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Showing posts from August, 2010

Review: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Pages: 342Original date of publication: 1949My edition: 1996 (Virago)Why I decided to read: discovered this browsing in a bookstore many years agoHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, May 2010I’ll be honest. When I first came across this book in Barnes and Noble a number of years ago, I dismissed it as something I wouldn’t like (literally, I judged a book by its cover, shame on me). I re-discovered this book a few months ago, and now I’m wondering why, oh why, didn’t I read this book earlier.I Capture the Castle is the diary, kept over a six-month period, of seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives with her unconventional family in a decrepit, crumbling castle. She keeps the diary in order to strengthen her skills as an author. The novel is written not so much as a diary; rather Cassandra writes it very much as a story is written (aside from mentioning the month, she doesn’t date her entries).Cassandra’s strength lies in her recreation of her family members and the people in the small…

Review: The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Pages: 361Original date of publication: 1922My edition: 1993 (Virago)Why I decided to read: I participated in All Viragos All AugustHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, May 2010In The Enchanted April, three Englishwomen—strangers to one another—impulsively decide to rent a medieval house in Italy after seeing an ad in a newspaper addressed to “those who appreciate wistaria and sunshine.” There are Mrs. Wilkins, a housewife wanting a break from the rainy monotony of London; Mrs. Arbuthnot; Lady Caroline Dester, young and fickle; and Mrs. Fisher, older than the rest but also in need of a break. Elizabeth Von Arnim’s descriptions of Italy, and the castle’s gardens, are superb; you actually feel as though you’re in Italy with the women as they enjoy their holiday. But the women never seem to lave San Salvatore, and so the action of the novel seems a bit stagnant at times; I felt while reading this that the characters were running around in circles. You get lots of descriptions of the gardens aro…

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a very busy week for me! I’d spent the previous week looking at condos in Philadelphia—and then on Tuesday I made a bid on a place I really liked. The offer was ridiculously low, so I never thought I’d get the place. On Wednesday, I discovered that my bid had been accepted. Then, on Thursday, I made a down payment on the place! I’ll be paying it off until I’m about forty, but I think it’s going to be worth it. The closing date is October 1st; and since I’ll be making some alterations to the apartment, I’ll be able to move in sometime at the end of October or the beginning of November. I’m so excited about all of this, I can’t tell you! I’ve been living with my parents for the past two years and I’ve saved up my money gradually; I can’t believe I’m actually taking this step! It’s exciting, but I was so nervous writing that check on Thursday night… Although I’ve had all of that going on in the past couple of weeks, I still managed to get a bit of reading done. I’ve continued w…

Review: The Rising Tide, by Molly Keane

Pages: 320Original date of publication: 1937My edition: 1990 (Virago Modern Classics)Why I decided to read: came across this on EbayHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, May 2010The Rising Tide is my first foray into reading Molly Keane’s novels. It’s the story of a family, the French-McGraths, who live in a crumbling, Gothic house in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. Garonlea is the home to Ambrose and lady Charlotte French-McGrath and their five children. When their son, Desmond, marries Cynthia, the French-McGraths’ lives are changed—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I’ve never read anything by Molly Keane before, and I wonder why I’ve never heard of her before randomly buying this off of ebay a couple of months ago (strange how chance works). I loved the atmosphere of this book and the almost sinister atmosphere of the house (I have to love any book with a house like Garonlea in it). What I love about the characters of this novel is that there are no extrem…

Review: Bright Young People, by DJ Taylor

Pages: 361 (with Appendices and Index)Original date of publication: 2007My edition: 2010 (FSG)Why I decided to read: infernal Amazon recHow I acquired my copy: Amazon third-party seller, March 2010Bright Young People is the story of a particular group of young people who lived in London in the 1920s and ‘30s. Born at around the turn of the century, they were well connected and, for the most part, wealthy. They were known for the outrageous lifestyles they led, holding themed parties until dawn and performing tricks upon each other. The Bright Young People relied largely on the press to publicize their activities, and they included, among others, Nancy and Diana Mitford, Bryan Guinness, Evelyn Waugh, Brian Howard, Brenda Dean Paul, Cecil Beaton, and Elizabeth Ponsonby. The book is divided into thirteen chapters, with little interludes focusing on specific people or things (on is on all the books Brian Howard never wrote). The book is a bit disorganized; the chapters don’t seem to be ar…

Review: To Defy a King, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Pages: 540Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Sphere)Why I decided to read: I’ve had this on my TBR list since hearing it was going to come outHow I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, April 2010To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt Marshal, eldest daughter of the famous William Marshal—who appears as the main character in two of Chadwick’s previous novels, and a minor character in a handful of others. As the oldest daughter of one of the most famous men in England, Mahelt married Hugh Bigod. The novel covers a period of about ten years, from Mahelt’s marriage to Hugh up through the Magna Carta. I do love Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels; her writing really takes her reader back in time. But for some reason, I just didn’t love this one quite as much. Maybe because there’s so much less known about Mahelt than about her father, her character seems a lot sketchier here. Still, I thought Chadwick did a wonderful job of trying to ring her and Hugh to life. Hahelt matures as a char…

The Sunday Salon

I really can’t control myself, can I? Just when I told myself I’d cut back on the book buying, I acquired, within the past two weeks (and prepare to be shocked and horrified at my profligacy): Taking Chances, Mad Puppetstown, Full House, Loving Without Tears (all by molly Keane); Land of Green Ginger, by Winifred Holtby; and Crossriggs, by Jane and Mary Findlater. From my Persephone subscription, I received Making Conversation, by Christine Longford in the mail. On Friday evening, when I was down in Center City condo hunting with my parents, I went to the Book Trader in Old City and walked away with: Death of the Heart, by Elizabeth Bowen (an original Penguin edition), Bobbin Up, by Dorothy Hewett, and Crompton Hodnet, A Glass of Blessings, Less than Angels, The Sweet Dove Died, Quartet in Autumn, and Jane and Prudence, all by Barbara Pym. I’m especially excited about finding the Pyms considering her books are out of print and therefore hard to find. I can’t understand why anyone woul…

Review: Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland

Pages: 437Original date of publication: 1994My edition: 2001 (Harper Torch)Why I decided to read: I discovered this one browsing on AmazonHow I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, April 2010Shinju is a novel that introduces its reader to Sano Ichiro, a member of the shogun class who serves as a yoriki, investigating crimes in seventeenth-century Edo (Tokyo). It’s a position he’d rather not be in, since he gained his position through connections; and many of his contemporaries resent him for it. When the daughter of one of the most preeminent families in Edo turns up dead in the company of a lowly artist, everyone assumes that they were a double love-suicide, or Shinju. But Sano Ichiro suspects otherwise, and his search for a murderer leads him into dangerous territory—especially since the family of the dead girl would rather keep the matter closed. This is a very strong start to what seems like an interesting series. Sano Ichiro is an unusual investigator—anyone else in his position w…

Booking Through Thursday

1. Favorite childhood book? Too many to count! I loved reading the Nancy Drew books growing up, as well as the Babysitters Cub books (I was really into series books when I was younger)2. What are you reading right now?
 The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West.3. What books do you have on request at the library?4. Bad book habit?
 buying too many of them…5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Not checked out but on hold and ready for pickup is The Pindar Diamond, by Katie Hickman6. Do you have an e-reader?
 No, I like the physical feel of a book in my hands.7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
 Usually just one, though I’ll read multiple books at a time of one just doesn’t grab me the way it should.8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
 I’ve become a lot more critical about what I read… sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
 The Sixth Surrender, by Hana Samek N…

Review: Lord of the Far Island, by Victoria Holt

Pages: 329Original date of publication: 1975My edition: 2009 (St. Martin’s Press)Why I decided to read: Amazon recommendationHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, November 2009Ellen Kellaway, orphaned at a young age, lives with her cousin Agatha and her family Ellen has constantly been told that she’s the Poor Relation and that therefore the best she can hope for is a post as a governess or companion. When she receives a marriage proposal from the son of a wealthy London family, Ellen’s life seems set to improve. But the death of her fiancĂ©e leads to an invitation that Ellen can’t refuse, and she goes to Cornwall to stay with her guardian, Jago. True to Victoria Holt form, her guardian’s invitation leads to much danger for our heroine.Victoria Holt’s novels tend to be rather formulaic, which is why they work so well—for the most part. The downside is that her novels are rather predictable—if you’ve read anything else by her, you’ll know that things turn out rather well for Ellen in the …

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MzB of Should Be Reading (though it’s going on tour this month). Anyone can play along! Just do the following:--Grab your current read--Open to a random page--share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that pageBe sure 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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!“She was not a woman for trifling, still less for secrecy. He was as little the kind of lover.” --From Diana of the Crossways, by George Meredith

Review: The Rector's Daughter, by FM Mayor

Pages: 347Original date of publication: 1924My edition: 1999 (Virago Modern Classics)Why I decided to read: perusing the list of Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: ebay auction, July 2010Mary Jocelyn is the middle-aged daughter of an elderly clergyman, who has spent all her life in Dedmayne, a quiet English village. The arrival of Mr. Herbert, son of an old friend of Canon Jocelyn’s, brings much excitement for Mary, who falls in love with him. But life is much more complicated than that, and Mr. Hebert marries Kathy, a younger woman who is Mary’s polar opposite. FM Mayor novel is character-driven rather than plot-driven. It seems as though all her life, Mary has been waiting for something—anything to happen to her. Her life at the vicarage in Dedmayne, severely curtailed by her father, is constricting. And yet Mary spends most of this novel (covering a period of about ten years) letting things happen to her. I found it very hard to like Mary at times, considering she’s not …

Review: Henrietta's War: News From the Home Front, 1939-1942, by Joyce Dennys

Pages: 158Original date of publication: 1985My edition: 2009 (Bloomsbury Group)Why I decided to read: I’m trying to read all of the Bloomsbury Group reprintsHow I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, June 2010Henrietta’s War is a novel told in epistolary format. Henrietta is the wife of a doctor in Devon, living in a “Safe Area” during World War II. Her never-reciprocated letters are to an old childhood friend, “Robert” on the war front, to whom she narrates the minutiae of her life at home. Her letters are full of tales of her neighbors: Faith, a flirty young woman who enjoys showing off her legs; Lady B, who writes letters to Hitler (As Henrietta says, "She says it has never failed to give her a good night's sleep. I think her great-grandchildren will enjoy those letters, don't you?"); Mrs. Savernack the village's local Committee Woman; and others, including Charles, Henrietta’s sensible husband, who puts up with his wife’s sarcastic sense of humor with an incredi…

Review: The Devil's Horse, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 482Original date of publication: 1993My edition: 2006 (Sphere)Why I decided to read: Heard about it through HFOHow I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, January 2010#16: 1820-1830; covers the end of the reign of George IV, factory reform and beginning of the railwaysThe Devil’s Horse covers a period of about ten years. In this installment in the series, we see a number of developments in England, starting with a lot of discussion over facory reform (especially prevalent in the minds of the Morlands and Habsbawms considering their involvement in it). Sophie ‘s life is floating on a cloud, while Rosamund’s life is a little more complicated; she’s carrying on an affair with Jesmond Farraline, even as she’s married to Marcus. She forges a pact with her husband that has unexpected consequences. Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, Nicholas and Benedict are coming of age—one, as the heir to Morland Place, eager to gain his inheritance; and the other, a supporter of the new railways. This is another str…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MzB of Should Be Reading (though it’s going on tour this month). Anyone can play along! Just do the following:--Grab your current read--Open to a random page--share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that pageBe sure 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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!“No chance of a love affair here in the South Riding and a good thing too. I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin.”--Sarah Burton's musings in South Riding, by Winifred Holtby

The Sunday Salon

A couple of weeks ago I challenged myself (well, it’s not a challenge considering this is a pleasure to do) to read Virago Modern Classics during the month of August. So far I’ve read three: The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim (a great vacation read), I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (why oh why haven’t I read this earlier? Likely to be one of the reading highlights of 2010 for me. I would have loved this when I was seventeen, but it's no less wonderful ten years on), and The Lacquer Lady, by F Tennyson Jesse, a novel set in 1870s/80s Burma right before and climaxing with the British takeover. It was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I did enjoy it a lot. It’s definitely an off-the-beaten-track book and worth reading if you can track down a copy (mine came from a fellow LT Viragoer). I said last weekend that not every book I would read in August would be a Virago, but I’m having fun with this and so I think my next read may be Winifred Holtby’s South Riding (local gove…

Review: Into the Wilderness, by Sara Donati

Pages: 876Original date of publication: 1998My edition: 2008 (Delta)Why I decided to read: found it browsing in Barnes and NobleHow I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, April 2010Set during the years of 1792 and 1973, Into the Wilderness is the story of the love affair between Elizabeth Middleton, an English woman who comes to upstate New York to be a school teacher; and Nathaniel Bonner, son of “Hawkeye” Bonner. The story takes the reader a lot of places; literally, the characters get lost in the woods at many places and therefore the story seems to chase its own tail sometimes. I loved the idea that the story started out with, but sometimes the author tended to borrow a little too much from the novels of other authors; the story about Claire and Jamie Fraser (from the Outlander series) seemed thrown in there, and not as though it really had any bearing on the rest of the book. I’ve never read James Fenimore Cooper’s book, so I can’t really comment on how close this novel sticks to …