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Showing posts from March, 2012

Review: The Weather in the Streets, by Rosamond Lehmann

Pages: 383 Original date of publication: 1936 My edition: 1981 (Virago) Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of VMCs How I acquired my copy: Oxfam bookshop, York, UK, September 2011 The Weather in the Streets is the sequel to Invitation to the Waltz, set ten years afterwards. When her father becomes ill, Olivia Curtis returns home, having just been through a disastrous marriage. On the train ride, he runs into an old acquaintance: Rollo Spencer, a married man with whom she has an affair. I wanted to like this book; I really did. I think the major problem I had with this novel was that I felt so detached from the story and characters. Olivia is a passive observer in the novel, not an active participant, so it was hard for me to really get involved in her story. The thing that threw me off the most was the shift from third person to first person; it’s used intermittently for the first hundred pages or so and in earnest as soon as Olivia’s affair starts. Therefore, I saw the story fro

Review: An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym

Pages: 256 Original date of publication: 1982 My edition: 1983 (Perennial) Why I decided to read: I was in the mood for reading Barbara Pym How I acquired my copy: the Philly Book Trader, August 2010 An Unsuitable Attachment is Barbara Pym at her best, with all the elements that make one of her novels so good. Set in the parish of St. Basil’s in London (although it feels small village-ish), this is a romantic comedy about a vicar and his wife, her sister, an anthropologist, and a “gentlewoman.” The book is punctuated by a lovely springtime trip the characters take to Rome. This novel is vintage Pym: “genteel” ladies and spinsters, and a gentle romantic comedy set in a parish community. It’s funny and sharp, and the characters are very much in Barbara Pym’s style. Ianthe Broome is one of the independent “excellent women” that Pym writes so well about; Rupert Stonebird is an anthropologist whose single status makes him a victim for the matchmaking ladies of the parish (but the reader ha

Review: Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark

Pages: 224 Original date of publication: 1959 My edition: 2000 (New Directions Classic) Why I decided to read: pre-reading for Muriel Spark Reading Week, April 23-29 How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookshop, Philadelphia, February 2012 In Mememto Mori , a group of senior citizens unite after a mysterious person keeps calling to say, “remember you must die.” The phone calls are secondary to the plot, but they serve as a catalyst to the rest of the story, which involves love affairs, blackmail, and death for some. In a novel where “young” is someone in their 50s, everyone is obsessed with life, death, age, aging, and everything that comes with those things. At the ages that these characters are, they can’t help BUT remember that they will, at some point, die. There’s a neat technique to this novel in which, although the bulk of the story takes place in 1950s London, there are shifts back to things that happened in the 1920s and the turn of the century, so it’s interesting to see how t

Review: Great Granny Webster, by Caroline Blackwood

Pages: 108 Original date of publication: 1977 My edition: 2002 (NYRB Classics) Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of NYRB Classics How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookstore, Philadelphia, February 2012 What an odd novel. Caroline Blackwood was an heiress to the Guinness family fortune, a 1950s socialite, and, at one time married to the poet Robert Lowell. Great Granny Webster is a semi-autobiographical novel. In it, the narrator tells the story of several generations of her family: her Scottish Great Granny Webster, who lives in a mildewed cottage in Hove; her grandmother’s descent into madness; unstable, freewheeling Aunt Lavinia; and the narrator’s father, who died during WWII. Our unnamed narrator is not so much a well-rounded character as she is an observer of her family history. At the heart of it all is the family seat, Dunmartin Hall, a dilapidated pile of stone in Scotland. The novel is full of dysfunctional characters, and the only one of them that seems to have it all

Review: The Legacy, by Katherine Webb

Pages: 464 Original date of publication: 2010 My edition: 2011 (Harper) Why I decided to read: recommendation How I acquired my copy: Amazon, January 2011 The Legacy is one of those time-split novels, which jumps back and forth between the present day and 1902-5. In present-day England, Erica Calcott returns to Storton Manor, the place where she grew up, after the death of her great-aunt. Erica’s sister (and Erica herself) are both haunted by a secret dating from their childhood, which rises to the surface after Erica runs into an old childhood playmate. The story jumps back in time to Erica and Beth’s great-grandmother, Caroline, newly married and living on the Oklahoma frontier. Normally I groan when I see one of these books in stores: “oh, no, not ANOTHER” time-split novel!” I think that the market is oversaturated with them. But I actually enjoyed this one, although I could more or less predict Erica and Beth’s story. The story moves quickly, and I was equally intereste

Review: A House in the Country, by Jocelyn Playfair

Pages: 261 Original date of publication: 1944 My edition: 2010 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: I was in the mood for a Persephone How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, July 2012 A House in the Country is set in the later years of WWII. Cressida Chance is the chatelaine of Brede Manor, a manor house near the village of Brede Somervel. Cressida is a widow and mother, and the house is populated by a host of characters: a freeloading aunt, a European refugee, a young engaged couple who are horribly, horribly wrong for each other. Added on top of that is Cressida’s impossibly good looking brother, an officer in the army who keeps chasing his high-maintenance girlfriend all over the country. The story switches back and forth between the goings-on at the Manor and Charles Valery’s harrowing story. There’s a great sense of sadness and loss about this novel that the reader feels even before we find out Cressida’s background with Simon and Charles. There’s also a huge sense of un

The Sunday Salon

Another Sunday! I think DST gets everyone turned around; unless I turn the clocks forward the night before, I always feel like I’m running behind somehow. Anyways, I’ve been spending the day working on various stuff for school; I had an hour-long phone conference with one of my professors this morning and then I’ve been spending much of the afternoon working on outlines and writing essays for class. I’m also preparing for a long weekend next weekend to Arizona. The goal was to get out of the “cold” weather, but since the high temperature here is supposed to get up into the 60s/70s this week, it won’t be so much of an escape! But I think getting away from work for a day or two will be good. In terms of reading, I’ve been reading for class, but I’ve also found time for pleasure reading. Right now I’m reading The Children Who Lived in a Barn , a children’s book which is mostly good, fun fantasy (although the practical realist in me is finding plot holes everywhere). Surprisingly, I’ve bee

Review: Mandoa, Mandoa! by Winifred Holtby

Pages: 382 Original date of publication: 1933 My edition: 1982 (Virago) Why I decided to read: I’m a huge Winifred Holtby aficionado How I acquired my copy: ebay, July 2011 When Maurice Durrant, the youngest member of Prince’s Tours, wins his seat, he sends his profligate brother Bill to Mandoa, a small African state, to attend the wedding of a princess. With him is his old friend Jean Stanbury, who has recently lost her newspaper job. The arrive to a Mandoa where the Lord High Chamberlain, Safi Talal, is a Westernophile who watches American films over and over; believes that the typewriter, rubber bath, and fountain pen are the hallmarks of civilized society; and uses phrases such as “OK, baby.” I’m usually a huge Winifred Holtby fan, but I really couldn’t get into this book as much as I thought I would. Holtby seemed as though she was out of her element with this book; it’s the only one not set in Yorkshire, and she wasn’t much of a humorist (as much as Evelyn Waugh, to whose book B

Review: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White

Pages: 105 Original date of publication: 1919 My edition: 2000 Why I decided to read: Read it for a class I’m taking How I acquired my copy:, January 2012 Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style , is a short, concise guide to effective writing. This short guide covers everything from basic grammatical usage to composition, but it is more than just a guide to good writing. The book is filled with provocative axioms to keep in mind while writing. Because writing is a form of communication, a hallmark of it is to be succinct. There is an overwhelming emphasis in this guide on clear, concise writing. “When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.” (p. 19). The best-known writers—Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare are mentioned—grab the reader’s attention by being “specific, definite, and concrete” and use words to create pictures (p. 21) in order to create impactful writing. It is always important to use the active voice in wri

The Sunday Salon

I can’t believe it’s already March—so much has been going on and I’ve been so busy lately! I’m still taking two courses on top of work, so I’ve been spending my evenings and weekends doing coursework—my classes “meet” online on Tuesdays and Wednesday and then I usually have several hours of work on top of that. Although I’ve been so busy, I’ve still been reading a lot—I’m currently reading another Virago Modern Classic, The Weather in the Streets (Rosamond Lehmann), which is a sequel of sorts to Invitation to the Waltz . February was a busy reading month; in 29 days I finished ten books. I haven’t had that much time for blogging, but I’ve been writing and posting reviews, which should appear here over the next few weeks. In April I’ll be participating in Muriel Spark Reading Week and I’ve got three choices: Aiding and Abetting , Loitering With Intent , and a lesser-known one: Territorial Rights , set in Venice, which might just be perfect. Like I imagine a lot of you, since the end

Review: The Dark Tide, by Vera Brittain

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 1923 My edition: 2002 (Virago Modern Classics) Why I decided to read: it’s a VMC How I acquired my copy: Awesomebooks, March 2011 The Dark Tide is an autobiographical novel set during Vera Brittain’s years at Oxford after WWI. The story opens when Daphne Lethbridge returns to finish her education at Oxford after working as a driver in the War. She takes up modern history and does her coaching with Virginia Dennison, a frustrating know-it-all who Daphne takes an immediate disliking to (partly, I think, because of jealousy). Although there are similarities between Vera and Winifred Holtby’s friendship and that of Daphne Lethbridge and Virginia Dennison, there are many differences (neither Vera or Winifred had a Raymond Sylvester in their lives, thankfully), and I think Vera infused a bit of her personality into both Daphne and Virginia. However, both women are very, very different; Daphne is shy and awkward (but belongs to one of the top cliques