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Showing posts from May, 2013

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…

Review: A Spear of Summer Grass, by Deanna Raybourn

Pages: 384 Original date of publication: My copy: 2013 (Harlequin MIRA) Why I decided to read: Copy offered for review How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, April 2013
Set in 1923, the novel focuses on Delilah Drummond, a daringly modern woman who is forced to take a “break” from society when a scandal threatens her reputation. She goes to Kenya and her stepfather’s estate, Fairlight, and quickly becomes acclimatized to the way of life there—meeting, as she does so, Ryder White, a hunter/tracker.
I’ve had a taste of British colonial life in Kenya—Frances Osborne’s The Bolter is about a famous colonist of the period, Idina Sackville, and the five husbands she “bolted” from in order to set up a new life in Kenya (where she continued her adventures, many of them sexual). So there are pretty obvious comparisons to be made between Idina Sackville and Delilah Drummond, as there are between Dennis Finch-Hatton (of Out of Africa fame) and Ryder White. Still, there’s enough about each of these fic…

Review: Celia's House, by DE Stevenson

Pages: 367 Original date of publication: My copy: 1978 (Ace books) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, November 2010
DE Stevenson’s books are quite hard to find, but I was able to buy a copy of Celia’s House a few years ago. The novel takes place over the course of about 40 years and focuses on the lives and fortune of the Dunne family and their family estate, Dinnian, in Scotland. Humphrey Dunne inherits the estate in 1905 from Celia Dunne, with the stipulation that Dunnian will be passed to Humphrey’s daughter, Celia, when she comes of age.
Some of the plot is a little predictable; for example, when the elder Celia states that Dunnian be passed on to the younger Celia, the younger Celia hasn’t even been born yet—so it’s pretty obvious that there will indeed be another Celia to carry on the family name. Because the book takes place over a larger period of time, there were also large gaps between events; for example, Stevenson doesn’t really describe what happens …

Review: Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy L Sayers

Pages: 403 Original date of publication: 1937 My copy: 2006 (Harper Mystery) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, May 2010
I have slowly been winding my way through the iconic Lord Peter Wimsey series, based on publication date, and I’ve wound down with Busman’s Honeymoon. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane are newlyweds who decide to spend their honeymoon in the countryside at Talboys, a farmhouse in Herfordshire. But their idyll is shattered when the former owner of their house is found dead in the cellar…
The title is a takeoff on the phrase busman’s holiday; the idea being that, while of vacation or holiday, someone does something that’s similar to their line of work. Of course, Lord Peter and Harriet’s wedding is supposed to be a break from crime, but they nonetheless find themselves solving one all the same.
In all, I thought this was a strong ending to the series—Sayers wraps up a few loose ends in the Lord Peter/Harriet/Bunter storyline (and Bunter gets a mor…

Review: Letters From Egypt, by Lucie Duff Gordon

Pages: 383 Original date of publication: 1865 My copy: 1986 (Virago) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Ebay, February 2011
A friend to George Meredith, Thackeray, and other notables of that time, Lucie Duff Gordon (1821-1969) was raised in a radical, intellectual family and imbued with a sense of adventure; her imagination roamed father than the usual Grand Tour. In 1862, she took a tour to South Africa, attempting to recover from tuberculosis; when that didn’t succeed, she went to Egypt, where her son-in-law was a banker. Although her daughter and son-in-law lived in Alexandria, Gordon spent much of her time in Luxor, living in a ruined house above a temple. Her letters were alternately written to her husband, Sir Alexander Duff Gordon; her mother; and her daughter.
Gordon’s letters reveal someone with a high amount of inquisitiveness and cultural sensitivity; Gordon frees herself from the usual ways that other Europeans stereotyped Egyptians at the time. She was there just …