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Showing posts from September, 2010

Review: Taking Chances, by Molly Keane

Pages: 272Original date of publication: 1929My edition: 1988 (Virago)Why I decided to read: I’m in the process of reading everything by Molly Keane and this one seemed to fit my mood.How I acquired my copy: Ebay, August 2010After reading The Rising Tide, I’m now on a mission to read everything by Molly Keane (who wrote under the pseudonym MJ Farrell). Taking Chances is one of her earlier books, published as MJ Farrell, and is the story of three siblings: Roguey, Maeve, and Jer, although the story is told with Jer’s sensibility. The story opens with Maeve’s marriage to Rowley, a neighboring landowner, and the arrival of Maeve’s bridesmaid, Mary, from London. The women are as different as different could be, and Rowley and Mary are instantly attracted to one another. Taking Chances is another really good one from Molly Keane. Her books usually feature great, sprawling piles in the Irish countryside, and her characters are very much in to hunting and horses (Molly Keane was born into “a …

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme. 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!“Stanley’s son was at Oxford, reading for a pass, for it was no manner of use, they said, his reading for anything more. He was a nice boy, but not yet clever.”--From Told by An Idiot, by Rose Macaulay

Review: The King's Daughter, by Penny Ingham

Pages: 317Original date of publication: 2004 (as Lady of the Mercians)My edition: 2010 (Cava Books)Why I decided to read: it was recommended to be through Amazon UKHow I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, May 2010The King’s Daughter is the story of Elflaede, daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex during the late 9th century. Elflaede herself became a Queen in her own right, and became known as Lady of the Mercians through her marriage to Ethelred, King of Mercia. As she continued her father’s quest to keep the Viking invaders at bay, in this novel, she falls in love with the very person she’s not supposed to—Guthrun, a Viking himself. I had to look up Alfred the Great and Elflaede up in order to get the full story of both, since I felt that the history got a little lost in the love story of Guthrun and Elflaede. I also wish that Alfred had been a greater presence in this book; although he was at the height of his powers at the time the book is set, I really didn’t feel the full weight…

Review: Henry of the High Rock, by Juliet Dymoke

Pages:Original date of publication: 1971My edition: 1971 (Dobson Books)Why I decided to read: Elizabeth Chadwick recommendationHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, September 2009I first heard about Juliet Dymoke’s books through Elizabeth Chadwick, who listed Henry of the High Rock as one of her favorite historical fiction books. Henry is actually the second in a loosely-connected trilogy of books that can be read separately (the first is Of the Ring of Earls). Henry of the High Rock is about Henry Beauclerc, a younger son of William the Conqueror who, despite the odds, became King of England. This novel is about his struggle to get there and his love, along the way, for Eadgyth of Scotland.Dymoke has a habit of portraying her male characters in a more or less rosy light; her Henry is very much romanticized. But I liked the portrait she painted of him. Her treatment of the struggles between Henry and his brothers is well done. Dymoke gives her readers a great feeling for the time and pl…

Review: The Pindar Diamond, by Katie Hickman

Pages: 277Original date of publication:2010My edition: 2010 (Bloomsbury)Why I decided to read: I read The Aviary Gate last summerHow I acquired my copy: LTER program, August 2010The Pindar Diamond is a follow-up novel to The Aviary Gate. While they can be read separately, I would recommend that you reading The Aviary Gate before this one. The Pindar Diamond opens in 1603 and 1604, when a travelling group of performers take a mysterious woman, washed ashore on the Italian coast, into their care. Meanwhile, in Venice, Paul Pindar is on the hunt for a priceless diamond called the Sultan’s Blue; and his friend, John Carew, becomes entangled with a nun named Annetta. It’s only been a year since I read The Aviary Gate, but I found when reading its follow-up that I had to go back and re-read my review of the first! I just didn’t remember any of the characters, except for Celia. Having read the sequel, though, I don’t think that I’ll remember the characters much further. I loved the setting o…

Review: High Wages, by Dorothy Whipple

Pages: 316Original date of publication: 1930My edition: 2009 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: Heard about it through the Persephone catalogueHow I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, March 2010Set in the years leading up to and through WWI, this is the tale of Jane Carter, a teenage girl when the story begins, who gets a job as an assistant in a draper’s shop in a town. The story takes Jane from the 1910s up through the 1920s, when she opens up her own shop, becoming as she does so much more independent. This is one of Dorothy Whipple’s earlier novels, so it’s less polished than, say They Were Sister or Someone at a Distance. Still, it’s interesting for the way it portrays life in the early 20th century and the difference between the various classes (Jane as a poor girl from Lancashire; Mr. Chadwick, who has aspirations to something more; the wealthy, genteel Greenwoods; and the Briggses, who are self-made). I enjoyed watching how those differences began to break down and how…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme. 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!“I liked to think that my Monday evening salon was the only place in the city where men and women could mingle as equals. The married and marriagible women of the upper reaches of the town were hidden away, given little room for interests beyond clothes, children, entertaining, and a bit of work among the poor.”--From City of Light, by Lauren Belfer

The Sunday Salon

Fall is nearly here (technically this is the last weekend we’ve got before the first day of fall). You can definitely feel it in the weather around here, though it’s about 80 degrees out today. I spent most of yesterday working out the details of appliances for my new apartment; and then in the evening I went out with my parents and grandparents for dinner in Chinatown. I work up this morning with a cold, though, and spent part of this afternoon napping. I’m a little high on cold medication right now, so this is going to be a short post…As for reading this week, I finished four books: The Poison Tree, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Every Secret Thing, by Emma Cole, William: An Englishman, by Cicely Hamilton, and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York, by Paul Gallico. This morning I started The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins; but due to my cold, my concentration isn’t so great right now.

Review: Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym

Pages: 222Original date of publication: 1953My edition: 1981 (Dutton)Why I decided to read: I’ve enjoyed other books by Barbara PymHow I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010Jane and Prudence is the story of two friends—Jane is a middle-aged clergyman’s wife, and Prudence is a spinster at the age of 29, “an age that is often rather desperate for a woman who has not yet married.” When Jane and her husband move to a small parish, they meet a widower named Fabian Driver, with whom Jane wants to set Prudence up. This novel is a very quiet satire of love and romance and the constant search for them. Jane and Prudence’s friendship is an unlikely one, and it’s hard to see why, exactly, they’re friends (beyond the fact that they met at Oxford). In addition, I kept wondering why Jane would want to set up her good friend with someone who’s a known womanizer. Still, she means well. I think the interplay between the two main characters is well done. Of the two, I think I pre…

Review: The Orchid House, by Phyllis Shand Allfrey

Pages: 246Original date of publication: 1953My edition: 1991 (Virago)Why I decided to read: Heard about this while browsing the list of Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, July 2010The Orchid House is the story of three young white women growing up in Dominica, in a house called L’Aromatique, or the Orchid House for its conservatory. The point of view is from their nurse, Lally, who took care of them when they were growing up. Stella, married to a German but living in America, is now a mother; Joan, also a mother, is a political activist; and Natalie is a wealthy widow. The girls have grown up and moved away, but one by one each returns. It’s a novel in which women are the focal point of the story; each of the male main characters is weak, both physically and/or emotionally. This is a weird one, both in tone and story. As far as plot goes, there’s not much of one; it’s mostly just a flurry of activity as one sister leaves and another one comes. The narrator, Lal…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme. 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!“I exhaled, on a shaky sigh. My coffee had grown cold, the cream congealing on its surface, but I sat there several minutes longer, sipping it, until the tour group’s members started clearing off their tables, standing, gathering around their guide.”--From Every Secret Thing, by Emma Cole

Review: The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West

Pages:349Original date of publication: 1930My edition: 1990 (Virago)Why I decided to read: browsing on EbayHow I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, June 2010I have to admit that I was nervous going into the reading of this novel. I was expecting that Vita Sackville-West’s writing style was going to be very modernist and hard to read. But I was pleasantly surprised, as I usually am when I expect to dislike something. The Edwardians is set in 1905 and 1906 (and then in 1910), and features Sebastian, a duke and owner of an estate called Chevron. His family is of the elite, and he rubs elbows with the cream of society, among whom are Lady Roehampton, a matron with whom he has an affair, and an adventurer named Leonard Anquetil, and Sebastian’s mother Lucy and his sister Viola, who strains against the parameters that society has set for her life. Despite his wealth and the privileges that come with it, however, Sebastian feels trapped, and he finds himself faced with a heavy decision to make. Th…

The Sunday Salon

Sunday, Sunday! It’s been very busy for me since I wrote that obscenely large check for the down payment on my condo, and because I’m having the kitchen and bathroom redone I spent yesterday morning and this morning thinking about cabinets and other things. Honestly, I don’t really care about refurbishing and decorating; I just want to move in! At the rate things are going, after the closing date on October 1st, it’ll probably be about November before I can fully move in. But I’m very excited about all of this.I also spent a part of this weekend figuring out my camera and uploading pictures on there that have been taking up space since September… 2009 (that was when I went to Mecca London). And then I had some photos on my camera from Labor Day weekend, when I went to visit my college roommate up in New Jersey. So below is a selection of photos…From the top: the book haul from the trip; the South Bank Book Market (it doesn't look like much, but I found some great deals there); the…

Review: Diana of the Crossways, by George Meredith

Pages: 415Original date of publication: 1885My edition: 1980 (Virago)Why I decided to read: browsing on EbayHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, June 2010Diana of the Crossways is a novel that was closely modeled on the life of Caroline Norton, a Victorian feminist who famously separated from her husband, later having an affairs with a rising politician.George Meredith was a close friend of Norton’s and so this novel portrays Caroline (renamed Diana in this book) in an extremely sympathetic like—sometimes too sympathetically. To protect her reputation, I suspect Meredith took a lot of the scandal out of Diana’s story—really, to the detriment of the book, since Caroline Norton had an extremely fascinating life. As a result, Meredith manages to make Diana’s story uninteresting, to the point where I just didn’t care much about the story or characters. It’s too bad, because George Meredith has a lot of material to work from. Instead, he spends a lot of time in this book dissecting his main chara…

Review: The Ante-Room, by Kate O'Brien

Pages: 306Original date of publication: 1934My edition: 2003 (Virago)Why I decided to read: I found this book browsing on ebayHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, July 2010The Ante-Room is set over the course of just a few days in 1880. Agnes Mulqueen lives with her father, brother, and mother, who is dying from cancer. When Agnes’s older sister Marie-Rose arrives for a visit, she brings her husband, Vincent, along with her—and Agnes must deal with the feelings she has for her brother-in-law.This is another one of those books I really wanted to like. But because the characters spend so much time waiting, the novel drags a lot, especially towards the middle. Agnes’s struggle—her love her Vincent versus her extremely strong faith—could be interesting, but I just found it dull after a while. I found myself wishing that Agnes would just grow herself a backbone, since she allows people to walk all over her. Actually, none of the characters are particularly likeable, except maybe poor Dr. Curran, …

Review: Mrs. Ames, by EF Benson

Pages: 301Original date of publication: 1912My edition: 2010 (Bloomsbury Group)Why I decided to read: It’s a part of the Bloomsbury Group booksHow I acquired my copy: bookdepository, June 2010I first heard about this book from another blogger, who mentioned that the Bloomsbury Group would be reprinting four more books this summer, of which Mrs. Ames is one. EF Benson wrote dozens of novels, of which his Mapp and Lucia series is most famous. Mrs. Ames is very similar to Mapp and Lucia; it concerns the social life of the town of Riseborough and several ladies’ attempts to be Queen Bee there. Mrs. Ames is the reigning queen of middle-upper class Riseborough, but her position is threatened by the arrival of Mrs. Evans. The novel starts off a little shakily; at first I found it a little hard to get engaged by Benson’s writing style. But as I continued reading, I found myself loving this witty satire, in which people split hairs over whether one lives in a “street” or “a road.” Mrs. Evans’s…

Review: South Riding, by Winifred Holtby

Pages: 510Original date of publication: 1936My edition: 1988 (Fontana)Why I decided to read: discovered this book browsing the master list of Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, July 2010On the surface, this novel is the story of local government in a Yorkshire town during the years 1932 to 1934. The novel opens with a deadly dull City Council, but it expands into something much, much more. The focus of the novel is on Sarah Burton a forty-ish spinster and the headmistress of the local Girls’ School; but it often makes forays into the lives and thoughts of the other townspeople. At first, from the description (and from reading the prologue) I thought I wasn’t going to care much for this book. Plus, there’s a veery long list of characters at the beginning which initially made me think I was going to get everyone confused. But the story really started to pick up as Sarah began to become involved with the town, especially Robert Carne, a landowner with a teenage da…

Review: The Lacquer Lady, by F Tennyson Jesse

Pages: 383Original date of publication: 1929My edition: 1979 (Virago)Why I decided to read: discovered it browsing the master list of Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: another Librarything member sent it to me, August 2010The Lacquer Lady is set in 1870s and ‘80s Mandalay, in the time period leading up to the British takeover of Burma. Fanny Moroni is one part Italian, one part Burmese, who goes to school in England and returns to a country in a fair amount of turmoil. When King Mindoon dies, Thibaw becomes king, thus beginning rather disastrous seven-year period culminating with the British takeover of Burma and the ending of the Konbaung dynasty. Fanny enters into this sphere by becoming a lady-in-waiting to his Queen, Supaya-lat—who gives proof to the saying that behind every powerful man is an even more powerful woman. At first, getting into this book was slow going—I wasn’t all that interested in Fanny’s time in England. The novel got much more interesting when Fanny …