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Showing posts from August, 2011

Review: All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville-West

Pages: 297
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 1983
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: from a LT user, July 2011


Lady Slane has spent seventy years living in the shadow of her husband, a venerated statesman and former Prime Minister. When Henry, the Earl of Slane, dies, Lady Slane retreats to a country house in Hampstead, much to the constrnation of her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. There, in the company of her aging maid, landlord, handyman, and an eccentric millionaire, she revisits the her past, in which she harbored a secret ambition to become an artist—abandoned in order to embrace the Victorian ideals of wifehood and motherhood.

It’s a wonderfully whimsical novel; one day Lady Slane buries her husband in Westminster Abbey, then two days later she’s taking the Tube out to Hampstead! I loved the characters in this novel; they’re all so whimsical. I mean, what estate agent would leave a house standing …

The Sunday Salon

It’s another Sunday! I’ve been busy this weekend, preparing for vacation starting on Friday: cleaning and laundry, and some preliminary packing. My sister and I are going to London and York for ten days, and the more I research, the more excited I get about this trip! We are spending two days in London before we hop on a train to York for three, and then back down to London for the rest of the time. It’ll be fun to get back there and explore: the museums, theater, food (I’ve been craving Indian food all week), and of course book shopping!

I think the first place we’re stopping is the Persephone shop; I can’t wait to get back! I also look forward to getting back to the British Museum, which I visited twice on my last trip and only managed to scratch the surface of. We’re going to be seeing Much Ado About Nothing at the new Globe Theatre—a play I’ve read and seen the movie of, but never actually seen performed. I don’t plan on bringing many books on vacation with me, because I anticipat…

Booking Through Thursday

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

I read a lot of history! As a former history major, every now and then I’ll read some popular history, or biography. I’m currently reading Letters From Egypt, letters that Lucie Duff Gordon sent home from Egypt in the mid-19th century. I do enjoy reading historical nonfiction, but I probably only read about one such book a month. I also read memoirs; a couple of books ago I read Myself When Young, Daphne Du Maurier’s m…

Review: Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery

Pages: 308
Original date of publication: 1908
My edition: 1998 (Bantam)
Why I decided to read: re-red of an old favorite
How I acquired my copy: Amazon, July 2011


Anne of Green Gables is a book that’s obviously a classic. Everyone knows the story of Anne, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Anne’s “bosom” friend Diana, and Gilbert, and it was a pleasure to re-read this book—inspired by recently reading The Heroine’s Bookshelf, a collection of essays about life lessons learned from fictional characters. The lesson to be leaned from Anne is happiness—despite her circumstance as an unloved, unwanted orphan, she can still use her imagination to see her situation in a positive light. Anne could easily come across as too sugary-sweet for most people, but I think her optimism is refreshing.

What I’d forgotten about the book is how much time passes in the course of the story—Anne is twelve when she arrives at Green Gables, and sixteen or thereabout when she finishes school. So there’s a lot of character …

Review: Before Versailles, by Karleen Koen

Pages: 458
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2011 (Crown)
Why I decided to read: I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books
How I acquired my copy: Amazon, June 2011

Set in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, this novel follows the early period of his relationship with Louise del la Baume le Blanc, who comes to court as a teenager. Louis develops a close relationship with his brother’s wife, Henriette (younger sister of Charles II of England!); and to create a decoy and keep scandal from happening, Louise agrees to an affair with the King.

I expected this novel to be primarily about Louise, so I was disappointed in that regard. It’s told from many different points of view: Louis, Philippe, even the story of the Man in the Iron Mask comes into play, which really added nothing to the main story. The author’s depiction of Louis’s character is very story, but I didn’t quite get what we’re supposed to see in Louise. As a character, she didn’t come across as strongly as some of the l…

Review: The Land of Spices, by Kate O'Brien

Pages: 285
Original date of publication: 1941
My edition: 1990 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, June 2010


Set in an Irish convent school in the early years of the 20th century, The Land of Spices is a novel that covers the school career of Anna Murphy, who comes to Compagnie de la Sainte Famille at the ago of six. She attracts the attention of the Reverend Mother, an Englishwoman who watches Anna from afar during the eight or ten years that Anna remains at the school.

I’ve had good luck and bad with Kate O’Brien’s novels; I disliked The Ante Room but loved Mary Lavelle. The Land of Spices falls into the “love” category for me. I wasn’t sure that a novel set in a convent school would be my cup of tea, but the novel in a greater sense is about human relationships, not just religion and spiritually. It’s also obviously a coming of age novel, about how one girl changes and adapts to her surroundings, even though her …

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 page
Be 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!

“Outside the hen-house (which had been built years long ago for fowls too choice to lodge with the commoner of their species) , the July sun stared hotly down, bringing out the smells of tarred felt and the faint choking incense of the nettles that grew round lush and high. Easter and Evelyn stepped through them cautiously, going single file down the little beaten path that led from this secret spot of theirs back to the more vulgar haunts of man.”

--From
Mad Puppetstown, by Molly Keane

Review: I'm Not Complaining, by Ruth Adam

Pages: 346
Original date of publication: 1938
My edition: 1984 (Dial Press)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: the Philly Book Trader, August 2010


I’m Not Complaining is a somewhat ironically-titled novel about a schoolteacher living in a working-class town in the 1930s. Madge Brigson is thirty, yet she calls herself and the other teachers she works with spinsters (ha! What does that make me?). The novel deals with the life of the school, the teachers, pupils, and the bleak, desperately poor town the school serves.

It’s definitely not an uplifting novel, made more depressing by Madge’s bleak outlook on her own situation. Madge is sensible and smart and devoted to her job, but she does have her flaws-cynicism being among them. There’s no sugar-coating any aspect of her life, and she has zero tolerance for foolishness. Madge is the type of character who complains about her lot in life while not trying to change it. It’s as though she enjoys compla…

The Sunday Salon

It’s raining here where I am, and slightly colder than usual. When it’s raining, why do drivers always find the largest pothole with water in it and them splash whatever pedestrian is walking by on the sidewalk? Well, that ‘s what happened to me today as I was going to the gym. How annoying.

Anyways, this is the kind of day that called for comfort reading, so I naturally turned to Daphne Du Maurier’s Myself When Young, a short memoir based on the diaries she kept from 1920-1932, so from the age of 13 to 25 (when her first novel was written). It’s a great memoir about the making of an author, and I’m really enjoying it.

I’ve made good progress with the All Virago/All August challenge; and I’ve even stumbled across a few in bookstores over the past few weeks. On Wednesday I stopped in to a hole in the wall bookstore near work (so small that I probably have more books in my apartment than in this particular store!) and found four, and then two more at the bookstore closer to my apartment…

Review: Pearl Buck of China, by Hilary Spurling

Pages: 304
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Simon and Shuster)
Why I decided to read: found it while browsing in a bookstore in Philadelphia’s 3oth St. Station
How I acquired my copy: July 2011

Before reading this book, the only thing I’d really known about Pearl S. Buck was that she went to the same college as I went to. I’d also read The Good Earth many years ago, but didn’t care for it much (or maybe I didn’t understand it as well as I might otherwise have). Pearl Buck in China isn’t just a biography; it focuses mostly on how Pearl Buck’s childhood and adulthood in China influenced her writing and life.

It’s a very strong, well-organized book that sticks closely to what the author set out to do. The Good Earth is Pearl Buck’s best-known book, but this biography focuses on all of her fiction that deals with China. There are some sketchy places in the book when the author talks about the family dynamic between the Sydenstrickers, and again at the end when describing Pea…

Booking Through Thursday

It’s National Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status.

"The white marble columns gleamed nearer among the black trees."

--From Mary Olivier, by May Sinclair

Review: West With the Night, by Beryl Markham

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1942
My edition: 1983 (Houghton Mifflin)
Why I decided to read: it’s a Virago title
How I acquired my copy: Philly Book Trader, February 2011

Beryl Markham led a fascinating life. . Born in Britain in 1902, she spent much of her life in Kenya, working as the only female airplane pilot in Africa. She was also a racehorse trainer, and her memoir details her childhood and adulthood in Kenya. Markham had a wide range of friends and acquaintances, among them Karen Blixen and her lover, Denys Finch-Hatton.

All of this should equal a well-written, interesting memoir, right? Well-written this book is, but Markham’s writing isn’t all that engaging and so I was very bored in many places as I was reading this book. I became interested in West With the Night after reading The Virago Book of Women Travellers, which contains an excerpt from it, but other than that excerpt, there’s not much all that interesting about the way that Markham tells her story. Part of th…

Review: How Reading Changed My Life, by Anna Quindlen

Pages: 84
Original date of publication: 1998
My edition: 1998 (Ballantine)
Why I decided to read: Re-discovered this one while browsing my bookshelves one afternoon
How I acquired my copy: Borders


…there are letters from readers to attend to, like the one froma girl who had been given one of my books by her mother and began her letter, ‘I guess I am what some would call a bookworm.’ ‘So am I,’ I wrote back.

How Reading Changed My Life is a series of short essays by Anna Quindlen about the impact that reading has had on her life. I read this a number of years ago and decided to pick it up again as a way to pass the time one afternoon. Each essay is headed by a quotation; and the author discusses everything from the books she read as a child to the impact on electronic readers on the public (and this book was published in 1998!).

What I enjoy about Quindlen’s writing is that her style is so lyrical. She writes about books as though they’re her best friends (which, if you’re a reader, they are…

The Sunday Salon

Another Sunday, come and gone! I’ve been reading Viragos this past week; Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices, and now I’m halfway through Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, which is stunning. I had no idea I’d find a novel about an elderly woman so engaging! I think that Vita Sackville-West is becoming one of my favorite authors; she certainly had an interesting, unusual life.

In other news, my sister and I have booked a trip… to England in September! We’re going to London, then taking the train up to York for three or four days, and then back to London—so about 9 or ten days total. The last time I was there was 2009; and it’s been at least ten or fifteen years since my sister went. I’m really excited to get to York, where I’ve never been; all that medieval history really fascinates me. Obviously, book shopping is on my list of things to do (I’m making a beeline for the Persephone shop right off the plane!), and I want to go see Much Ado About Nothing at the new Globe Theat…

Review: The Heroine's Bookshelf, by Erin Blakemore

Pages: 200
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Harper Collins)
Why I decided to read: it looked interesting when it was offered on Amazon Vine
How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, March 2011


The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, is a series of essays on life lessons to be gotten from classic, well-loved novels. For example, we learn to have a sense of self from Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice; we learn about the importance of happiness from Anne of Green Gables. Each essay is short, only about ten pages or so (and this is physically a small book), and gives at the end of each bullet points for when to read the book and characters from other novels who are similar.

As I’ve said, each chapter is short, and there’s not a lot of character analysis (probably purposeful, if the author wanted to only focus on one virtue for each character). The novels are all well known, and the author assumes that her reader has read all of the…

Review: The Dark Enquiry, by Deanna Raybourn

Pages: 387
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2011 (Mira)
Why I decided to read: I’m a fan of the Lady Julia Grey series
How acquired my copy: Amazon pre-order, June 2011


I’m always nervous when I embark on reading another book in the Lady Julia Grey series. Will this one be as good as the last? Or, for that matter, the first? I think the appeal of the series lies in the interaction between Julia and Brisbane; I’m always worried that the spark between them won’t be there anymore.

Julia and Brisbane are back in London from their honeymoon, trying to juggle married life and Brisbane’s career as a secret enquiry agent. One of his new clients is Julia’s older brother Belmont, an MP and pillar of the community who’s the last person you’d expect to ask Brisbane for help. Julia, of course, insinuates herself into the case, and her and Brisbane’s enquiries lead them to the Ghost Club and a medium called Madame Seraphine. Murder, arson, blackmail, and grave robbing—these are all present …

Review: A Pin to See the Peepshow, by F Tennyson Jesse

Pages: 401
Original date of publication: 1934
My edition: 1979 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of Virago Modern Classics
How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK May 2011


A Pin to See the Peepshow is a book I’ve been itching to read for a long while—ever since I read F Tennyson Jesse’s The Lacquer Lady last summer. It’s hard to find copies of this Virago reprint, so I was lucky to find mine online.

A Pin to See the Peepshow is a fictionalization of the Thompson-Bywaters murder case of the 1920s, when a young housewife was accused of being complicit with her lover in the murder of her husband. Edith Thompson is renamed Julia in the novel. The daughter of middle-class clerk, Julia grew up an imaginative, dreamy and romantic child. After school, she took a position in a dressmaker’s shop, where she was promoted several times and even got the opportunity to travel to Paris to buy clothes for the shop. Julia marries a much older man to whom she’s not all that attracted; and has an affa…