Friday, May 26, 2017

Have A Lovely Holiday Weekend.

Jerome Thompson, Belated Party on Mansfield Mountain, 1858
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape


Happy Tuesday to you! I'm taking part 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.

On Twitter, I follow James Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1), sheep farmer in the English Lake District. Rebanks gives a fascinating look at sheep farming and the joys and challenges of this disappearing way of life. He posts fantastic photos and videos of his farm and the sheep. It was only a matter of time before I had to buy Rebanks' New York Times bestselling memoir, The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.

From the back cover:

"Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. In evocative and lucid prose, Rebanks takes us through a shepherd's year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost. It is a story of working lives, the people around him, his childhood, his parents and grandparents, a people who exist and endure even as the culture--of the English Lake District, and of farming--changes around them. Many memoirs are of people working desperately hard to leave a place. This is the story of someone trying desperately hard to stay."

The opening:

"I realized we were different, really different, on a rainy morning in 1987. I was in an assembly at the 1960s shoddy built concrete comprehensive school in our local town. I was thirteen or so years old. Sitting surrounded by a mass of other academic non-achievers listening to an old battle-weary teacher lecturing us how we should aim to be more than just farm workers, joiners, brickies, electricians, and hairdressers. We were basically sorted aged twelve between those deemed intelligent (who were sent to a 'grammar school') and those of use that weren't (who stayed at the 'comprehensive'). Her words flowed past us without registering, a sermon she'd delivered many times before. It was a waste of time and she knew it. We were firmly set, like our fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers before us, on being what we were, and had always been. Plenty of us were bright enough, but we had no intention of displaying it in school. It would have been dangerous."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?


Monday, May 8, 2017

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner


I recently had a chance to read Anita Brookner's award winning Hotel du Lac (1984).  The novel tells the story of Edith Hope, attractive spinster and writer of romance novels (under a pseudonym). She's fled to the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland where she seeks rest and recuperation from her life in England after an event that has left her friends reeling. 

The Hotel du Lac is located near a Swiss river, providing beautiful views, places to walk, and lots of time for Edith to reflect. She tries to get the momentum going to work on her latest novel, but she spends most of her time writing letters to a past lover.

Life at the Hotel du Lac has slowed down since it's near the end of the season. There are several residents, all exiles of their own lives. Madame de Bonneuil, an elderly matron lives at the hotel and receives periodic visits from her son. The glamorous Monica has come to escape her difficult marriage. The vivacious Mrs. Pusey and her more reserved adult daughter, Jennifer, spend their days shopping. Then there is Mr. Neville, a charming older gentleman who spends time with Edith.  

As Edith relaxes into her life at the old fashioned Hotel du Lac, her observations of the guests change when she meets them. Some of these people hold grudges against one another, particularly Monica and the Puseys. When Edith makes the acquaintance of Mr. Neville, who after knowing Edith for a short time, decides he knows exactly what Edith needs to do with her life. But does he really know what's best?

Hotel du Lac is a short novel which contains eloquent and sometimes witty writing. The story feels old fashioned like something you'd find in a Barbara Pym novel, especially when we learn why Edith has fled England for the Hotel du Lac and why her friends are so unhappy with her. Hotel du Lac is a quiet but lovely novel and one I'd recommend.

Have you read Hotel du Lac or any of Anita Brookner's novels?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Falling Angels


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 about to read.

Last week, I visited the local library book sale and came away with lots of books, including Falling Angels. Tracy Chevalier is a new author to me, so I'm excited about starting this book soon.

From the back cover:

"Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring, again dazzles us with an elegant and daring novel. Told through a variety of shifting perspectives--wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and servants, and a gravedigger's son--Falling Angels follows the fortunes of two families in the emerging years of the twentieth century."

The opening:

"January 1901

Kitty Coleman

I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed. The head of blond hair beside me was decidedly not my husband's. I did not know whether to be shocked or amused."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Frank Weston Benson, Margaret (Gretchen) Strong, 1909
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham


I first came across the name of Southern heiress Henrietta Bingham in my reading about the Bloomsbury Group, and I became curious about this woman who had become friends with many in Bloomsbury and also a heart breaker of men and women. I was excited to find Emily Bingham's biography of her great aunt, Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (2015).

Henrietta Bingham (1901-1968), the daughter of a judge in the wealthy and powerful family that once owned the newspapers in Louisville, Kentucky, had a tragic childhood. Her mother died in a horrific car accident involving a train, and young Henrietta was in the car. It was a tragedy from which Henrietta, her father, and two brothers would never recover. Henrietta then found herself in the unenviable position of being the emotional support of a domineering father (despite his remarrying twice), a role that Henrietta struggled with for most of her life to balance with her fierce independence.

Henrietta began studying at Smith College, but she most likely had dyslexia which prevented her college career from progressing. She became friends and more with a young professor, Mina Kirstein, who traveled with Henrietta to London. Mina introduced Henrietta to David Garnett, who became Henrietta's introduction to the Bloomsbury Group.

Soon Henrietta divided her time between Louisville, New York City, and England. Although she was no intellectual, Henrietta had more than her share of charm and glamour. She dazzled men and women, leaving them intoxicated by her presence or in despair when she wasn't there. Henrietta loved the adoration of both sexes although she preferred women. 

Her violet eyes were stunning, and she had a long southern drawl that captivated everyone. Henrietta knew how to mix drinks and she loved to drink. She also loved to dance. She adored jazz and liked to sing jazz songs, and she even played the saxophone. Henrietta also liked speed in her cars and in her horses. Fox hunting appealed to her, not for the hunting, but for going fast on horseback, crossing ravines and jumping over fences.

Henrietta was someone that everyone wanted to know. She broke Dora Carrington's heart, and was in a relationship with sculptor Stephen Tomlin. For a time, she was engaged to actor and director John Houseman (a.k.a. Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase). She had an affair with Beatrix Lehmann, the noted British actress and sister of writer Rosamund Lehmann. Henrietta's most long term relationship of three years was with the tennis player Helen Hull Jacobs, but Henrietta needed the adoration of more than just one person.

While living a freewheeling existence was fine for Henrietta in the 1920s and 1930s, she faced struggles with the changing mores in society in which being a lesbian was frowned upon, especially with the advent of World War II. Henrietta returned to Louisville and raised thoroughbreds. World War II saw many of her friends, especially women, in important posts. Meanwhile, Henrietta had moved into farming and raised hemp for the war effort. 

Henrietta's life turned into a cycle of depression, nervous breakdowns, doctors, stays in sanatoriums, and a greater dependence on prescription drugs (lots of them, including narcotics) as well as alcohol. The medical community failed Henrietta. Instead of trying to find a way to treat her depression, there was more of an emphasis on controlling her behavior. Henrietta became the family outcast, not welcome at family events because of her unpredictable behavior, and was never to be spoken of. What a sad end for someone who had been so vibrant. 

The story of how Emily Bingham came to write Irrepressible is fascinating. Having found two old trunks in the attic of the family home which contained Henrietta's clothes, mementos, and letters, Emily Bingham began collecting information in what is a well-researched and passionate biography. Henrietta was a troubled woman but never boring. At times, I felt like I was reading a novel and kept thinking what a great movie Henietta's life would make. 

I highly recommend Irrepressible. I started reading the book and couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Whole Town's Talking


Happy Tuesday! I hope that you're having a good week so far. The weather has been really nice in the evenings, so I've finally gotten around to working on my garden. I love Spring and being able to get my hands in the dirt. 

In looking over my bookshelves and wanting to read something with a little humor, The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg has gotten my attention. The novel was a Christmas gift and has taken the top spot on my TBR pile. 

As part of First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon, I'd like to share the Prologue of The Whole Town's Talking:

"What can I tell you about the town? I suppose if you had driven through it back then, it might have looked like just another ordinary small town . . . but it wasn't. I was born and raised there, so I know exactly what I'm talking about. It wasn't a wealthy town either but we all stuck together. And when we heard what had happened to Hanna Marie, everybody was upset. We all talked about it. Everybody vowed to do something about it. But never, in our wildest dreams, would anybody have guessed who would actually be the one to do it. Or, more importantly, how they would do it. But to tell you any more at this point would spoil the surprise. And who doesn't like a good surprise? I know I do.

A Friend"

What to you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Edmund Tarbell, In the Orchard, 1891
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The 1951 Club: They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie


I'm excited to take part in the The 1951 Club, the creation of Simon over at Stuck in a Book, where bloggers read a book published in the year 1951. I chose They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. Rather than a straight murder mystery, this novel is more of a thriller and reminded me of an action packed film.

In They Came to Baghdad, the city is the site of an upcoming secret meeting of superpowers. A group of anti-capitalists is trying to prevent the meeting and will stop at nothing.

They Came to Baghdad is not the usual type of detective story I'm used to from Christie. Instead of a detective, the protagonist is the intrepid and impetuous Victoria Jones, a beautiful young woman who has lost her job. She has a happenstance meeting with Edward in a London park and from this one meeting, Victoria decides that it must be love. She decides to follow Edward to Baghdad where he is beginning a new job.

While Victoria longs for love and adventure, once she's in Baghdad, she doesn't count on a dying man, known as Carmichael, bursting into her hotel room, demanding a place to hide from the police. Before he dies, Carmichael tells Victoria a message which seems to make no sense but actually contains clues that will save Anna Scheele whose very life is threatened by her knowledge of financial affairs and her important role in the upcoming secret meeting. 

The plot of They Came to Baghdad is quite intricate, and there are lots of characters to keep track of from spies to archaeologists. I love the setting, and Christie's writing is so evocative. Her love of Baghdad is obvious. Although the plot is quite intense, there are also moments of humor. The pacing of the story is excellent and kept me turning the pages.

They Came to Baghdad has a little something for everyone--action, romance, adventure, a plucky heroine who has to use her wits to save herself, a great twist that only Agatha Christie can deliver, and a happy ending.

I really enjoyed They Came to Baghdad, and I recommend this novel.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Last September


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 about what they're reading or about to read soon.

In my mountainous TBR pile, there are several novels by Elizabeth Bowen, and I'm looking forward to reading The Last September (originally published in 1929).

From the back cover:

"The ambushes and burnings of the Irish Troubles of 1920 seem far removed as up at the 'Great House' tennis parties and dances continue to divert, and flirtations with English officers from the local garrison amuse. Yet a sense of brooding, nostalgic melancholy pervades--the sense of a tragedy coming to its climax in the calm, opulent sunlight of an Irish autumn."

The opening:

"About six o'clock the sound of a motor, collected out of the wide country and narrowed under the trees of the avenue, brought the household out in excitement on to the steps. Up among the beeches, a thin iron gate twanged; the car slid out from a net of shadow, down the slope to the house. Behind the flashing windscreen Mr. and Mrs. Montmorency produced--arms waving and a wild escape to the wind of her mauve motor-veil--an agitation of greeting. They were long-promised visitors. They exclaimed, Sir Richard and Lady Naylor exclaimed and signalled: no one spoke yet. It was a moment of happiness, of perfection."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?




Friday, April 7, 2017

Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Spring, 1890
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: An Experiment in Love


Happy Tuesday and Happy April to you! I hope your reading is going well. 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 about what they're reading or about to read.

An Experiment in Love is a novel I've been reading, and it's the first novel I've read by Hilary Mantel. It's turned out to be complex, witty, tragic, and so much more than I thought it would be.

From the back cover:

"It was the year after Chappaquiddick, and all spring Carmel McBain had watery dreams about the disaster. Now she, Karina, and Julianne are escaping the dreary English countryside for a London University hall of residence. Interspersing accounts of her life as a university student with recollections of her childhood and a difficult relationship with her longtime schoolmate Karina, Carmel reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, yet fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. But in late-1960s London, they are confronted with a slew of new preoccupations--sex, politics, food and fertility--and a pointless, grotesque tragedy of their own."

The opening:

"This morning in the newspaper I saw a picture of Julia. She was standing on the threshold of her house in Highgate, where she receives her patients: a tall woman, wrapped in some kind of Indian shawl. There was a blur where her face should be, and yet I noted the confident set of her arms, and I could imagine her expression: professionally watchful, maternal, with that broad cold smile which I have known since I was eleven years old. In the foreground, a skeletal teenaged child tottered towards her, from a limousine parked at the kerb: Miss Linzi Simon, well-loved family entertainer and junior megastar, victim of the Slimmer's Disease."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Enchanted April


Happy Tuesday to you! Today I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro, 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.

I've been reading mostly non-fiction and mysteries lately. In looking over my TBR pile, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim looks like a great choice for my next read. I saw the film years ago, and I'm curious to see what the book is like.

The opening:

"It began in a woman's club in London on a February afternoon--an uncomfortable club, and a miserable afternoon--when Mrs. Wilkins, who had come down from Hampstead to shop and had lunched at her club, took up The Times from the table in the smoking-room, and running her listless eye down the Agony Column saw this:

To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let Furnished of the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1,000,
The Times.

That was its conception; yet, as in the case of many another, the conceiver was unaware of it at the moment."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?



Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Berthe Morisot, The Artist's Sister at a Window, 1869
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall


Last year, I participated in Reading New England over at Emerald City Book Review. Two of the books I read for the challenge, Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne and American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, had a connection to Margaret Fuller  (1810-1850) that made me want to know more about this writer and early women's' rights activist. Megan Marshall's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (2013) took me right into Fuller's tumultuous, complex and ultimately tragic life.

Margaret Fuller had an unconventional childhood. Her father, an attorney, wanted Margaret to have the same education as a man. She spoke Latin at the age of 6. Her brilliant mind made her different from other people, and Megan Marshall does a great job of illustrating throughout the book the many ways in which Fuller tried to find her place in a society that didn't really value her contribution as an intelligent woman. 

Not wanting to take the traditional route to marriage, Fuller wanted to be a writer. To finance this endeavor, she worked for a time as a teacher at one of Bronson Alcott's schools. She was a confidante of Ralph Waldo Emerson and served as editor for his journal, The Dial, which showcased many of her writings. She also edited some of Henry David Thoreau's early work. She supported her mother and her siblings after her father died.  

What interested her was the role of women, and she hosted several events for women in which she led discussions about the plight of women. This led to Fuller's writing of her famous yet controversial work about equality for women, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1846).

Fuller didn't make the best decisions when it came to her love life. Although she moved to New York City and had a successful career as a newspaper reporter, she decided to follow a man who was her love interest to Europe. The love affair didn't last, but Fuller found the intellectual fulfillment she wanted in the artists and writers that she met. She felt a freedom she'd never known to live the artist's life that she wanted. 

In 1847, Fuller, now 37 years old, went to Rome where she became the first woman reporter to cover a war when she wrote about the conflict between Italy and Austria. It was in Rome that she met a handsome younger man, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, and became pregnant. With Ossoli involved in the war, Fuller moved to a village in the mountains away from the war where she awaited the birth of the baby. She had a boy, Nino, but left him in the care of a village woman and soon returned to the action to cover the end of the war.

Fuller decided to return to America in 1850 with Ossoli and Nino. She brought a manuscript about the Italian Republic which she deemed to be her best work. Emerson along with her other friends and family were not happy about Fuller's return because of her unconventional lifestyle. Unfortunately, Fuller, Ossoli, and Nino died in a shipwreck during a violent storm off the shore of Fire Island, New York, on July 19, 1850. Her manuscript was never found.

Megan Marshall uses Margaret Fuller's letters, journals and writings to bring Fuller to life. I loved Marshall's writing and Fuller's writing as well. Fuller had a dynamic, larger than life personality and was so much more than one of the Transcendentalists. 

I find myself wondering sometimes what Fuller's life would have been like if she'd lived. Would she have been accepted back into the fold of her friends and family? Would she have stayed with Ossoli, described by friends as a charming man but one who'd never read a book? Was the manuscript she brought back her best writing? 

I highly recommend Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: This Sweet Sickness


Happy Tuesday to you! I'm taking part 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. 

Over the weekend, I picked up This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith and found this psychological thriller hard to put down.

From the back cover:

"David Kelsey has an unswerving conviction that life is going to work out exactly as he planned it. He just needs to fix 'the Situation': his one true love, Annabelle, is married to another man. Under an alias, David sets up a dream home for the two of them in a nearby town. Even though she is pregnant with her husband's child, Annabelle will take him back, of that he is certain. David will win her over--whatever it takes."

The opening:

"It was jealousy that kept David from sleeping, drove him from a tousled bed out of the dark and silent boardinghouse to walk the streets.

He had so long lived with his jealousy, however, that the usual images and words, with their direct and obvious impact on the heart, no longer came to the surface of his mind. It was now just the Situation. The Situation was the way it was and had been for nearly two years No use bothering with the details. The Situation was like a rock, say a five-pound rock, that he carried around around in his chest day and night. The evenings and the nights, when he wasn't working, were a little bit worse than the daytime, that was all."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Swing Time by Zadie Smith


Happy New Year! Today, I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share the first paragraph of a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (2015) was a Christmas present and a book that I'm planning to read soon.

First paragraph of the Prologue:

"It was the first day of my humiliation. Put on a plane, sent back home, to England, set up with a temporary rental in St. John's Wood. The flat was on the eighth floor, the windows looked over the cricket ground. It had been chosen, I think, because of the doorman, who blocked all inquiries. I stayed indoors. The phone on the kitchen wall rang and rang, but I was warned not to answer it and to keep my own phone switched off. I watched the cricket being  played, a game I don't understand, it offered no real distraction, but still it was better than looking at the interior of the that apartment, a luxury condo, in which everything had been designed to be perfectly neutral, with all significant corners rounded, like an iPhone. When the cricket finished I stared at the sleek coffee machine embedded in the wall, and at two photos of the Buddha--one a brass Buddha, the other wood--and at a photo of an elephant kneeling next to a little Indian boy, who was also kneeling. The rooms were tasteful and gray, linked by a pristine hallway of tan wool cord. I stared at the ridges in the cord."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?