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Showing posts from March, 2011

Review: Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong

Pages: 464Original date of publication: 2000My edition: 2000 (Soho Crime)Why I decided to read: I needed an X author for the A to Z ChallengeHow I acquired my copy: Amazon, January 2011On May 11, 1990, the body of a well-known national model worker is found in an out-of-the-way canal in Shanghai. Chief Inspector Chen Cao (a poet and translator in addition to being a detective) is called in to investigate. At first it looks as though this isn’t a politically-motivated crime, but the case soon leads Chen and his partner, Yu, to suspect a well-known photographer and son of one of the old high-powered cadres. Death of a Red Heroine is a little bit outside the realm of mysteries I normally read. I’m unfamiliar with the setting (1990 China), so the fact that the author intersperses bits of 20th century Chinese history into the story was a great help to me. I liked how the author managed to interweave history with fiction to create believable characters with believable motives, highlighting …

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 had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed vision of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.”--From Jane Eyre (a new reading of an old favorite)

The Sunday Salon

In some ways, I always feel sad about Sundays. I always feel as though something good has come to an end! It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, with a good friend from college coming to visit last weekend, up from Virginia. We explored some parts of Philly, including the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing (which is literally a stone’s throw away from my apartment). The best parts of the museum are the cruiser Olympia and the submarine Becuna. The museum is one of the lesser-known attractions of Philadelphia, but I thought it was pretty interesting (and I’m not really into maritime history!). Sadly, my friend had a personal emergency and had to go back home, but it was good to play catch-up again after four years of not seeing each other.This weekend has been pretty much one long veg-out session; I’ve been watching a marathon on DVD of Downton Abbey, an Upstairs Downstairs-esque Masterpiece Theatre series about one family and its servants in a large country estate in 1912 (…

Review: Hester, by Margaret Oliphant

Pages: 490Original date of publication: 1883My edition: 1985 (Virago)Why I decided to read: found this while searching for VMCs on EbayHow I acquired my copy: Ebay, October 2010Mrs. Oliphant is an author who was enormously popular when her novels were first published but who is nearly forgotten nowadays. She is maybe better-known for her Chronicles of Carlingford series (of which Miss Marjoribanks is one), but Hester is also a very fine novel.The story centers firstly around Catherine Vernon, a kind of matriarch and queen in Redborough. She is the head of Vernon’s Bank, and it was through her intervention that a run on the bank was prevented in her younger days. The bulk of the story, however, takes place many years later, when Catherine is in her sixties, with her cousin/nephew Edward Vernon playing William Cecil to her Elizabeth I. Catherine’s life is shaken when her fourteen-year-old relative, Hester, and her mother move to “the Vernonry” after a period away. A lot of the novel dea…

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 could feel hatred, like a tide, rise up from a hundred throats about me, and those who had been peaceable before were now infected. A woman and her husband who five minutes earlier had been walking casually towards the Abbey, even as I had done with my nephews, were now shouting in anger, their arms raised above their heads, their faces distorted.”--From The Glass Blowers, by Daphne Du Maurier

Review: Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45

Pages: 590 Original date of publication: 1976My edition: 2010 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: read this for Persephone Reading WeekendHow I acquired my copy: Persephone mail-order, January 2011Few Eggs and No Oranges is the diary that Vere Hodgson kept during the war years. The diary reprinted here covers the “official” start of the war on June 25, 1940, and takes us up through VE Day, May 1945.The subtitle is “A diary showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-45, written in the Notting Hill area of London,” and that’s a pretty good summary of what this book is about. Vere Hodgson lets very little of her own personal feelings in (aside from her obvious hero-worship of Churchill), but she gives detailed updates about what’s going on politically. We get very little sense of the people she spends her days with, and very little about Vere’s personality, either. And yet, this book is a fascinating read, mostly because it follows her every …

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!“The discussion rambled on while the plates were changed and the entrees—buttered lobster and chaud-froid of pigeon—were served. With them came salads, served on a crescent dish that fitted to the side of the plate.”--From The Outcast, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Review: A Very Great Profession, by Nicola Beauman

Pages: 398 Original date of publication: 1983My edition: 2008 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: I was in the mood for some nonfiction during Persephone Reading WeekHow I acquired my copy: Persephone mail-order, January 2011Originally published by Virago in 1983, A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-1939 is a fantastic overview of the woman’s novel in the interwar years (interesting that “woman” is in the singular, not plural, here). The book is divided not chronologically but by theme, covering such diverse topics as War, Spinsters (ie, Surplus Women), Love, and Sex. Beauman draws from some of the popular middlebrow women writers of the period, many of whom were later revived by Persephone and Virago. These are the writers that the average woman of the period would have borrowed from Mudie’s or Boots, and the authors of these books dealt with their topics in a way that were accessible to their readers.This is a well-researched and perceptive overview of women writers and …

Review: Sisters By a River, by Barbara Comyns

Pages: 151Original date of publication: 1947My edition: 2000Why I decided to read: EbayHow I acquired my copy: Found it on Ebay, January 2011Sisters by a River is an odd little book. Based closely on the author’s childhood, the book is told from a child’s point of view (although references are made later in the book to the main character’s teenage years), complete with erratic spelling and punctuation, and run-on sentences. This way of telling the story is unique and charming, though I could see why it might get tiring after a while (probably the reason why this novel is only about 150 pages long). Understanding Barbara Comyns’s childhood is the key to understanding the context of this book. According to the preface of the Virago Modern Classics edition, she was the fourth of six children, having a childhood that was “both an idyll and a nightmare” (some of this is reflected in Sisters By a River, albeit told from a child’s skewed perspective). Comyns’s father drank heavily, and there…

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!“Poor Algernon’s innocent joke was doubly unsuccessful, for Harry stood perfectly glum, not moving a muscle. He had not been at all amused by the proceedings of the previous night.”--From Hester, by Margaret Oliphant

The Sunday Salon

Another weekend, come and gone! I spent much of this morning reading Hester, by Margaret Oliphant, and part of this afternoon watching Thelma and Louise (HOW have I never seen this movie before??). I've changed up the layout and background of my blog, too. I also write a review of Few Eggs and no Oranges, which I started reading for Persephone Reading Weekend, but due to its length (590 pages, one of Persephone’s longest reprints, if not the longest) took me most of this past week to read. It’s a fascinating look at an average, middle-aged woman’s life in London during WWII; highly recommended.Speaking of Persephone, I’ve had a barrage of them arrive at my home this past week; I never received my January book for my subscription, and then it, along with my February and March books, arrived within days of each other. The books I’ve received are The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow, Consequences, and Flush: A Biography. A few Viragos have arrived in the mail this past week, too: Untrodden…

Review: The Du Mauriers, by Daphne Du Maurier

Pages: 317Original date of publication: 1937My edition: 2004 (Virago)Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, January 2011The Du Mauriers is the biography Daphne Du Maurier wrote about her family in the 19th century. The novel more or less starts where Mary Anne leaves off. Mary Anne Clarke’s daughter, Ellen, is the focus of the first half of the novel. Ellen marries Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier. Of their three children, their oldest son George (“Kicky”) is the focus of the second half of the biography, and covers the beginning of his career as a cartoonist. In this way, the book covers roughly 50 years of the du Maurier family history—and a very interesting history it is, too. This book is truly written as though it’s fiction—the author puts herself in the position of Ellen and George, writing as though she was witness to her ancestors’ lives (for reference, Ellen and Louis were Daphne Du Maurier’s great-grandparents and …

Review: Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran

Pages: 446Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Crown)Why I decided to read: I was offered a copy for reviewHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the author, February 2011Michelle Moran has been known for her novels set in the ancient world—Egypt and Rome. Madame Tussaud is a departure for her, delving as it does into the world of late-18th century France and the Revolution. Madame Tussaud, nee Marie Grosholtz, made a name for herself as an artist, making wax models of famous contemporaries—becoming involved, as she does so, with some of the major political and cultural figures of her day. It was an era in which everything changed almost overnight (right down to the clothes that people wore), and Madame Tussaud was right there to see it all happen. You almost fell, while reading this book, that you’re there yourself. This is an absolutely stunning novel that had me captivated from beginning to end. Marie wasn’t exactly a beauty, and she wasn’t wealthy or of the nobili…

The Top Ten Unread Books I've Owned the Longest

I keep a spreadsheet on my computer of all the books I own but haven’t read, and I list where and when I bought them, and how I heard about the book in the first place. The list has 112 books on it right now! It’s a good resource that I use when I’m writing the “headers” for my reviews. I thought it would be fun to see which books I’ve owned the longest, and when and where and why I bought them. I feel like every book in my collection has a story, so here are some of them. 1. 1. Evelina, by Fanny Burney. I bought this at a Barnes and Noble in April or May of 2008, when I was still living in New York City. At the time I was conscientiously trying to read through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list… and this was on there. 2. 2. The Birds Fall Down, by Rebecca West. Another book from the 1001 list. I bought this used at a secondhand store near my apartment in Brooklyn in the spring or summer of 2008. My copy is a first edition. 3. 3. The Question, by Cynthia Harrod-Eag…

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![Wednesday 12th March 1941]: “Saw the secretary again. She has worked twenty years for the same doctor, and mercifully had put all his records in the refrigerator. Hopes they are safe. She looked as if shock was beginning to tell.”--From Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45.