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Showing posts from June, 2010

Review: Invitation to the Waltz, by Rosamond Lehmann

Pages: 304Original date of publication: 1931My edition: Why I decided to read: I found this while looking on ebay for Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: bought secondhand on ebayInvitation to the Waltz is one of those coming-of-age-stories. Unlike, for example, The Crowded Street, which focuses on a young woman’s entire coming-of-age experience, Invitation to the Waltz focuses on just one moment in seventeen-year-old Olivia Curtis’s life: a coming-out ball, the seminal moment in the life of any girl of the period (approximately the 1920s). Olivia is neither the most beautiful nor the most vivacious girl at the party, and she’s apprehensive about the evening and all it entails. This is not one of those “high action” books, but it gives a lot of insight into the thoughts and feelings of a girl making the leap into adulthood. I think if I had read this book ten years ago, I would have completely identified with Olivia—she’s shy and retiring, and unsure of herself. Her dress is…

Review: Child of the Morning, by Pauline Gedge

Pages: 403Original date of publication: 1977My edition: 2010 (Chicago Review Press)Why I decided to read: recommended to me on Amazon.comHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, June 2010I don’t read much historical fiction set in ancient Egypt. I read Judith Tarr’s Pillar of Fire (about Amunhotep); and another one whose name is escaping me at the moment; and Michelle Moran’s books about Nefertiti and Nefertari; but this is the first novel I’ve read about Hatshepsut, Egypt’s female Pharaoh. She ruled Egypt for twenty years, despite the various troubles she faced during her reign—including the threat from her nephew, Tuthmoses III, who later attempted to erase Hatshepsut’s name from the temples and monuments she erected during her lifetime. Nonetheless, Hatshepsut had a long, illustrious career as Pharaoh, not the least of which is because she was assisted by a strong group of advisors. The novel focuses on the earlier part of Hatshepsut’s life, beginning at around the a…

The Sunday Salon

Man, has it been hot out recently! But the sunshine has been amazing—I spent a part of yesterday afternoon sitting out on my library’s front porch reading Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers—a read inspired by two books I’ve read in the past week—Susan Hill mentions Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club in Howards End is on the Landing, and a character in Stella Gibbons’s Nightingale Wood is eager to getting back to read “the latest Dorothy Sayers.” So, since I’m now reading Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey series in order of publication, Unnatural Death is the one that I pulled off the TBR shelf to read.Also read this week were Mrs. Tim of the Regiment and Love's Shadow, by Ada Leverson, both Bloomsbuy Group reprints. Loved the DE Stevenson, the Ada Leverson not so much. The Bloomsbury Group covers are spectacular, which is why I preordered the four new ones that are coming out in July: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico (I’ve read the first but not the second); Mrs. A…

Review: The Crowded Street, by Winifred Holtby

Pages: 307 Original date of publication: 1924My edition: 2008 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, April 2010The Crowded Street is the story of a Muriel Hammond, a young girl—and then woman—who seems destined right from the start of the novel to be a spinster. At the age of eleven, she commits a major social faux pas—and her career in a marriage market that considers a woman a spinster by the age of 25 seems to go downhill from there. Although this is a social commentary about the plight of young unmarried (and married) women in early 20th century England, this is also a novel about one young woman’s coming of age as she struggles with her own sense of value in the world.The novel has a very strong message, but it’s very subtly worked into the plot of the book. Right from the beginning, it’s impressed upon these young women that they must make themselves attractive to the opposite sex, and to wait for a husband to come along. Everywhere …

Review: The Brothers of Gwynedd II: Dragon at Noonday, by Edith Pargeter

Pages: 137Original date of publication: 1974My edition: 2010 (Sourcebooks)Why I decided to read: it had been recommended to me a long time agoHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisherI’m sorry this isn’t a real review: a revised version of this review appears here for the first part of the quartet, Sunrise in the West. But my feelings for the book after having read part II haven’t really changed, and there’s not much more I can say about a book I generally dislike. Dragon at Noonday is the second book in the quartet. All four books are included in one volume, but they can be read separately—as they should be, because this is one of those books that you have to read in baby steps., whether you love it or no. This book is still very slow-going, There are a lot of descriptive passages in this book, and a lot of historical details; but Pargeter’s prose style is very, very dense—I’d find myself reading a few pages, putting the book down, and picking it up again after I’d gone …

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that pageBE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!“The chemist’s son thought the whole affair a sinful waste of money and time. Why had he been fool enough to go?”--From Nightingale Wood, by Stella Gibbons

Mailbox Monday--my first!

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.This week a few new books came into my house: --I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (I think it’s time I read it, and buying the book is one more step towards achieving that goal. This is a Virago, but sadly not a green edition.--The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim. This IS a green Virago, and I’ve heard good things about it. --The Gentlewomen, by Laura Talbot. Another Virago that I’m excited about.--Every Eye, by Isobel English. Another book from my Persephone subscription. I always get a thrill every month when I see the Persephone logo on the stamp on the envelope!

Review: Frost in May, by Antonia White

Pages: 224Original date of publication: 1933My edition: 1990 (Virago)Why I decided to read: Verity’s Virago VentureHow I acquired my copy: ebay sellerFrost in May is the first Virago Modern Classic that was ever reprinted. It follows the four-year school career of Nanda (short for Fernanda) March, a girl both meek and rebellious at the same time. She enters the Convent of the Five Wounds at the age of nine (and, according to the blurb on the back of the book, in 1908), staying there until her ignominious disgrace at the age of thirteen. Nanda becomes very familiar with life at the convent school, taking for granted most of what goes on. A good deal of the novel deals with the breaking down of the girls’ wills, so that, as the nuns claim, they can build character. But does this method really work? This, I think, is an underlying theme of the book, and one that White writes about particularly well. The author talks endlessly about all the rules that are imposed upon the girls at school,…

The Sunday Salon

Oh, my goodness, what an exciting week this has been for me! I mentioned last week that I was sprucing up my resume for an in-house job that had become available. On Monday I had the interview; and that afternoon the HR manager called me to offer me the job! I’m really excited about this opportunity, as in the long term it’ll give me opportunities for growth. I do like the job I currently have, but it involves a lot of repetition and I don’t see how it’ll ultimately help with my career goals. My new job, which I officially start on July 12th, will involve a longer commute, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it. I like the people I’m going to be working with and I believe I’m going to like my job. This week the publicist at Sourcebooks who was running the Summer Book Club for the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet wrote to say that she’s cancelling the book club. I have t say that for the most part I’m relieved; I haven’t loved the two parts of the Quartet I’ve read, and I really wasn’t lo…

Review: Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 373Original date of publication: 1965My edition: 2004 (Harper Torch)Why I decided to read: I was in the mood to read more Mary StewartHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2010When Vanessa March is offered the chance to chaperone a teenage boy to Vienna, she nearly says no—until she sees her husband in a newsreel, filmed at the scene of a circus fire near Vienna. In addition, he's in the company of a very pretty blonde... Vanessa's travels to Vienna lead her in the way of the Spanish Riding School, circuses, and a mystery that brings mystery—as well as, of course, a touch of romance. This is one of Stewart’s less romantic novels, mostly because the heroine is already married to the hero and you more or less know that they’ll end up together.There’s also a bit less suspense, though there’s a chase scene up on the battlements of the castle that’s written in classic Mary Stewart style. The mystery itself also isn’t all that compelling, as it’s been done many times befo…

Review: How Did You Get This Number, by Sloane Crosley

Pages: 271Original date of publication: 2010My copy: 2010 (Riverhead Books)Why I decided to read: two years ago I greatly enjoyed her other collection of essaysHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, May 2010How Did You Get This Number (apparently, no question mark in that title) is a collection of nine essays, ranging in topic. In the opening essay, Crosley takes an impromptu, off-season jaunt to Portugal for no apparent reason, and meets a troupe of clown college students; later, she discusses the relative merits and demerits of Alaska, when she attends a friend’s wedding in “Light Pollution;” and later still she discusses getting thrown out of Paris (“I do not think you should come to this place again”), and having a dealer of furniture who will get you things “Off the Back of a Truck.” These essays are always witty and sometimes funny. There’s no real connection between any of them, but Crosley has a way with words that is often poignant and rings true. Sometimes h…

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! I’ve had a rather eventful (for me) weekend: I went to the mall to return a couple of shirts and a skirt that’s just waaay too short for me. Later I coerced my mom into going to get pedicures, and then some grocery shopping.. Today was more laid-back, but I did do a lot of reading this morning and polished up my resume for a job interview tomorrow (same company, different position and in a different location). It’s a good job, but the commute if I get the job will be longer. My reading this week has been about average. Over the past two weeks, I read my first two Virago Modern Classics: Frost in May and Invitation to the Walt, neither of which I totally loved but were good. I also read The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby, Child of the Morning, by Pauline Gedge, and Dracula, by Love, by Syrie James—much better than I expected it to be. I’m currently reading two books: I’m limping through the second book in the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet, and I have to say that I’m not …

Review: The Reckoning, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 486Original date of publication: 1993My edition: 2007 (Sphere)Why I decided to read: I was in the mood for more of the Morland DynastyHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, September 2009#15: 1816-1820; covers the post-war depression The Reckoning takes up where The Campaigners left off. In the aftermath of the war, England experiences a postwar slump, and riots threaten to break out all over the country. Meanwhile, Sophie and Rosamund are thrust back into the social life of Manchester and, inevitably, the marriage market; Rosamund is all set to marry her cousin Marcus, while Sophie forms a friendship with Jasper Hobsbawm (the more I read this series, the more I like him, actually). But a couple of tragedies strike the Morland family, one of which threatens to destroy the family’s reputation….This is another strong addition to the series, with the emotions and thoughts of the Morlands taking front stage. James and Heloise’s story takes the back seat in favor of the younger generat…

More books from the Bloomsbury Group!

The Bloomsbury Group will be reprinting a few more titles this summer. I was delighted to find that Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris will be one of the books (though they’ve altered the title somewhat and included Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to New York). My review can be found here. The description:Mrs Harris is a salt-of-the-earth London charlady who cheerfully cleans the houses of the rich. One day, when tidying Lady Dant's wardrobe, she comes across the most beautiful thing she has ever seen in her life - a Dior dress. In all the years of her drab and humble existence, she's never seen anything as magical as the dress before her and she's never wanted anything as much before. Determined to make her dream come true, Mrs Harris scrimps, saves and slaves away until one day, after three long, uncomplaining years, she finally has enough money to go to Paris. When she arrives at the House of Dior, Mrs Harris has little idea of how her life is about to be turned upside down and how many other …

Review: Legacy, by Susan Kay

Pages: 647Original date of publication: 1985My edition: 1987 (Avon)Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFOHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2010Legacy is the fictional story of one of England greatest queens—Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 until her death in 1603. It was during her reign that England achieved a certain amount of political stability and created a sense of national identity in the English people. Her relationship with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was highly debated, and it’s the focus of part of the plot of this novel. Elizabeth’s relationship with William Cecil is also central to the plot. I haven’t read many novels about the life of Elizabeth I (Jean Plaidy wrote one called Queen of this Realm that I wasn’t so keen on because she focused more the legend, not the actual person), but this is easily the best. Susan Kay gets into the head and heart of Elizabeth, who’s a very difficult person to write fiction about, I think—probably because so muc…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that pageBE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!“I went to the window, where I stood gazing out at the trees and landscaped grouns below in ilence, quite upset with myself; for I had not wished to cause him any distress. At length, he called me back.”--From Dracula, My Love, by Syrie James

Review: No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi

Pages: 724Original date of publication: 2000My edition: 2006 (Headline)Why I decided to read: came across this book browsing in a bookshop in 2000How I acquired my copy: Waterstones, Piccadilly, London, September 2009No Angel is the first in a trilogy about Lytton’s publishing house, especially Celia, a young girl who marries into the family in 1905 by getting herself pregnant. This particular book covers the Edwardian period up until the 1920s. It’s a great story, with some great characters, not the least of which is Celia herself. She’s not the most likeable character; indeed, sometimes I found myself wishing she wasn’t so headstrong, so spoiled, so determined to get what she wants no matter what. But you also have to admire a woman like Celia, despite her faults. The author’s descriptions of the publishing industry are very detailed, though I thought at times that she was describing the modern publishing industry rather than that of the 1920s. The plot moves swiftly; therefore, thi…

Review: Shadow Princess, by Indu Sundaresan

Pages: 333Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Atria)Why I decided to read: it was offered through the Amazon Vine programHow I acquired my copy: dittoShadow Princess is the story of the building of the Taj Mahal in the early 17th century. When Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, dies in childbirth, he retreats from the world, building a lavish temple in his wife’s honor. The story centers primarily on Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter, Jahanara, who becomes a strong player in the struggle between Jahan’s sons for control of the Mughal throne. It’s an interesting premise, an interesting story, and interesting setting—but I’m afraid that this book simply failed to capture my imagination in the way I wanted it to. I love stories about strong, prowerful women, but I thought that Jahanara was way too perfect at times, and I thought that her brothers and sister were much more believable as people. As a result, I felt that Jahanara’s character was a bit wooden at times. Another probl…

Booking Through Thursday: Short Stories

Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?Far and away, I read novels more than short stories—though I’ve got a few collections on my shelves (two are Persephones—Dimanche and Other Stories, and Good Evening Mrs. Craven: the Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes. And there are a few stories that I’ve read that have stayed with me for a long time ("The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates are standouts in my mind). However, I think the reason why I read novels more, and why a lot of people choose to do so, is that there’s a lot more room in novels (and even novellas) for character development. This is actually an apropos question to ask this week, as I’ve been reading another Persephone, a full-length novel called The Crowded Street. While the novel is about spinsters and their place in society, there’s a scene where the main character, Muriel, is having a discussion with another about sho…

Review: Flapper, by Joshua Zeitz

Pages: 338 (with indices)Original date of publication: 2006My edition: 2006 (Three Rivers Press)Why I decided to read: read and reviewed by another blogger; can’t remember who!How I acquired my copy: Borders gift card from a Secret Santa exchange at work, January 2010The subtitle of this book is A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. This book, a social and cultural history of the iconic flapper, is indeed just that. It explores the authors, actresses, illustrators, magazine columnists, advertising executives, and newspaper columnists that defined the flapper of the 1920s, a girl who “was always a caricature—one part fiction one part reality, with a splash of melodrama for good measure…she was a broad and sometimes overdrawn social category” (p. 123). This is a highly readable and compelling work of nonfiction, and a broad introduction to the period. The author covers everything—literally, everything—to give his readers a broad picture of the p…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that pageBE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!“Dennis gathered up the balls and sauntered leisurely with Delia across the court. Muriel was left, her back and the terrible, indecent safety-pin exposed to the full gaze of Social Mashington in the Pavilion.”--From The Crowded Street, by Winifred Holtby