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Showing posts from January, 2011

Review: A Woman's Place, by Ruth Adam

Pages: 339 Original date of publication: 1975My edition: 2000 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: Heard about this through the Persephone catalogueHow I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, July 2010A Woman’s Place: 1910-1975 is a fascinating look at women’s social history between that time period. As the Persephone catalogue says, this book complements many of the other books that they (and Virago) publish because it deals in nonfiction form what the novels deal with fictionally. Organized chronologically, this book explores women’s lives at every level of British society, from the VADs (like Vera Brittain) in WWI up through the women’s lib movement. There are some absolutely fascinating tidbits in this book, stuff I never knew. Because the book was originally published in the 1970s, it tends to be a bit feminist at times, but I thought for the most part that this was a very smart book, not preachy or pedantic. Sometimes her tone is sarcastic and dry, but never bitter. I enjoye…

Review: Crossriggs, by Jane and Mary Findlater

Pages: 380Original date of publication: 1908My edition: 1986Why I decided to read: heard about it through the Virago Modern Classics listHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, August 2010I’ve been on quite a “spinster lit” kick recently, since many Virago Modern Classics seem to fall along these lines. Set in the Scottish town of Crossriggs, this is the story of Alexandra Hope, a woman in her thirties who lives with her father, a vegetarian, and her widowed sister and her children. Alexandra becomes a devoted aunt, taking up reading aloud in order to support her family. Meanwhile, she begins a friendship with a married man with whom, predictably, she falls in love.It’s a good story, but I thought that Alex was a bit dense most of the time—especially when it came to her feelings for Mr. Maitland! And I thought she was especially harsh when it comes to Van—poor Van, who seems to come out the loser in this story. I also had a bit of a problem with Alex’s personality; she was a bit Mary Sue-ish, t…

Review: Thunder on the Right, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 352Original date of publication: 1957My edition: 2004 (Harper Torch)Why I decided to read: I’m trying to read all of Mary Stewart’s books, and this one seemed to be the perfect vacation readHow I acquired my copy: Chester County Books and Music, June 2009I’m really trying to read Mary Stewart’s books at the slowest rate possible, because I’ve only got two or three left of hers to read for the first time. Like her other books, Thunder on the Right is romantic suspense, but it’s a departure for Mary Stewart in that the book is written in the third person. I’m used to her books being written in the first person, so this kind of threw me off at first as I was reading—not sure I like the change!The plot is what I’ve come to expect from a May Stewart book—plucky heroine goes to the Pyrenees to see her cousin, who has written to say that she is joining a convent. Hoping to dissuade her, Jennifer discovers that her cousin has apparently died—or has she? With a Mary Stewart novel you ne…

Review: The Anatomy of Ghosts, by Andrew Taylor

Pages: 469Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2011 (Hyperion)Why I decided to read: it was offered through Amazon VineHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, November 2010Last year, I read one of Andrew Taylor’s other books: Bleeding Heart Square, set in Earl’s Court in the 1930s, right in the heart of the British fascist movement. The Anatomy of Ghosts is completely different. Set in 1786, it features a bookseller who is commissioned by a wealthy lady to catalogue a library, while at the same time find his benefactress’s son, a student at Cambridge who has been committed to an insane asylum. It’s an interesting premise, but it’s not an original one. The author turns to all the old clich├ęs: a femme fatale (guess where that story line is going?), a mysterious library, a murder, a secret mission, etc. Taylor doesn’t really go out of the box for this book as he did with Bleeding heart Square, and Holdsworth, his main character, is about as bland as they come. Maybe I’m becoming hea…

Virago Reading Week: January 24-30

I nearly forgot that Virago Reading Week starts today! Hosted by Rachel and Carolyn, I discovered Virago Modern Classics last May, and I’ve been hooked ever since (there’s a very active group devoted to VMCs on LibraryThing, and it’s nice to see these authors being rediscovered). I went through and counted my unread Viragos, and I’ve got 32 of them: the full list for me to choose from is here. In the meantime, here are reviews of some VMCs I've read in the past. I got a head start this weekend with Molly Keane's Devoted Ladies, and I'll be posting sporadically through this week. If you're participating, happy reading!

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! This has been a huge week for me, as I finally moved into my new apartment! It’s not completely done yet—there are a few small details that need to be ironed out—and, since my tub was reglazed, I couldn’t use my shower for a day or so—but now everything is running pretty smoothly. Last night I went to my company’s annual holiday party and had a great time. I think sometimes at work we spend too much time focused on work that it’s nice to see people outside of that setting. Plus, since the company I work for is so large and has so many offices that it’s nice to see the whole company come together for it. This whole weekend has been a whirlwind, actually; my parents were here on Friday and yesterday, and then today my dad was in town to get my TV set up (still not completely set up, but that’s a complicated story. At least I have a working internet connection now). Now I’m hanging out at home, watching Lost on DVD on my TV. I haven’t actually done that much reading this we…

Review: The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

Pages: 510Original date of publication: 2009My edition: 2010 (Riverhead)Why I decided to read: an impulse purchaseHow I acquired my copy: impulse purchase at Borders in the Philadelphia airport, December 2010How on earth have I never gotten around to reading this book before this? I feel as though I’m the last person in the book blogosphere to read and review this book! Other reviewers have said enough on the plot of the book; I really don’t know if I have anything to add to it. I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Waters!The description of the book says that it’s a ghost story; but this book goes far beyond that, in my opinion. Sure, there’s a hint of the supernatural in this story (although it’s never fully realized, nor does this story line come to a satisfying conclusion), but it’s much more a work of historical fiction that takes a look at the breakdown in the social hierarchy in the years just after WWII. Roderick Ayres is the “squire,” owne…

Review: Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary, by Ruby Ferguson

Pages: 223Original date of publication: 1937My edition: 2004 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: Heard about it through the Persephone catalogueHow I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, November 2010One day, three tourists are given a tour of Keepsfield, a rambling, palatial estate in Scotland, and the home of the absent Lady Rose, Countess of Lochlule. The tour is given by the housekeeper, Mrs. Memmary, who tells the story of Lady Rose in snippets, from her childhood to early adulthood. This is a very sweet romance and a tale of how one woman manages to find happiness—first doing what is expected of her and then finding happiness in the most unexpected place. There’s even a fun little twist at the end of this short novel, which is both sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.I generally love the books that Persephone have reprinted (there have bee one or two exceptions), and this is one of them, very similar to, as the Persephone website suggests, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Da…

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!“All fifty of Colt’s female operatives were employed in the same region of the works, on the lighter machines, and they took their dinner together. They sat by the water trough in the centre of the yard, chattering and laughing as they ate.”--From The Devil’s Acre, by Matthew Plampin

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday, everyone! This is the last week before I move into my new condo! I’ve spent most of the week packing books—my shelves look very empty. But I’m excited for this new chapter in my life, especially since the renovations to my apartment have been going on for three months.Next weekend is my company’s holiday party, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while.I’ll have been living in my new apartment for only about 24 hours! I promised myself that I’d cut back on my book buying this year (don’t I do that every year, though?), but so far I’ve had no success. A trip to the Book Trader during my lunch break yielded copies of I’m Not Complaining, by Ruth Adam, and The Loved and Envied, by Edith Bagnold. Then, through Awesomebooks, I bought myself The Camomile, by Catherine Carswell, Marriage, by Susan Ferrier, and Phoebe, Junior, by Mrs. Oliphant. From another LibraryThing user, I received a copy of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent; and on Ebay I found a cheap copy of C…

Review: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor

Pages: 206Original date of publication: 1971My edition: 2009 (Virago Modern Classics)Why I decided to read: LT recommendationHow I acquired my copy: LT Virago Modern Classics group member, December 2010Mrs. Palfrey is an elderly widow who moves in to the Claremont Hotel, a stop-gap between home and a nursing home. One day she has a fall and is assisted up by Ludo Myers, a young writer whom she quickly befriends. It is a very unlikely friendship, but one with many possibilities. Mrs. Palfrey has a rather detestable grandson, and with the help of a little white lie, Ludo steps into that role. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a sweet, quiet story of friendship and of growing old, contrasting Mrs. Palfrey’s situation with that of Ludo’s. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a short, easy read, but its emotional impact is strong. Although Mrs. Palfrey’s real family, with the daughter up in Scotland and the unlikeable grandson, seems to have abandoned her, it’s amazing how she’s managed to form…

Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland

Pages: 405Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Random House)Why I decided to read: it was offered as a part of the Amazon Vine programHow I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, November 2010Clara and Mr. Tiffany tells the story of Clara Driscoll, the creative impetus behind the iconic Tiffany lamps. She was also the head of the women’s division at Tiffany Studios in the 1890s and 1900s, and had a close working relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. Clara Driscoll’s work made her more or less at the center of the Decorative Arts movement of the late 19th century, although her work was never fully acknowledged in her lifetime (even today, we call them Tiffany Lamps, not Driscoll Lamps!). The story opens in 1893, when Clara, newly widowed, rejoins Tiffany Studios. The story follows her over the next fifteen years or so. The novel is the story of how Clara struggled to balance her love life with her work life (since married women were not permitted to work for Tiffany);…

Review: The Saracen Blade, by Frank Yerby

Pages: 406Original date of publication: My edition: 1992 (Guild Press)Why I decided to read: heard about this book through Amazon.comHow I acquired my copy: Amazon seller, February 2010The Saracen Blade is the story of Pietro di Donati, son of a 13th-century Sicilian peasant. Born at almost the exact same moment as the Emperor Frederick, Pietro’s fate is loosely linked with his. The story is set against the backdrop of the crusades, and we even get to see some of the current events of the time, especially the Children’s Crusade and the Albigensian Crusade. Simon de Montfort even makes a cameo at one point, but be aware that he doesn't come across so well. It’s a thick, dense novel, despite how short it is (there are even footnotes, which detracts from the flow of the story). It starts off very slowly, and it took me about fifty pages or so to get into the flow of the story. Pietro is a pretty dense, incomprehensible character, and he seems even callous at times (especially when he…

Review: Loving Without Tears, by Molly Keane

Pages: 256Original date of publication: 1951My edition: 1997 (Virago)Why I decided to read: I’m trying to read all of Molly Keane’s novelsHow I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, August 2010I became a Molly Keane fan after reading The Rising Tide and Taking Chances. I’m starting to notice some trends in Molly Keane’s novels: a domineering family matriarch, an old family house in Ireland. Loving Without Tears has both, but the house in this book isn’t important. Covering the space of a single day, and an epilogue three weeks later, this book tells the story of Angel, a woman who clings tightly to her grown children, watching in despair as they fall in love and intend to marry.Loving Without Tears is sadly not my favorite of the Molly Keane books I’ve read. Set in the years after WWII, there’s still this wonderful dreamlike quality to it (for some reason, I kept thinking of the setting of the musical Mamma Mia as I read!). The focus of this novel is on the relationship between Angel and Jul…

Review: Tell it to a Stranger, by Elizabeth Berridge

Pages: 174 Original date of publication: 1947-9My edition: 2000 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: heard about it through the Persephone catalogueHow I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, September 2010Tell It to a Stranger is a collection of short stories hat Elizabeth Berridge wrote during and after WWII. All the stories deal with the war in some way, but they focus more specifically on the relationships between people and the way they deal with the war. The stories reflect many of the emotions that people experienced during the war, as many people in England were displaced. Some of these stories are sad, some happy, but they are all moving in their own way.Elizabeth Berridge wrote the Afterword to this collection, and she shares with the reader some of her own personal stories about the war, some of them serendipitous. And some of the stories in this book are based on real things that happened to Elizabeth Berridge—like the character in the first story, “Snowstorm,” she was…

2011 Reading

January:
1. Thunder on the Right, by Mary Stewart 2. Henrietta Sees it Through, by Joyce Dennys 3. The Winter Journey, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 4. The Bolter, by Frances Osborne 5. Crossriggs, by Mary and Jane Findlater 6. A Woman's Place: 1910-1975, by Ruth Adam 7. The Devil's Acre, by Matthew Plampin 8. Devoted Ladies, by Molly Keane 9. Harriet Hume, by Rebecca West 10. The Loved and Envied, by Enid Bagnold
February: 1. The Lion of Mortimer, by Juliet Dymoke 2. The Tudor Secret, by CW Gortner 3. The Three Sisters, by May Sinclair 4. Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran 5. Every Eye, by Isobel English 6. The Du Mauriers, by Daphne Du Maurier 7. Sisters by a River, by Barbara Comyns 8. A Very Great Profession, by Nicola Beauman
March: 1. Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45 2. Hester, by Margaret Oliphant 3. Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong 4. Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella Bird 5. The Outcast, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 6. The Glass-Blowers, by Daphne Du Maurier 7. Ala…

The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2010) [France, French]
2. The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt (2010) [UK, English]
3. Invisible by Paul Auster (2010) [USA, English]
4. American Rust by Philipp Meyer (2010) [USA, English]
5. Cost: A Novel by Roxana Robinson (2010) [USA, English]
6. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2010) [India/Australia, English, Booker]
7. Home by Marilynne Robinson (2010) [USA, English, Orange]
8. Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman (2010) [UK, English]
9. The Gathering by Anne Enright (2010) [Ireland, English, Booker]
10. The Blind Side Of The Heart by Julia Franck (2010) [Germany, German]
11. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2010) [USA/Dominican, English, Pulitzer]
12. Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (2008) [UK, English]
13. Falling Man by Don DeLillo (2008, 2010) [USA, English]
14. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2008) [Pakistan, English]
15. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2008, 2010) [Nigeria, English, Orange]