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