Saturday, January 21, 2017

OMG! Lost Comments Just Found--Weeks of Them--Apologies!

Thank you to every reader who has left comments in the past 6 weeks or more!  I did think it unusual that the last comment I had was on November 14th, but then I figured that perhaps readers were very busy with the holidays and life in general, not to mention...other national upsets.

So Blogger, you have "tricked" me, I suppose! Where once I saw my comments and my ability to publish them, there has been nothing at all. So this evening I searched deeper, in a different place, and lo and behold found them.

I am so sorry that I have not replied to all the interesting comments. I will post and reply to each and every commenter. My regrets!!

P.S. Later Saturday evening:  I thoroughly enjoyed spending more than an hour responding to each comment, which I've so gratefully received. If you have some time, please look back to find them. Thanks to all!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Unexpected Absence and New Reads

I'm astonished that I haven't posted an entry since New Year's Day. That long, really? I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many books I've read that I haven't commented on. And I still haven't written about my favorite reads of 2016! Yikes.

I've been pre-occupied because my mother became extremely ill and passed away a week ago last Thursday night. The good news is that my mother's end of life was short and her doctors and nurses worked so hard to make sure she did not suffer. It seems that the medical community is making this more of a priority these days, even more than they did just eight years ago, for example, when my uncle died. Why, they even have special M.D.s now, whose specialty is "palliative care." So my mother had a palliative care specialist and an internist working together to help her. Both were women and were outstanding--very compassionate. My brother and I are so grateful for the care she received.

So back to my reading life:
Reading is not coming easily to me right now. I'm trying, though.

Under the Influence (2016) by Joyce Maynard is my favorite book of 2017 so far. I read it during the first week in January. It's obvious to me that I now need to read more of Maynard's fiction. This novel is exceptionally well done, and is a fascinating character study, a page-turner, and leaves the reader with so much to think about afterwards. I'm in awe of Maynard's skills and talents. I must read more of her novels.

It's about a woman who had a problem with alcohol and fought to beat it, successfully. So the "Under the Influence" title is not  so much about her former addiction to alcohol as it is her addictive relationship with an extremely wealthy couple of her age who "befriend" her--a relationship that threatens her individuality, her family (a young son), and her sense of place and balance in the world.
Highly recommended!

I'm now reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a debut novel published in 2016.
Tess, a very young woman (age 21 or so) leaves her home in Ohio for New York City. She has had a neglected upbringing and longs to escape to the city--for something bigger than herself. She manages to get a job at a top restaurant and enters the life of backwaiters, waiters, sous-chefs, the mean and terrible Chef, and the enigmatic owner Howard.
This novel does one thing very well--it portrays the lives and experiences of those working in a top restaurant and the various relationships among the servers and workers who labor there. But at 352 pages, it is much, much too repetitive, an observation which is really a critique of the plot.

I see this novel as a compendium of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the restaurant-worker's experience. But I feel that we are left with as little character analysis as might appear in a short story. The story doesn't really move. I keep waiting for things to change, and have read almost all of it now, and I don't think much more is going to happen.

Whenever I cast doubt on a novel, I always hope that some reader will comment and explain why they liked a book and why. Please feel very free. I love to hear reader's opinions!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Roaring into the New Year with Victoria and Ruth Ware

I've been working diligently composing the "My Best Books of 2016" post. Alas, it is only half-completed. So I thought I would write an update stating that I raced through the new novel Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, who is the creator and scriptwriter for the Masterpiece Classics presentation of the young Queen Victoria, to be released during the coming year. I finished it just before midnight New Year's Eve. It's spell-binding.

I realize I know so little about Queen Victoria's family and background. I know more about her marriage to Prince Albert and their children, but her heritage is something I know nothing about. I'd like to read more about her grandfather George III and uncle George IV, as well as all the ins and outs of the monarchy during the years prior to Victoria's reign.

In any case, I do recommend Victoria.

Then I leapt into reading The Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware. I must say that I find this novel has many more thrills and chills than in A Dark, Dark Wood, which I enjoyed, but did not find as interesting or as fear-inducing as some readers have reported.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Persuasion by Jane Austen (Classics Club)

I definitely enjoyed reading Persuasion and I would heartily recommend it to others. I find that each Austen novel must be appreciated on its own terms, which makes comparisons wearisome, and yes, odious.

I found it a more somber novel than those I count as my favorite Austen works, among them Northanger Abbey (Austen's satire of the gothic genre had me laughing all the way through), Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. (Thus far I have not read Emma or Mansfield Park.)

The tone was somber and reflective, as in the portrayal of the behavior and character of Anne Elliott, who is neither the favorite daughter nor the married daughter. By her family, she is considered merely an indispensable aide when any one of them require her assistance. No one ever considers her feelings, or even realizes that Anne may have feelings, desires, or dreams of her own. This point is certainly the "autobiographical" aspect that Austen critics and biographers refer to. Even when Jane Austen, toward the end of her life, was feeling sick and asking for respite from the visits of her nieces and nephews and other relations, she really had to hammer the point home. After all, they pondered, "Jane? Sick? She can't really be too sick to help out, can she?" Austen wrote about this very fact, but as an unmarried woman in the family, she had expectations to fulfill that superseded her own needs.

Back to Anne Elliott, to her family and friends, she seems settled in this role of fifth wheel. Each member of her family disregards her at times and, when she is needed, desperately desire her attentions, for which she is not thanked or valued.

As a reader I felt sympathy toward Anne rather than compassion. She never put up a fuss when her family or others were using her. This created tension in me, the reader, as I expect Austen intended. But eventually, and rather serendipitously, Anne finally does reconnect with her true love, a man she was "persuaded" to give up eight and a half years previously. A man who will respect, value, and love her. And so happily, the novel draws to a close.

If you have thoughts about this review of any sort, please do comment. I value your thoughts!

P.S. I also have finished Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and am zooming through a wonderful novel about the young Queen Victoria, entitled Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. Can I finish this 400-page novel by 12 midnight New Year's Eve? I do hope.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

End-of-the-Year Reading Rush

I have a hate-love relationship with the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. I have always felt like a very lame and somewhat down-in-the-dumps duck during this so-called holiday week. The big holiday is over and nothing I want to do to get settled and start moving forward into the New Year is open and available. People are away, having visits with their grandchildren, and every public place is loaded with tourists. This year I must wait for Tuesday, January 3rd to really plunge into the New Year because Monday, January 2nd is the business New Year's holiday.
So I suppose I'll just read on and on until the New Year really begins.

I keep having days that find me reading most of the day. I just finished Persuasion by Jane Austen an hour ago. I was interested to learn that Austen was suffering from an undiagnosed illness during most of the time she was writing it. Critics and biographers say that it is also her most autobiographical novel. ????  I read Persuasion for the Classics Club and my review and additional information will hopefully go online tomorrow.

I am also about to finish Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things. At 467 pages, I thought it might take me until New Year's Eve to finish, but it is a compulsive read and I predict I'll finish it early tomorrow morning. Picoult wrote that she had always wanted to write a novel about racism in the U.S., but she had to wait years to find her subject and her will to do it.  This novel was published this fall, but the buzz about it everywhere has been growing, and not only online. So my thoughts on this are forthcoming as well.

So this leaves me with four days to finish another book or maybe two.
I have Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance  out of the library, and A Woman under The Influence, a novel  by Joyce Maynard will be on hold for me at the library tomorrow.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hilderbrand's Winter Storms and Jane Austen

Anyone who spends the entire day reading when Christmas is coming in three days is either very tired or a lunatic. I can admit to both. I felt myself a positively wicked person staying in bed all day with Jane Austen's Persuasion and while finishing Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Storms. But nobody knew except my next-door-neighbor, who delivered a New Year's Eve invitation at around half past noon. I went to the door in my nightgown--yes, I did, and confessed to being caught up in a book. His answer was that his wife was still lounging in similar attire! Good for Dottie!

I am indeed sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed by Winter Storms, the final novel in the Quinn Family Christmas Trilogy. I felt this final volume needed many more pages to deal with the weighty, complicated issues at hand: Kelley's worsening brain cancer, his son Bart's last-minute return from Afghanistan after being held hostage for over a year, Ava's choice of a man to spend her life with. The tying-up of all the loose ends could have benefited greatly from more detail--it all felt so, so rushed. The trilogy's issues desperately needed more resolution.

I also was perplexed that unlike the two previous books, Winter Street and Winter StrollWinter Storms devoted only a quarter of the book to the holiday season, unlike the previous two books. Oh, sigh. I really have to slap myself to avoid thinking that I wish I had been the editor. Down, girl!! A nasty habit of mine. But please note: Winter Street is absolutely pitch-perfect, Winter Stroll is lots of fun, and don't omit Winter Storms because of my input.
I still very highly recommend this trilogy for Christmas reading.

And I'm zooming along reading Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's historically interesting as well as great fun. I will leave you with a link to the Jane Austen Society of North America. Lots of great links and information at this fantastic website.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Books to Finish Up in 2016!

Because I had a spectacular reading year until October-November, I'm very keen on seeing what I can do in the 10 remaining days of this year. I had a sudden halt in reading during the time span mentioned, and made little headway during that lull.

Right now there is nothing holding me back from moving in and devouring a few books before 12 midnight on New Year's Eve.

I need to finish The Annotated Christmas Carol, as I've discussed in an earlier post. And I'd love to swallow whole one of my Classics Club novels before New Year's Day. Persuasion by Jane Austen is calling to me loudly, powerfully. So there it is.

Do you have an Austen link to share? Thoughts about Persuasion? Blogs devoted to Jane Austen's works?

Or please do tell the books you're galloping through on the road to January 1st

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Vintage Crime Original)

"The most complete collection of Yuletide whodunits ever assembled," is how this 650-page omnibus describes itself. I believe I blogged very briefly about this collection several years ago. Each year now I read a number of stories.

My favorite before this year's reading was Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Butler's Christmas Eve." This year I have a new favorite written by the English writer Gillian Linscott. "A Scandal in Winter" is set during the Christmas holidays at a mountain resort in Switzerland in the first decade of the 1900s. Linscott is probably best known as the author of the Nell Bray detective stories. Linscott has also been noted as an impassioned fan of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. "Scandal in Winter" has been widely anthologized, and rightly so. It is a very entertaining and humorous  Holmesian story, which pivots around the eyewitness account of a naïve 13-year-old girl. Absolutely charming!

I highly recommend this comprehensive volume because it holds many Christmases' worth of holiday mysteries.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher: 5+ Stars

I mentioned in a previous post that back in the early 2000s, I listened to the novel Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, in an abridged cassette format. (The novel was first published in 2000.) The narrator was Lynn Redgrave, and the listening experience was positively stellar. I vowed then that I would one day read the entire novel. Several years ago, I was lucky to pick up a pristine hardcover edition of the novel for a dollar at a library book sale.

At nearly 450 pages, Winter Solstice may seem a bit daunting at first glance, but I assure you I found the entire story to be so enchanting that I dreaded coming to the final pages.

At the beginning, the reader first meets Elfrida Phipps, a woman in her 50s, who was once an actress and then involved in a relationship with a wonderful man, who died several years previously. Following this loss, Elfrida leaves her life in London and takes on a much quieter existence in a village in Hampshire, where she is finding companionship and some contentment.

After spending a lovely autumnal month in Cornwall with extended family, she returns to her Hampshire village to find that a calamity has come upon her dear friends. Her friend Oscar has lost his family, and, as his older stepsons have determined, he has also lost his home.

Elfrida and Oscar venture forth to northern Scotland, where Oscar shares ownership of a house with his relations. In the beautiful seaside village of Creagan, Elfrida and Oscar manage, working together,  to settle in the house, right in the heart of the village, within sight of the church.

What then ensues, during that early December, is the step-by-step creation of a Christmas season in their village home. Each of the characters who come to the home Elfrida and Oscar are building,  have suffered a great loss in the past year or in recent months or weeks. Despite each person's personal pain, each character reaches higher to form close bonds over the Christmas holidays with each other and with their own pasts. Yes, there is a romance, or two, or three. But when bad things appear to happen, they are blown by the wayside by the immense generosity and spirit of each of the characters.

This novel is the best, most creatively imagined Christmas novel I have ever read. If you love the details of atmosphere in a novel, Pilcher has provided it and then some.