaughter who has come to India to find answers about the mystery surrounding Olivia and the prince. Such a great novel! 

I was glad to find Little Face by Sophie Hannah (2006) as it's the first of the series that features detectives DC Simon Waterhouse and DS Charlie (Charlotte) Zailer. Alice Fancourt leaves her two week old baby alone with her husband, David, for a couple of hours to go to the gym. When she returns, she finds that the baby with her husband is not her daughter. Is her baby really missing, or is Alice suffering from postpartum depression? Then there is the mysterious death of David's first wife. The fact that DC Waterhouse had a relationship with Alice only complicates his somewhat difficult working relationship with DS Zailer. I highly recommend this novel.

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins (2004) is about the author's experiences living and working in one of my favorite places--the town of bookshops known as Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Although things have changed a little bit in Hay since the book was written, I enjoyed spending time in Collins' world and reading about a time when enigmatic bookseller Richard Booth was the self-proclaimed king of Hay-on-Wye. I highly recommend this book. 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) 
sat on my bookshelf for a lot of years before I finally read it, and it made me wonder what took me so long. The novel set in 1964 is the story of fourteen year old Lily Owens and her search to learn the truth about how her mother died. Lily and the woman who takes care of her, African-American Rosaleen, flee to Tiburton, South Carolina, a town that holds the answers that Lily seeks. Lily and Rosaleen are taken in by three beekeeping sisters. The characters are eccentric, and the story never boring. I came away with a new respect for beekeepers as well. I highly recommend this book.

They Came from SW19 by Nigel Williams (1993) isn't the kind of book I usually read, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Set in the Wimbledon neighborhood of London, the narrator is fourteen year old Simon Britton. His father has died, and his mother is a member of the First Church of Christ the Spiritualist. One of the leaders of the church (a domineering and abusive man), his wife, and his teenage daughter move in with Simon and his mother. Simon is a self-proclaimed ufologist who thinks he has seen a ghostly apparition of his father. The narration of the book contains humor that at times reminded me of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, but I couldn't quite suspend my disbelief for the ending of the book. 

Every time I read a novel by British writer Elizabeth Taylor, I decide it's my favorite. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (1947) is no exception. The novel takes place in Newby, a town on the English coast whose best days are behind it. Beth, a novelist, finds herself consumed with writing her latest book. Her husband, Robert, is a doctor who seemingly works long hours as well, but Beth is unaware that he's having an affair with her best friend, the divorcee Tory. Then there's Beth's troubled, perceptive and beautiful daughter, Prudence. A stranger comes to town in the form of Bertram who is an artist. He enters their lives and the lives of others in town, and things will never be the same. I loved the writing, the plot, the humor, the pathos, and of course, Taylor's trademark light touch. I highly recommend A View of the Harbour.

Have you read any of these books? I'd love to know what you think. What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: A Suspension of Mercy

Happy Tuesday to you! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon. 

A book on my reading horizon is A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith. 

From the back cover:

"Sydney Bartleby has, compulsively, repeatedly, plotted methods and forged alibis. He's a thriller writer, after all. He even knows how he would dispose of her body. When Alicia goes missing, Bartleby struggles to convince anybody of his innocence, caught in a trap of his own making . . ."

The opening:

"The land around Sydney and Alicia Bartleby's two-storey cottage was flat, like most Suffolk country. A road, two-laned and paved, went by the house at a distance of twenty yards. To one side of the front walk, which was of slightly askew flagstones, five young elms gave some privacy, and on the other side a tall, bushy hedge provided a better screen for thirty feet. For this reason, Sydney had never trimmed it. The front lawn was as untended as the hedge. The grass grew in tufts, and where it didn't, fairy rings had eaten circles exposing green-brown earth. The Bartlebys took better care of the ground behind the house, and they had besides a vegetable and flower garden an ornamental pond some five feet across that Sydney had made with a cemented pile of interesting stones in its centre, but they had never succeeded in keeping goldfish alive in it, and two frogs they had put there had decided to go somewhere else."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

William Merritt Chase, Idle Hours, ca. 1894
Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Secret Life of Bees

Happy Tuesday to you! I'm taking part 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 to read.

Life has slowed down a bit, and I've been able to get back to reading. Over the weekend, I finished View of the Harbour by British novelist Elizabeth Taylor (1947). It's a great novel, but then I've loved everything that I've read by Taylor.

My next selection is a novel that has been on my bookshelf for years--The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002).

The opening:

"At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzzz that hummed along my skin. I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam."

From the back cover:

"Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted African American "stand-in-mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of African American beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, June 3, 2016

An Update and Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Promenade by the Sea, 1909
Museo Sorolla, Madrid, Spain

I wanted to pop in and say hello. It's been really quiet here for longer than I anticipated. Life has been hectic lately, and my reading life has been put on the back burner while my husband and I have gotten our house ready to put on the market. 

The big news is that my husband is retiring at the end of this month. I'm resigning from my job, and we'll be leaving our East Coast life behind to relocate to Texas! It's hard to believe that June is here, and that this is really happening! Change is kind of scary but exciting, too. 

This week, I've been able to get back to reading with Excellent Women by Barbara Pym which I really loved. I hope that all is going well with your reading. I've missed reading and blogging about books and am looking forward to getting caught up with everyone! 

I hope that you have a great weekend!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Have a Lovely Weekend

Sir John Lavery, R.A., Spring in a Riviera Garden, 1921

"The flush of branches with fair blossoms,
The deepening of the faint green boughs,
As leaf by leaf the crown grows fuller
That binds the young Spring's rosy brows;

New promise every day of sweetness,
The next bright dawn is sure to bring;
Slow breaking into green completeness,
Fresh rapture of the early Spring!"

From Spring Song by Edith Wharton

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reading New England: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I'm doing some catch-up today for the Reading New England Challenge, hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review, as March was the month to read a book set in Maine.

My selection for the challenge--the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2007). Made up of a collection of thirteen short stories, the book tells the story of Olive Kitteridge, retired seventh grade math teacher and wife of Henry, a retired pharmacist, and some of the residents of  a small Maine town. 

A large woman, Olive appears to the world and often to those closest to her to be tough and uncompromising. Through Strout's stories, we learn just how complex she is.

I have several favorites of the stories such as Olive's happenstance meeting with a former student. I liked reading about Olive and Henry and the dynamics of their marriage, and especially about Olive's trip to New York City to visit their son. Also a favorite is Olive's encounter with an anorexic young woman. The poignancy of their conversation brought tears to my eyes. 

Olive is a thread that holds this collection of stories together. In a couple of the stories, Olive gets a mere mention. I found myself getting bored and wanting to know where Olive was and what she was doing.

Authentic is the word I'd use to describe Olive Kitteridge. The setting is the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine, with its best days behind it. Strout's working class characters grapple with real problems and the challenges of living and working in a town that doesn't offer much. 

I recommend Olive Kitteridge. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Behind Closed Doors

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking 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're reading or planning to read soon.

I've enjoyed several of  Elizabeth Haynes books, and I'm looking forward to starting Behind Closed Doors (2015).

From the back cover:

"Ten years ago, fifteen-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished while on a family in holiday in Greece. Was she abducted or did she run away from her severely dysfunctional family? Lou Smith worked the case as a police constable, and failing to find Scarlett has been one of the biggest regrets of her career. No one is more shocked than Lou to learn that Scarlett has unexpectedly been found during a Special Branch raid of a brothel in Briarstone.

Lou and her Major Crime team are already stretched working two troubling cases: nineteen-year-old Ian Palmer was found badly beaten; soon after, bar owner Carl McVey was found half-buried in the woods, his Rolex and money gone. While Lou tries to establish the links between the two cases, DS Sam Hollands works with Special Branch to question Scarlett. What happened to her? Where has she been until now? How did she end up back here? And why is her family--with the exception in of her emotionally fragile older sister, Juliette--less than enthusiastic about her return?"

The opening:

"SCARLETT--Rhodes, Saturday
23 August 2003, 04:44

To begin with, nothing was certain except her own terror."

Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Lilla Cabot Perry, The Trio, Tokyo, Japan, ca. 1898-1901
Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University 
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr

Today I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share a bit about a book they're reading or planning to read soon.

On my reading horizon is a book I've had for several years--Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr.

The opening:

The Evertons
Out of Their Minds

Here they are, two North Americans, a man and a woman just over and just under forty, come to spend their lives in Mexico and already lost as they travel cross-country over the central plateau. The driver of the station wagon is Richard Everton, a blue-eyed, black-haired stubborn man who will die thirty years sooner than he now imagines. On the seat beside him is his wife, Sara, who imagines neither his death nor her own, imminent or remote as they may be. Instead she sees, in one of its previous incarnations, the adobe house where they intend to sleep tonight. It is a mile and a half high on the outskirts of Ibarra, a declining village of one thousand souls. Tunneled into the mountain whose shadow falls on the house an hour before sunset is the copper mine Richard's grandfather abandoned fifty years ago during the Revolution of 1910."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Emanuel Phillips Fox, Al Fresco, 1904
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Little Face by Sophie Hannah

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking 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're reading or planning to read soon.

A book sale find, Sophie Hannah's book Little Face is one I've had for awhile. I picked the novel up this past weekend to take a look. Hannah's writing grabbed me, and I haven't been able to put the book down.

The opening:

"Friday, September 26, 2003

I am outside. Not far from the front door, not yet, but I am out and I am alone. When I woke up this morning I didn't think today would be the day. It didn't feel right, or rather, I didn't. Vivienne's phone call persuaded me. 'Believe me, you'll never be ready,' she said. 'You have to take the plunge.' And she's right, I do, I have to do this.'"

From the back cover:

"When Alice Fancourt leaves her infant daughter home with her husband David for the first time since becoming a new mother, she returns to a horrifying sight: her daughter, Florence, has been swapped with another baby. In hysterics, Alice rushes to call the police but soon discovers that no one--not even David believes her. When the police are called in, Detective Simon Waterhouse is drawn to the lovely Alice but also doubts her story while his boss Charlotte "Charlie" Zailer thinks the whole case is a waste of time. But one week later, both Alice and the baby have disappeared . . ."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcome, Spring!

Sir John Lavery, R.A., Paisley Lawn Tennis Club, date unknown
Paisley Museum and Art Galleries
Paisley, Renfrewshire, United Kingdom

"There is no time like Spring,
When life's alive in everything."
Christina Rossetti, Spring.

"Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But come on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply so, it seems to me."
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Goose-Girl.

"Spring, Spring, beautiful Spring."
Eliza Cook, Spring.