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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Frances Maria Jones Bannerman, In the Conservatory, 1883
Nova Scotia Archives

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paging St. Patrick by Dorothy Parker (1922)

Paging St. Patrick 
by Dorothy Parker

The good Saint Patrick, in his day,
Performed a worthy act:
He up and drove the snakes away,
With more technique than tact.
Could he descend from realms above
And roam New York,
He'd find in reminiscent of
The good old days in Cork.
The snakes he knew could never tie
The brand our village has--
The kind that daily multiply
And thrive on tea and jazz.

Should he his tales of snakes relate

We'd strive to hide a laugh;
For, though the saint was wise and great,
He didn't know the half.
Where'er he'd go, to dine or dance,
Or lunch, or tea, or sup,
The saint would have a splendid chance
To do some cleaning up.
Could he but leave his present star,
He'd see that things were changed--
How sad such little visits are
Not easily arranged!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Challenging Read: Possession by A.S. Byatt

I recently completed Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990) and have mixed feelings about this roller coaster of a book. At nearly 600 pages, there is a lot going on in the present and in the past and so much information that it felt at times like I got bogged down in the story. Then, just as quickly, something would happen that would hold my interest until the next point where it was a bit of a challenge to get through. 

The plot concerns Roland Michell, a scholar and researcher. At the London Library, Roland discovers two letters hidden in a book and believes the letters were penned by the famous Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash to another Victorian poet, Chistabel LaMotte. 

Roland finds himself on the trail to research the relationship of the two poets and takes a trip to the city of Lincoln to meet with Dr. Maud Bailey, herself a Christabel Lamotte scholar and distant relative of Christabel. Initially, Maud takes part in Roland's quest because of her protectiveness of Christabel. She travels with Roland to Yorkshire and then to Brittany to follow in the footsteps of Ash and Christabel. 

In the present day story (1987), Roland and Maud must deal with the cutthroat world of academia. The stakes are high with the implications of what the discovery of evidence of a love affair between Ash and Christabel might mean for someone's career. Academics and scholars soon become competitors as what Roland and Maud have discovered becomes apparent. 

The story of what happens in the past is told through letters, poetry, and journals of various people. The poetry of Ash and Christabel is prominent in the story and reveals clues about their relationship. The journal of Christabel's French cousin tells much and not quite enough about the the mystery surrounding Christabel's trip to France after the end of her affair with Ash. The writing of Ash's wife, Ellen, holds vital clues as to the whereabouts of an unopened letter that holds an important secret. 

In my reading of Possession, I found the present day story to be a little boring compared to Christabel and Ash. Predictably, as Maud and Roland become more obsessed with their quest, they fall in love. 

Also, my problem with the story was that I didn't care for Roland. He lived in a depressing basement flat with a girlfriend he didn't love. His landlady, living in the flat above him, had lots of cats, and the cat urine leaks down and seeps into the ceiling of his flat. Byatt mentions more than once how pervasive the bad smell in Roland's flat. It was distracting when I read about Roland. I kept wondering if his clothes smelled as bad as his flat.

Is spite of Roland, I loved the story of Ash and Christabel, and I loved the ending to Possession. It makes the point that although we may have letters, journals, and possessions of a person and think that these things may tell everything about that person, there are still secrets that remain in the past.

The audio book of Possession helped me get through the book and the long passages of poetry.  Virginia Leishman narrates the book and does a fantastic job. I don't read much poetry, and some of the chapters begin with long passages of poetry. Leishman made this poetry come to life in a way that my own reading of it did not. 

Also, I had a chance to see the film over the weekend. Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle brought real excitement and passion to the Victorian love story as Ash and Christabel. Aaron Eckhardt portrays Roland to Gwenyth Paltrow's Maud Bailey. It seems that the film's screenwriter had the same idea about Roland as I did. Roland's not at all presented as he is in the novel. This Roland is a hunky American scholar whose flat is nice and who has a quirky rich attorney (played by Tom Holland) as his landlord. Otherwise, the film felt true to the book, and I enjoyed it.

Even with the challenges that reading Possession presented, I recommend the book. It's amazing what Byatt did with the two story lines and the poetry, journals and letters from various characters' points of view.

Have you read Possession, listened to the audio book  or seen the film? I'd love to know your thoughts!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Olive Kitteridge

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. 

In my continuing quest to read more selections from my bookshelves, I've taken another book from my TBR pile, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008).

From the back cover:

"At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life--sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition--its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires."

The opening:


For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Charles Webster Hawthorne, A Study in White, 1931
Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather

At first glance, Bartley Alexander appears to live a charmed life in Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather (1912). How could anyone not envy his life in Boston or in his travels that take him to New York City, London and Canada? He's married to the beautiful, wealthy and accomplished Winifred and the picture of a wealthy and powerful man of industry, renowned as the builder of bridges. 

Underneath all this, Bartley lives a double life. He's wracked by a powerful midlife crisis that has led him into an affair with a woman from his past. She's the actress, Hilda Burgoyne, who lives in London. As Bartley divides his time between Boston and London, he becomes more guilt ridden for his weaknesses and his inability to summon the strength to break off his romance with Hilda.

Meanwhile, there are undercurrents of trouble with his latest bridge being built in Canada, mainly the news of cutting corners on the quality of the building materials. In normal circumstances, Bartley would be attuned to what is going with his latest project, but his inner turmoil makes him lose his concentration.

In my reading about Alexander's Bridge, I've seen Willa Cather's comments that this novel is not one of her favorites, but readers shouldn't discount the novel. Cather's observations on human nature and love are astute, and she does an excellent job of showing Bartley's inner turmoil and how it has a lasting effect on his life and the lives of others. 

Alexander's Bridge is different from other novels that I've read of Willa Cather's. In fact, the writing and the plot make me think of Edith Wharton. I recommend Alexander's Bridge as a great first effort by Cather that makes me look forward to reading more of her work.

Have you read Alexander's Bridge? What is your favorite novel by Willa Cather?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit of what they're reading or planning to read soon.

In reading, I've been making my way through Possession by A.S. Byatt where the first half was starting to feel like a chore. I was close to giving up on the book. Something happened, and I've really been enjoying the second half. Also, I've completed Willa Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge and will be talking about that novel soon on the blog. 

I've been looking for something light and have chosen a recent acquisition, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932).

The opening:

"The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.

Her father had always been spoken of as a wealthy man, but on his death his executors were disconcerted to find him a poor one. After death duties had been paid and the demands of creditors satisfied, his child was left with an income of one hundred pounds a year, and no property."

From the back cover:

"In 1930s London the spirited, expensively educated socialite Flora Poste is suddenly orphaned. She decides to descend on her country relatives, the deliciously eccentric Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. There are plenty of them: Judith, shrouded in guilt-ridden grief; Amos, called by God; Seth, a young man smoldering with sex; Reuben, eager to step into dead men's shoes; and the waif-like, wispy, ethereal Elfine. Looming over them all is Great Aunt Ada Doom, the batty family matriarch who saw something nasty in the woodshed (or was it the cow shed . . . or the bicycle shed?). In this boisterous and witty tale Stella Gibbons chronicles Flora's endearing, hilarious attempts to bring order to this chaos."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Lilla Cabot Perry, Lady in an Evening Dress, 1911
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC