In the High Peaks

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 Austen wrote about this very fact, but as an unmarried woman in the family, she had expectations to fulfill that superseded her own needs.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.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Elin Hilderbrand's "Winter Trilogy"

Every few years or so, during the summer, I get a hankering for an Elin Hilderbrand Nantucket Island  novel, always set in the height of the summer season on this extraordinary island off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts in Long Island Sound, which has wonderfully warm swimming waters in summertime. (Unlike Massachusetts and New England beaches exposed to the frigid Atlantic waters.

But when Hilderbrand conceived of an extended family, the Quinn Family of multi-generations,  a family-run Nantucket inn, and three books about Christmastime on this one-of-a-kind New England island, I was all over it.

 The first novel Winter Street introduces the clan and simply swept me up in gaiety, laughter, and understanding. The reader is immediately engrossed in a whirlwind of not-always-congenial family relationships mixed with loads of loving relationships, and fascinating Christmas revelry. I read Winter Street from one afternoon until the next noontime. The second novel, Winter Stroll,  continues the Quinn Family saga. I read this one in a day and a half, and when I learned that the final volume in the trilogy would feature a blizzard and be issued this October 2016, I purchased Winter Storms. Well, I love the Quinn Family. They are riotous fun, and, although I have NOT read Winter Storms yet, mind you, I am mourning the trilogy coming to an end. If I thought I had the power to persuade Hilderbrand to continue the Quinn saga and their Christmas revelries, I would. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Annotated Christmas Carol

I am startled and surprised to learn that this wonderful edition, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, is now only available as a used book via Amazon and major booksellers. I should not be surprised, I suppose, that it is no longer in print--what a loss, though.

I was also astonished to realize that it was published way back  in 2003. Has it been that long? I suppose--thirteen years.  I purchased it the year it was published, and have dipped into it each December, BUT I must honestly say that I haven't read The Christmas Carol from first page to last since I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. I was very young indeed, but I absolutely loved it.

This year I'd like to read The Christmas Carol in its entirety once again. Start at page one and read straight through, using the annotated version.

The introduction to The Annotated Christmas Carol is lengthy, and provides loads of information about Charles Dickens and the history of this remarkable
 work. The annotations, at the conclusion of the book are extraordinarily well done--from a literary and historical perspective. Do look for this at your local library!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"The Mistletoe Murder" by P.D. James

I'm happy to say that I really settled in and read a good part of the day. I'm now zooming along in Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice (Don't miss this wonderful book!) and today read one of the four short stories by P.D. James in The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, published this year by Knopf. 

"The Mistletoe Murder" is quite tongue-in-cheek; the protagonist is a woman, a crime fiction writer in England in the early 1940s, and the entire set-up is a take on an Agatha Christie novel. But, as one might expect, even considering James's high respect for Christie, James turns the Christie treatment on its head in what turns out to be the most interesting (and I must admit most delightful) way.
The other Christmas tale in the small collection is an Adam Dalgliesh story, "The Twelve Clues of Christmas."

P.D. James noted that short stories are particularly devilish to write from a crime perspective, so it seems there were not many of them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Books of the Moment, Including P.D. James

I've been thoroughly enjoying Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice, but find I'm only halfway through. This disappoints me, because I'd love to read at least a handful of Christmas-related titles this month.

The good (or bad) news is that I'm definitely under the weather. I've been denying it since Monday morning, fighting it off, trying to get ready to ski Thursday... and it is so NOT going to happen. Wobbly legs, dizziness, the kind of thing that makes artful balance on two strips of metal and carbon fiber impossible.

So that means that tomorrow I indulge in a personal Christmas readathon.
It will be a Wednesday of more Winter Solstice interspersed with dips into a new release, P.D. James's Christmas-related short murder mysteries, The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories. Published in late October, it's a slim volume, but it doesn't matter--I don't have these stories by James and they will be gobbled up. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Michelle's Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

I'm really excited about this reading challenge. And for once, I'm not too late to join and participate. It starts tonight at midnight (i.e. Monday, Nov. 21) and lasts through January 6th, Epiphany. This is the 7th year that Michelle @ Seasons of Reading has hosted these events. She is also hosting a readathon all this week to get the ball rolling.

Best of all, it's possible to be involved and read just one or two books.

If ever there were a year that I need something like this--this is it. Most Christmas stories have themes of hope and peace and love for all. I could use a strong dose of all three.

Yesterday I had a wonderful hike--It was nearly 60 degrees, I was wearing a t-shirt without a jacket or sweater, the sun was brilliant--perfection. This morning I woke up to a winter wonderland. We're at 33 degrees with a lake-effect snow falling, and it will continue through Monday night. Our lake-effect snow comes down from Lake Ontario, which is to the northwest of us.

The first Christmas novel I'm reading is Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice, as I mentioned in my previous post. But, because I've been collecting Christmas books since I was twelve, I have many, many books, and still I have a good number I've never read. Many of those are Christmas short stories. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bookish Musings at Tea Time

I believe I've mentioned long ago that my mother's family (she and her sisters in particular) observed the four p.m. tea-time ritual. On Sunday afternoons each week we had what is known across the pond as a "high tea" at my grandmother's house. At home, though, Mom would get home from work at around 4-4:30 pm, we'd make the tea, we'd have a brief chat about our days, and then I'd go off to homework and Mom might read for a few minutes before starting supper.

So it is today that I'm lying on the loft bed with a cup of darjeeling tea, just pulling together my notes about "The Geology of the Thirteenth Lake Quadrangle, New York."  (We live in this quadrangle.) This 125-page New York State Museum Bulletin was published in May 1937, with much of the geological research having been conducted in 1930-1931. The past few years I've become very curious about all the rocks around me. Right where I live we have a great deal of crystallized limestone and marble, which I find very interesting. But I know nothing about geology, so I'm trying to learn a bit more to go along with all the knowledge I've collected about plants, trees, mammals, birds, and all the other creatures of this part of the Adirondacks.

For some reason I just can't get back into reading The Trespasser by Tana French. I stopped reading it just before the election, and though I assure you it is an outstanding work of detective/crime fiction, my mood just won't take me back to it.

I just want to read something not in the present. I have a historical novel waiting--Patricia Bracewell's Shadow on the Crown, which is about a young bride of Aethelred, during the years 1000-1005. It was published in 2013.

The other novel I'm interested in is Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. I listened to an abridged version, narrated by Lynn Redgrave, over 11 years ago. I loved it and swore I would read the unabridged novel one day. I have it in the house, so I may move forward with that one tonight.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

How Not to Write a Blog Post--A Cautionary Tale

My apologies to everyone who read and was offended by my previous blog post, written last evening. I have not removed it, though I would like nothing better than to delete the whole thing or at least to edit out the material that may offend readers. I did delete the "F" word (used as an adjective to describe the P-E). That was deplorable. It's one thing to use it in casual conversation with a friend, but quite another to publish it to people who are readers of this blog. No reader deserves that. That was the only change I made. (If I changed it, then the cautionary tale idea would fall flat--besides I need to wear the letter A for a while a la Hawthorne.

I also published all the comments received (2 so far). I don't delete comments unless they are spam or if the commenter is using some form of hate speech  against a minority or other group of people.

The cardinal rule of how not to write a blog post is never to compose it when you have been massively triggered by terrible events of the day. This was my failing. The terrible event which triggered me will be related in a minute.

The next rule is never to over-generalize a group of people, as I did with college-educated people. Yes, there were lots of college-educated people who voted for Trump.

The next rule is to be precise with facts. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of voters for Clinton were college-educated; 43 percent for Trump. So I messed up there. My apologies.

The triggering event that occurred earlier in the day stemmed from an article in The New York Times reporting on campus unrest and incidents post-election. The main incident (among several) noted in the article occurred at Wellesley College, a women's college, (Hillary Clinton's alma mater) when two white male students from nearby Babson College drove onto campus in a pick-up truck bearing a huge Trump flag. As they drove through the campus, students and other witnesses reported that the men were hurling gender-demeaning and anti-African-American slurs at students. They drove to the African-American center on campus and continued said behavior. When an African-American student protested and told them to "Get out," witnesses report that one of the men spat at her. Campus police arrived and the men were ordered off-campus. This incident has caused a huge disturbance in both college communities and among both college's administrations. If you google "Babson and Wellesley" it will lead you to lots of reporting on the topic, which is still being investigated. Activism has already begun via To see's petition, link here.

This affected me so deeply because I grew up in the town of Wellesley, living near the college, and I'm a Wellesley graduate as well. I always have felt safe there. The campus was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, is exceptionally beautiful, and is open to and frequented by many, many people from the Boston area, who have no affiliation with Wellesley, as a friendly place to walk dogs, go jogging, hike, canoeing, etc. The thought of this incident--this backlash--occurring against young women at this college disturbed me deeply.

Of course this is no excuse for the way I wrote my post--hence, my warning to myself not to write when such an incident has occurred in my day.

I think I was also reminded yesterday of the sexual harassment and sexual assault I experienced at my workplace when I was in my 20s. In those days, the mid-late 1970s, there was no recourse for a woman whose male colleague grabbed and muscled her against the wall in a large utility closet. And today, for many young women (and older, too), there is often no recourse, especially if a woman's priority is to keep her job and maintain her status quo among her colleagues.

So, again, I apologize for yesterday's mistakes and carelessness.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Well, At Least We're Better Than Americans," Saith English Blogger

Before I begin, let's recognize that Americans enjoy British book blogs and feel akin to British readers, and vice versa.

The title quote was written by a fairly well-known British book blogger who commented on a post by a British book blogger who is, for a brief time only, on my "Blogs of Substance" list. This quote was what the former said she told her children, reassuring them, evidently.

What this writer completely failed to note and, let's face it, was probably too ignorant to know, was that the majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. "Darling" Donald won the electoral vote and Hillary won the popular vote--more Americans voted for her than for the Donald. This has happened five times before in the 20th century, most recently with Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush.

I'm so glad that this British woman feels so superior to Americans, all evidence to the contrary. She can engender global superiority wherever she goes.

But, on the other hand, other intelligent Brits have examined the voter returns, and realize that college-educated men and women did NOT vote for Trump.

The blog who hosted and approved this blogger's comment will be removed from my "Blogs of Substance" list in the next few days. Don't worry--this host blogger has only been doing political commentary since earlier this year. She stopped blogging about books months ago. You won't be losing any book news, I promise! This blogger has harangued Americans in the past year as well.

Yes, I believe in free speech, but ignorant free speech, which ignores the facts and obliterates the population of an entire country is not tolerable.

I love British book bloggers' blogs. And I will continue to enjoy them and respond to them. Let's enjoy and celebrate our mutual love of books, and forget this denigration of our nation. Thank you! I don't think I or any other American deserve it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Time to Move On and An Annotated Mansfield Park?

And, if you will, please let me explain what I mean by saying that it's time for me, and I mean I alone (without putting that onus on anyone else) to move on. With the entire government stacked against the issues I most strongly believe in, it means I need to re-engage in activism that I was engaged in before Barack Obama's presidency. Advocacy for climate change legislation at the federal level, advocacy of the preservation of wilderness, not only in the Adirondacks, but throughout the country. And last of all, but still very important, advocacy of young women entering the workforce. As a college instructor, I can tell you that in northern New York, young women are subjected to harassment of all types by their employers--and it's not only sexual, it's much more than that.

So I do hope this year, with a reduced work schedule as of this week, to fully enjoy the holidays. To read to my heart's delight while still taking care of exercise needs and household business. To have fun.

Get back into my Classics Club reads:
Did you know that Harvard University Press has published a $35 edition of an annotated Mansfield Park??? I am curious, as an Austen reader. I know that controversy among literary historians and critics surrounds this novel. I'd  love to buy it, and I think I have saved enough gift cards so that I can buy it for myself. Will have to see! Mansfield Park is on my Classics Club list.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Night

Ken is my favorite political junkie--he thrives on every iota of political news. If the news weren't always so terrible, I'd revert to my political junkie days.

During the summer of 1968, I watched the Republican and Democratic Conventions while knitting my father a sweater. At that time, convention coverage was all-day and all-night from a Monday through Thursday. It was fascinating--all the rumble and tumble. I enjoyed it as a 15-year-old during an unbearably hot summer. I have not repeated the experience.

This year my saving grace was my daily reading of The Washington Post and their thorough, excellent coverage. Saved me from the sound of Donald's voice and the whine of the television news, which is pathetic tripe.

But tonight, though we haven't discussed it, I know we'll both stay up, watching the television election coverage, until the verdict has been nailed down; that is, if it closes tonight. Oh, please! Not a repeat of 2000!

Reading-wise: I've been ever so busy, though I finished a work project today and my work-work is fairly well off the desk until the end of the year. Hurrah! I need time to finish the most excellent The Trespasser by Tana French. Before bed, when my brain is none too keen, I've been reading The Body in the Snowdrift by Katherine Hall Page, a February mystery set in Vermont. A cozy, and who needs cozying  more than politically-bereft people?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Long Absence and October's Walk on the Wild Side

It has been a long time. Every time I've tried to compose a blog entry, I've gotten stuck. It has been a very odd month in this part of the world. I live in a very rural area where most people are extremely vocal about their support of Trump. If they see us in the pub, they become even more vocal, not because we've been publicly asserting our liberal leanings, not at all, but because we've been quiet when the aggressive Trump talk starts. A few of the Trump leaners verge on being dangerous types, so we quietly assert our right to be in the pub by just ordering a hamburger or "steak in the grass" sandwich with our wine and beer and become engrossed in each other's conversation.

If they were to confront me directly, they'd get an earful. But they're smart and they don't.

We have lots of friends who are normal people, thank goodness, and we spend most of our time talking to them. They are as baffled as we are. We have an FBI director  who can't control his agents' constant leaking of totally inaccurate information, as acknowledged by all experts. This FBI director, a Republican, believes his first duty is to communicate with Republicans in Congress. Each day, more news is reported that shows how out of control the FBI is at this time.  But, we can always remember the  rogue director  J. Edgar Hoover, who committed many crimes when he was director of the FBI, though they weren't identified as such until after his death. Many presidents feared him.

So, books! I'm so loving Tana French's The Trespasser, released this fall. This book is her best yet, I think. I've read Broken Harbor and The Secret Place, and The Trespasser surpasses those. A crime novel that goes so far beyond the crime novel genre, to my mind. Mind-blowing, with a woman detective that breaks the mold for both genders. Five stars.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Books Ahead and Elena Ferrante

I was so delighted to find Commonwealth by Ann Patchett on the New Books Shelf at my local  library today. So lucky--because it's in high demand. I've already dug into about 30 pages--the book begins with a christening party in Los Angeles sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. At this stage I'm not able to pinpoint the exact date.

The other book I snapped up is equally in demand. I picked up the only copy available of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend in the entire network of 30+ libraries serving our region (approximately 80 copies available, not counting audiobooks). I haven't read Ferrante, despite hearing great things from other people, because somewhere out there in the ether, perhaps several years ago, I read several linking articles explaining how and why her writing is over-rated. So I made a snap judgment to put her on the back burner for the time being.

However, as luck would have it, on Wednesday, on the way home after a trip to Boston, I listened to an exquisite program about Ferrante, a National Public Radio program, which was prompted by the news of her having been "outed" by an Italian journalist, who tracked down her true identity despite her wish to remain anonymous. The focus of the hour-long program that I especially liked was hearing from lots of women about what they so strongly valued in Ferrante's Neapolitan Trilogy. Her translator was on hand, as well as one or two other experts. The link to the program is: Tom Ashbrook's On Point: "The Meaning of Elena Ferrante."  Just scroll down to the program. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Late September Catch-Up with Books

It was with huge surprise that I discovered just this week that I've read 46 books this year so far. Despite the fact that I keep a list on this blog, I had absolutely no idea. I haven't been trying to meet a goal or anything like it. I've read quite a number of books that have been 500+ pages. What this all proves is that I've spent a great deal of time reading in 2016, perhaps more than any other activity. This fact does not surprise me. Gads.

I have been trying to balance my reading.

I finally got around to reading Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, and I did enjoy it very much, though--spoiler here-avert your gaze--I was very shocked by the tragedies at the end. I will comment more when I do my Classics Club review.

Catherine Lowell's debut The Madwoman Upstairs was wonderful. If you like mysteries set in academia and if you like the Brontes and if you are into classic English literature you will like this sharply smart and witty romp of a novel. Pretty quirky, too, so one must be forewarned about that, but as you may know, I love a quirky heroine. Actually, all the characters are humorously quirky. A charmer.

Right now I'm reading another Classics Club novel. (Yes, I am behind.) I'm thrilling to My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier, which was published in 1938.

And, because I always have another book going while reading a Classic, yesterday I read a sizable chunk of Ishiguro's most recent novel, The Buried Giant. It's set in post-Arthurian England. The main characters, an elderly couple, are "Britons" from the west of England. The husband and wife journey east to try to locate their son. "Saxons" are everywhere as they travel east. This novel is not historical fiction, although my interest in that genre has been propelling me forward. It's really a fable and fantasy, though not one that will have the reader feeling too comfortable.

Perhaps Ishiguro never read  Lois Lowry's multi-award winning classic novel of the early 1990s, The Giver, but it seems to me that every single theme in Lowry's book is in Ishiguro's. In this way, Ishiguro's novel, while a departure for him, is not entirely original, but I don't think he was aiming for absolute originality at all. I have to say it is likely that he was unaware of Lowry's YA classic. And I have to say that both books encompass universal themes. Do pick up a copy of The Giver  if you haven't already. The Giver is just as interesting for adults as it is for YAs--mind-blowing.

I have many more books I'd like to read this year before midnight on  New Year's Eve.

I had overwhelming health issues this year that made reading my favorite sport, but I must say that it's true that opening a door into a book can be just the most wondrous part of life.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Alan Hollinghurst and The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child is the first book I've read by Alan Hollinghurst. The 450-page novel begins in 1913 and concludes in 2008, and follows the lives of several key characters, men and women,  particularly as their memories reflect back on their relationships with Cecil L. Valance, an upper-class gentleman and minor World War II poet, who died as a war hero. Many of the key characters spend the rest of their lives trying to pin down the nature of their relationships with him, and several write their memoirs, while others influenced by him after his death also try to pin him down in writings and in interviews, yet Cecil was an ebullient personality who proved almost impossible to completely encapsulate. Many affirmed that he must have been bi-sexual because of his supposed relationship with Daphne, but was he as enchanted by the opposite sex as he was by men?

Incredibly nuanced conversations and relationships provide much, much to puzzle over, and every character is seriously flawed, as was Hollinghurst's expressed intent, although some characters appear more flawed than others.

Follow the link to an in-depth, fascinating interview with Hollinghurst in The Paris Review.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

I'm in Withdrawal, but Sinking into New Books

I'm suffering from having come to the end of my wonderful medieval historical tome,  When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. I want to continue with the second book in her Plantagenet series sometime in the future.

In the meantime, no book on hand measures up to the pleasures of the one I just finished.
I have started reading The Stranger's Child, published in 2011, written by Alan Hollinghurst, the Man Booker Prize winner. Many critics stated that  this book is even better than his previous book, which won him the prize. I suppose it's that fact that made me buy the book 5 years ago. I can't judge the book yet--I'm close to 50 pages in to this 450-page book, and my poor soul is still happily lingering in the 12th century.   

For fun, I'm still reading Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah.
The story is about a New York City second daughter of first-generation Chinese parents. Her sister Claire earned accolades at Harvard and at Yale Law School, and now works in Beijing, working for a law firm that deals with U.S.-Chinese partnerships. When Lai Joah, who desperately wanted to make it in New York magazine journalism is let go, she takes off for Beijing to live with her sister and to hope that some of Claire's luck will rub off on her.

She is hired by an expat-English language magazine, Beijing NOW, and eventually falls into restaurant journalism. So, it's crucial to note that the most fascinating part of the book are the descriptions of Chinese cuisine, and all the multi-faceted types of Chinese cuisine. Very interesting! Caution: Don't read this book while you're hungry. 

A lot of attempts at romantic interest in the novel, but more than one-third of the way through, no man of sincere interest for either sister. Things must change soon, because so far the book is relatively static, as in linear. Sigh.  I will report back. But I will say if you are into Chinese cooking, which I so definitely am, you will enjoy this book whether the plot finds legs or not. Lots of interesting descriptions about what it's like to live in the Beijing of today, which I have enjoyed.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A "Welcome Fall" Weekend and Reading

Well, it's not going to last, but we had a lovely autumnal sort of holiday weekend. Fortunately we're far enough north of the big tropical storm's swath of moisture, that we've had no cloudiness at all. Just blue skies, warmish air at mid-day, and very cool temperatures at night. This week we're due to heat up again into the low 80s for a couple of days, but hopefully it won't last, although this fall is expected to be warmer than usual in the northeastern U.S., according to meteorologists.

I've had time this weekend to move fast forward with Sharon Kay Penman's wonderful 12th-century epic of England and France, When Christ and His Saints Slept. I've less than a hundred pages to go now (out of 750 densely packed pages), and am enjoying it now as much as ever. Henry, Duke of Normandy, who will become King Henry II of England, is now about 19 years old and secretly betrothed to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry is completely besotted with the beautiful, brilliant Eleanor, who is nearly 30 years. So, because the next book in the Plantagenet Series is about Eleanor, I believe, I'm assuming that the couple will wed before the end of the book and then hasten to England to take the crown from Stephen. I will definitely be reading more of Penman's books, although after two weeks of solid reading, I think I'll take a break from the Middle Ages for a bit.

Enjoying the U.S. Open in the evenings, especially watching the long-injured and now-healed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina come back into his own. Such a joy to see his power return.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Do You Enjoy Medieval Historical Fiction?

Every now and then, at least once each year, I get a hankering to read a thick, atmospheric work of medieval historical fiction.

This late August I'm reading Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept, which is the first historical novel in her Plantagenet Series. This densely packed novel of 750 pages or so is about the generation between Henry I and Henry II of England. It's set in the 12th century, particularly the first half, during Stephen's struggle to reign (nephew of Henry I) and Maude's struggle (Henry I's only surviving legitimate offspring, his daughter Maude). Henry I's son William was lost at sea crossing from Normandy to Southampton years before this struggle took place.

I am at this time, after a week of devoted reading, only half-way through this novel. It fits the bill for excellent descriptions of setting, entertaining discussion of the history, and fascinating characters. What a horrible time, however, to be alive in England! Maude and Stephen continually battle for the Crown, and one city and castle after another are destroyed in the process, not to mention the villagers and townspeople who suffer without end.

Sharon Kay Penman may be an American, but she conducted research all over England for each of her books, consulting and incorporating primary source material. (She uses the name Sharon Penman in the UK.) I'm sorry to say I don't read authors of historical fiction unless I've researched their research, to make sure they've done theirs thoroughly. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books--she has lots. Her most recently published book was in 2014.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Have I Been and Books under the Bridge

I must confess that we have had the highest humidity (and heat with it) since we moved to the Adirondacks. Our dewpoints were in the high 70s last week and Sunday--just soaking, water-saturated air that usually does not make it this far north. Sun, followed by torrential downpours, more sun, and the cycle repeats itself. I'm "used to it" because I grew up in Boston's sultry, dripping wet Augusts, but so far we had escaped the worst of this weather here. Temps in the high 80s, that's not unheard of. But It was those Florida dewpoints that got us all down.

I am a limp dishrag in such conditions with the brain of a pinhead pigeon, and hence, I've been reading but not writing about the books consumed.

Some of you have asked about the reading shelter or reading tent, as we call it. I can tell you that we haven't been in it since our last tolerable weather day last Wednesday. But here's to hoping for more hours comforted by a beautiful view in better weather.

And then there's the view from the reading tent:

It's too bad that all the August goldenrod is not apparent in this photo. We're looking out on what should be a field of wildflowers, but because the fields have not been cut the last two years, you can see we need to hire someone to come this September to cut or "brushhog" it; that is, if we hope to keep our fields as fields and not forest. We have lots of woods, too. But I like the fields, too. It's just that expensive maintenance piece!

I've read a number of books this month so far--I will write about them in coming days, but do look at my "Books Read in 2016" blogroll, just underneath my "Blogs of  Substance" list for now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

About ten days ago, we finally put our reading tent up. I really love reading in the tent where absolutely no mosquitos or other biting bugs can bother me, yet the breezes can flow and I can see perfectly well and listen to the birds and the wind and the animals and gaze out over the fields and woods. We've been pretty much in the low 80s F, occasionally into the high 80s. If the humidity is very high, it's horrid, but otherwise it's not too bad. Could be much, much worse.

I have finally dug my teeth into one of my Classics Club books--Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jabhvala, who won the Booker Prize in 1975. The novel was adapted into a television drama by the BBC, I believe, but I never saw it. Did you, by any chance?

I'm only about 40 pages into this 138-page book, but so far the story moves back and forth between 1923-1926 British India and the India of the late 1960s or early 1970s, the latter time period narrated by a granddaughter and grand-niece of two women who spent years in India in the 1920s and 1930s. Much of the mystery for the young narrator revolves around a character of her relatives' acquaintance, Olivia, who created a huge scandal by leaving her husband, Douglas, for the Nawab of the District.

I've also just started The Rocks by British author Peter Nichols, which is set in summertime Mallorca. I'll have more to say about this wonderful novel soon. It was published last summer 2015.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What I'm Reading Today

A very, very brief post to say that I'm fascinated by P.D. James's The Black Tower, especially the deeper I get into it, and I have been so inspired by the extraordinary characterizations in Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier. As many of you know, Spencer-Fleming's "mystery" series about Episcopal priest, U.S. Army helicopter pilot, and recently-returned Iraq War veteran Claire Fergusson  and Miller's Kill Chief of Police and Vietnam veteran Russ Van Alstyne just can't be beat, in my estimation, especially if you admire character-driven fiction or mysteries. I am so in awe of the writing in One Was a Soldier, published in 2011.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Here Comes a Long Reading Weekend!

Due to circumstances beyond my control, it appears that this weekend will be devoted to reading. A new tennis racquet arrived at my door, but I don't know that I'll have the strength to play this weekend. It may have to wait. But Wimbledon watching will continue, primarily in the evenings.

I've nearly finished Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, and P.D. James's The Black Tower arrived yesterday, all ready to go. So the latter will be rapidly consumed, I imagine.

But I'm also reading, chapter by chapter with rests in between, the nonfiction work by the 2015 Nobel-Prize-Winning Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. To write this book, Alexievich personally interviewed hundreds of former Soviets about the conflicts between Soviet life and the Life After. I hope to have much more to say about it later. It has received tremendous accolades throughout Europe and North America.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Holiday Weekend Reading

All I can say is that I'm finally reading.

I downloaded the current bestselling thriller Before the Fall by Noah Hawley yesterday in an attempt to break my lack-of-reading crisis.  It worked. It's been given multiple starred reviews, and other laudatory comments from many news outlets, so I figured it might at least entertain. And it has been a page-turner, though I'll reserve a final judgement until I'm finished. 

Today I ordered The Black Tower, an Adam Dalgliesh novel, by P.D. James, which will arrive on Thursday next, to see me through the latter half of next week. I know I can read James, no matter what.

I can't believe all the titles by favorite authors to be published in September: Ann Patchett, Ian McEwan, and the Dutch author Herman Koch, to name a few!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

About Summer Reading Lists

Why summer reading lists are--for me--a definitely superb idea:
  • I have been assigned a great deal of work this summer.
  • I've been struggling to achieve balance in my life.
  • Reading is a vital, integral part of my life. Being busy with work can make me neglect reading time, which is so important to me and my well-being.
  • Making a book list for the summer gives me a compass. Instead of reading just anything that drops into my lap, I have a list of books to refer to, which I have truly wanted to read. The list is my GUIDE.
Now you are expecting a list, aren't you?
I don't have one yet.
What has been staggering is the number of recently published books I'd love to read as well as the books to be published this summer, as well as my Classics List, not to mention all the other books I was hoping to read.

My partial beginning of a list:
O Pioneers!  Willa Cather  (Classics Club)
Serena by Ron Rash
Housekeeping by Robinson

I can face it-- It's a very miniature start, but I'm going to keep working  on it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mid-June Reading and Ron Rash

Reading, eating, and breathing--in that order. The bare essentials of life, and without them my life feels out of control and downright crazy. (Work implodes.) So my highest priority has to be to hoist myself up onto the book train again.

I finished Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart, enjoyed it tremendously, and will write a brief blog post about it sometime in the next few days.

And what am I taking breaks to read at the moment? I fell into reading Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, another gothic novel. The original UK title was The Girl in the Photograph. When I looked Riordan up on the Web, I discovered she's written a number of other books that sound as though they'd be perfect for my future contemporary gothic forays.

My next Classics Club read is O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I'm looking forward to quieting my brain just enough so I can dig into this wonderful novel about settlers on the Great Plains. I know I've mentioned that I'd soon be reading this two months ago, but my rabbit-hole was cavernous.

I've been waiting and wanting to read a novel by the American and Appalachian writer Ron Rash for some time. (The link provides access to an interview with Rash.)  Most of his novels are set in wilderness or near wilderness and have themes related to the land and the wilds and rural America. I'm going to read Serena first, for which Rash won the PEN/Faulkner Award about 5 or 6 years ago. Serena is now or recently has been made into a motion picture. Rash's Above the Waterfall appeared this year, but I'm putting that one on hold, even though its story line is compelling. Rash is considered to be one of the country's best writers and poets. And he was born in that great vintage year 1953...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

June Reading: The Loney and Touch Not the Cat

The month of May was abysmal as far as my number of books read is concerned. (It  was superlative for hours spent in wilderness watching spring unfold.) I read The Lewis Man by Peter May, and L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton.  The Lewis Man was absolutely superb, but this particular Letter "L" Grafton book was pure tedium. I think I read one other dud in this series, but can't remember which one. I know, based on experience, that M is for Malice is certain to be much better, because that's how it went with the book following the only other clunker.
So what about this month of June? I have loads and loads of work this month and tomorrow morning I'm leaving for a week to research in southeastern New York State. Fortunately I've already dug into the extraordinarily fascinating book, The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. It's a story of a retreat or pilgrimage for a devout group of orthodox, or fundamentalist, Roman Catholics in the far north of England, making their way to the bleak shores of Lancashire to a holy site during Easter Week. The time period is the 1970s. I read a review that said it had gothic undertones, and I went for it based on that. I never thought such a  story would grip me, but it's so artfully crafted, I'm amazed and I can't imagine what Hurley has up his sleeve.
I can't wait to read Touch Not the Cat by one of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart. Have you read this one? I bought it at a book sale about six years ago, and it's been lying untouched on my bookshelves ever since. No longer! Katrina of Pining for the West and I are reading it on and around June 15th. I'm bringing it on my research trip this coming week, so I can start reading. It sounds truly gothicish or gothicky. Neither are true adjectives, but perhaps some of you gothic-afflicted people will know what I mean.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Something Happened on My Way through May

Yes, indeed.  I fell in love with spring in the Adirondacks all over again.
You see, May last year, I scrambled to finish grading papers and exams for my final semester at the college. The very next day my 4-month-long, grueling professional genealogy course began--and I had not a free moment until Labor Day in early September.

So this year I have found that I am literally going wild with excitement observing all the spring wildflowers again, I'm fascinated taking stock of the state of my forest in different habitats, and also am thrilled to construct new, interesting trails to take advantage of the beauty on our land. Of course I still have to work, so I limit these activities on weekdays to 90 minutes. And weekends, I allow myself much more time still. So it's probably no surprise that I'm not reading as much as I was in March--a stellar reading month--11 books without a single dud.

So, it's no wonder that right now I'm enjoying the forest ecologist Bernd Heinrich's The Trees in My Forest. He writes about his personal studies on his 100+ acres in northwestern Maine, and his land is very similar to our land in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. He is probably the best-known and most widely read nature writer in the Northeastern U.S.

I'm still reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton, but am eager to finish it so I can strike out and claim some new bookish terrain.

Unfortunately, it's going to be very, very hot this weekend--high 80s!! And still our air conditioner men have not arrived. You will never hear me complain about our winter cold, but the heat does wilt me. The cure: Take a cold shower. Dig deep into a mesmerizing book in a darkened room. Don't come out, unless there's an invitation to an air-conditioned venue.

I will get out very, very early to enjoy nature before the heat hits in earnest.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Travails Along the Bookish Road--With Hope

I realize that I'm fortunate to have a started a new business and to be very busy with work. This is a good thing. I'm very glad I'm no longer working as an adjunct professor earning a pittance, though I miss the students terribly. But actually, I suppose I'm mildly bewailing the fact that I haven had time to read all week. I so cherish the luxury of reading that having my sole time arrive just as I'm falling to sleep feels like a cheat.

So! In reference to my previous post, I had to retire Wilde Lake by Laura Lippmann. I read up to page 100 (it's 355 pages), but I didn't feel it lived up to its starred billing as heralded by Publishers Weekly. I'm sorry to report I found it boring. I'm most assuredly not complaining because I have read so many top-notch, thrilling books this year. Wilde Lake simply wasn't the book for me, and I do hope others will enjoy it.

So! You guessed it. To help me over this hump, I am reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton. Oh, what a comfort to be back in the so very un-beautiful Saint Teresa, California, stalking around with Kinsey Milhone, with all her hang-ups and feistiness. It's a balm for my overtaxed mental state.

But I'm looking forward to the following books:
  • The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (I have read the first two chapters. Beautiful prose that one needs to read slowly to grasp its full merit.
  • Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, the new translation, published in 2014. It's my hope to read it this summer. But if work is too frantic, I won't force myself to try to do it.
  • The Lake House by Kate Morton.  I adore Kate Morton's books and this most recent one, I'm sure, will be a pleasure.
  • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather will be my next Classics Read.
Yikes! I just found out the newish British gothic thriller The Loney is waiting for me at the library! Something for the weekend.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Early May Reading--Peter May's The Lewis Man

I returned home from a 10-day business trip in far western New York State last Thursday night. Since then I've been scrambling to write up a report of my findings from that research trip. It pains me that my reading life has had to take a back seat for the time being. Ouch...!

Peter May's second volume in his Lewis Trilogy, The Lewis Man, was fully engrossing. Although not the 10-star tour de force of Volume 1, The Black House, I loved this novel just as much, because more of the main characters' lives and personalities were revealed. These books are thriller/mysteries, written by the Scottish author Peter May, set in the Outer Hebrides islands. Portraying setting and atmosphere is among his secret arsenal of skills. And, of course you know, I'll delay reading the last book in the trilogy because I don't want to let go of these characters.

Right now I've tried to get immersed in Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. I like it very much, but the problem is, I don't have a minute to read it until just before falling asleep, and that does not work very well. I'm hoping to devote lots of time to it this coming weekend.

Am I praying for a rainy weekend??? Well, maybe not, but I wouldn't find one a total loss.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MacInnes, Sarton, and Classics at Olde Books in Buffalo

When I trooped out Saturday morning to visit Olde Books, about a mile from my hotel near Buffalo Harbor, I had no idea what I would find. Googling online revealed nothing about this used bookstore. But, although the shop appeared inauspicious, I ended up buying six paperbacks, three of which are on my Classics Club list.

I came across a really very old paperback of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in excellent condition--what a find! So intact, as well. Pages as fine and white as can be--a mystery how well preserved it is. Had to snap that up. And a low price to boot.

My second Classics Club book find was Tom Jones by Henry Fielding in a mass-market paperback edition. Very old, discolored, but what's crucial is it is solidly intact and unmarked. I paid two dollars for that. I'm thinking I should read that one soon before I need to use a magnifying glass to read it. Such a long book, which I knew fully when I put it on my list. Have any of you read it?

My last classic is Beryl Markham's West with the Night, a paperback in stellar condition. It's not on my Classics Club List at the moment, but I recall thinking a few months ago that it should be.

I walked in hoping I would find a paperback by Helen MacInnes, and sure enough, success! What a surprise! I paid a $1.65 for The Snare of the Hunter. I don't believe I've read this one--the title rings no bells. I recall enjoying reading her books in the mid-late 1970s, and this title is completely unfamiliar. I'd love to find more.

And May Sarton--And yes, even though I've never read her novels, and have never read her poetry,  how I love her journals! They are treasures depicting life lived in the moment, in each day. In the past I've read and I also own Journal of a Solitude, and I borrowed The House by the Sea (about her move to Maine to a house on the coast). Both are wonderful. Sarton is very in tune with nature and even more so a garden lover and gardener. Both books are wonderful, though I must admit that Journal of a Solitude will always be very special to me. So the title of the one I purchased yesterday is At Seventy. Still gardening at seventy and hopes to garden into her eighties. The journal before At Seventy and after The House by the Sea is Recovering. In her 60s, Sarton suffered a bout of cancer. I haven't read this one, but I think I'd like to. It's one of her most popular.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reading in Buffalo

I have a new laptop. This news is conveyed rather sadly, because the entry I was just about to post has disappeared for good. I don't know what key I hit, but it's gone now. I cannot at this time reconstruct it, but I want you to know that I am enjoying a historical novel, Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.  It was originally published in 1996, but came out in a second edition in 2009. I highly recommend it, though I must caution I've read just 167 pages out of about 400 pages.

Yes, I'm travelling, doing research in Buffalo, in far western New York. I will have to write about what a wonderful 9th-century historical Pope Joan is. New computer, new hazards. More later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

There's Nothing Like a Good Gothic

About three or four years ago, I chanced upon the gothic fiction of a writer from Minnesota. Wendy Webb lives in Duluth, on Lake Superior. Each of her three published novels is set on the shores of the Great Lakes. My first, The Fate of Mercy Alban, was perfection. When I started reading it at the time, I didn't realize what an insatiable hunger had been breeding inside me for gothic fiction. The craving had been denied too long. So I devoured it, and, perhaps because of my appetite, I found it perfect.

Right now I'm nearing the end of Wendy Webb's debut novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane. Once again, I'm entranced. Yes, there's the bit about ghosts from previous generations that appear to be creating havoc. Or, are the other-worldly events simply the antics of unhappy villagers who are angry that Hallie had the audacity to return to Grand Manitou Island, where only a few people want her?

I like gothics as long as the so-called "paranormal" does not get out of control. And in this novel it's not, or perhaps I'm just willing to suspend disbelief. In any event, I don't want this book to end!

Fortunately for me, I haven't yet read The Vanishing, the third novel, published in 2014. And, from Wendy Webb's blog, it seems that in October 2015, she was hard at work finishing her fourth gothic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Obsessed by Original Sin by P.D. James

I am so deeply, wondrously engrossed in the Adam Dalgliesh novel Original Sin by P.D. James. This one was published in 1995, and, as some critics noted at the time, James was at the height of her powers in this grand mystery. This novel is so fine a work of literature that I find I must read slowly, deliberately, and must reread at times to make sure I've caught all the slightest of nuances. What a mind James had at the age of 75 when this book was published! That is what staggers me--the intricate complexities, the turns, the twists.

I've been putting off reading this for a really stupid reason. I don't want to ever come to the end of the novels she's written. At this rate, however, I had better hurry up while my mind is still sharp enough to appreciate her devilry.

I think I love P.D. James the most for her exquisite handling of atmosphere and setting. Every setting is described in intricate detail. I love that. Notice that there really are six exclamation points after that last statement, although you may not be able to see them.

I haven't read her novels in at least two years, maybe three, so I'm going to move forward now. Yes, I'd better, while my brain is not too far gone!

Oh, and if you're contemplating reading
it, consider skipping that glass of wine before delving into her mysteries, or read her only in the mornings with coffee. Even 3 ounces of wine muddles her acutely drawn mysteries.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Nest and other Current Titles

This post is a mere update.

I still have books I read in March that I very much want and plan to comment on. So many great books! Coming very soon.

And now I'm in the midst of a bunch of April titles. Yesterday I finished the murder thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, set in northern England, a book that Travellin' Penguin and Cath of Read Warbler have recommended highly in the past.

The new book The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney is a wonder. I will fully comment later, but if you've held back from reading or ordering it, I would recommend that you plunge forth and get it. Characterization is fascinating--the story absorbing. In a few words, four (very interesting) siblings' lives are turned inside-out, all because of their expectation of "The Nest," money that their father put in trust and that he expected would give each child a little something extra to help with a life goal. Instead "The Nest" grew exponentially into an inheritance that each child expects will be there to rescue them from financial disaster. I must confess I experienced tremendous vicarious pleasure from witnessing these interesting people commit all sorts of financial malfeasance, the kind that I would be way too timid and sensible to engage in. Very skillfully written debut. True. Humorous. Fun. Loving it. (By saying humorous and fun, I must admit Sweeney is very serious about portraying family and love relationships.) I found her tone and voice to be tremendously engaging.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

March: The Month of Books Galore

For close to six weeks, we've had neither winter nor spring, in a time period that is usually filled with the most snow of the season. It's been sad, really. According to local meteorologists, this was the warmest winter on record for our region. Our local economy is dependent on winters that have sustained cold. As long as it stays below freezing, even if there's little snow, the mountain resorts can make snow and keep area businesses humming and people employed. And if there's the bonus of sufficient snowfall, we have boom winters.

Our snowshoes have lain in a dusty pile all season, never used. We hiked with micro-cleats over hiking boots when the ground had a bit of snow or ice, but overall it was not a good season for winter hiking.

On to Books!
I've been promising to reveal more about A Free Life by Ha Jin. I enjoyed this novel thoroughly, and its 667 pages sped by. A Chinese couple with a young son are exiles to the U.S. after the time of the Tianneman Square tragedy. This novel follows their experiences and struggles as they try to construct a financially secure life. They begin their marriage in the Boston suburbs, but when they realize they are not making a secure future there, they move to Georgia, to the outskirts of Atlanta, to start a restaurant business. For Nan, the husband, who is an intellectual and has dreams of becoming a self-sufficient poet, this life is not easy emotionally. For both Nan and his wife Pingping, running the restaurant consumes their entire lives, yet they persist at it, acquire a dedicated clientele, dream up tantalizing dishes to increase their business (don't read this book hungry!), buy a small house on a lake, spare themselves no luxury whatsoever, so that they can pay off their mortgage and gain financial security.

I realize that what I've described may sound uninteresting, but it was anything but. Nan continues to challenge himself writing poetry and eventually realizes that he needs to write in English, not in Chinese (just as the author Ha Jin has done in his life). Nan has always had a facility with English and he realizes that to express what he wants to say, he needs the English language to do it. He pursues his dream, meets lots of poets, and continues this life. A fascinating picture of Chinese-American immigrant life just before the millennium, and I think the themes and situations are familiar to immigrants everywhere.

Girl at War by Sara Novic: Reads like a memoir but it's a novel of a young Croatian girl in the very early 1990s at the start of the Balkan Wars. We see her enjoying the remnants of a normal life for a girl of Zagreb, the capital city. The war breaks out and destroys every bit of normalcy. Food and water vanish first. Then her baby sister becomes very sick, and her parents risk their lives over and over, traveling first to Slovenia, then to the border with Bosnia, to send their baby with renal failure on an airlift to the U.S. The baby departs safely, but the return to Zagreb is a nightmare. In the chaos of tragedy, the ten-year-old protagonist becomes a soldier for the Croatians who are trying to save their country.
This novel was my first read of the Balkan Wars by a Croatian native. It was well done and very much worth reading.

The Past by Tessa Hadley: This is Hadley's most recent novel. Four supposedly mature adult siblings, all very different from one another, reunite to spend three weeks in their grandparents' home in the country (England) as they try to determine whether to sell it or not. This home was always a nurturing vacation home for the children, and each has widely different memories. I found that Hadley's characterizations made the siblings seem remote from the reader. I caught glimpses of the essence of each one, but maddeningly I found them all to be hard to relate to. I didn't find the characters likeable (which is not necessary), except for Alice, perhaps, but then again not so much. I think this can be true of siblings within a family of multiple children.
Pluses: The atmospheric, detailed description of the house. The summer setting. The view of Wales across an estuary? (Do tell: Where do you think this novel was set?)

Gosh! I still need to give a wee synopsis of All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. Next time!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Winds of Skilak--A Memoir of Life on a Wild Alaskan Island

I simply *adored* this memoir of a young couple in the early 1980s who choose to homestead on a supposedly uninhabitable island, surrounded by the moodiest, most tempestuous lake you will ever meet in literature. This is an adventure memoir, and the thrills are sustained throughout. Because of the location, downwind from an enormous glacier, the island and lake are subject to the most horrific weather.

I hated turning to the last page. The memoir covers their first two and a half years on the island, and they lived there 15 years. I was so enthralled--the wilderness, the hardships, the challenges and the surmounting of obstacles, the wildlife, making a living from the land--all breathtaking.

The Kindle and Nook price are only $5.99, though the paperback is nearly $19. If you have an iPad, or an e-reader that does color, there are wonderful color photos scattered throughout the book.

The author Bonnie Rose Ward was 25 years old at the beginning of their adventure, and her husband Sam was 36. My only so-called "warning," and to me it wasn't a problem, is that she is a very traditional wife and he a very traditional husband. A love and faith in God is mentioned in nearly every chapter. But this is not a Christian memoir, to my mind. It's a fascinating view of life on the wild side.

This title has received multiple awards. Unfortunately I took a peek at some GoodReads reviews. Most were highly favorable, but two reviewers complained that Bonnie was "too weepy" to be a "wilderness woman." I was aghast. Obviously these reviewers have never ever been in true wilderness to know the challenges, emotional and physical.

I have been so inspired by this book. Fortunately, Ward is in the midst of writing her second book. Okay, I say, Godspeed!

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Book Trip to Indian Lake

The Town of Indian Lake Library, which is about 27 miles to the north from my home, has the best and the brightest book collection around with lots of the most interesting new books, both fiction and nonfiction. I admire the head librarian who really knows her stuff and obviously consults multiple book review publications before she orders books. Best of all, this small town has the good sense to be exceedingly generous to its library, quite unlike my town, if I must say. I found three of the new books I've purchased in the past month on their shelves. The year-round population of this town is only around 1300 people.

Crandall Library, which is in the city of Glens Falls 38 miles to our south, has an even broader collection, BUT it serves a community of nearly 100,000 people. So for new books, there are long waits and a very limited time period permitted (2 weeks) to read a new book. Indian Lake, on the other hand, is a very small community (except for the summer) and one doesn't have to wait or rush for anything. It's a beautiful wilderness drive as well. 

Today I picked up In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ward, a mystery that has been recommended by several bloggers. I found many wonderful books for Ken, who loves legal thrillers, and a book by a mystery writer whose detectives are a man and his dog. For instance today, I picked up Spencer Quinn's Paw and Order. Ken has already read the most recent title in the series, Scents and Sensibilities. He says they are a wonderful change of pace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 2016 Reading Extravaganza

For many reasons, I've somehow managed to read like crazy this month--eight (and a half) novels so far--even though one was nearly 700 pages (Ha Jin's A Free Life) and a number of others have been over 300 pages. Believe me, I'm not boasting--I'm just amazed at my good fortune--that I had the time and the focus to hunker down and enjoy so many absolutely fascinating books. I will never forget this month.

Perhaps my favorite, or the one that had me turning the pages with a determined compulsion, was A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. She and her family live in Glasgow now, so as to be near the university, it seems. After a career as a journalist, Copleton entered the writing program at Glasgow University, and sometime later this novel emerged, among a number of prizes for her short fiction. This novel is on the Longlist for the Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize, as I mentioned in a previous entry

Okay, the story in bare bones. In her early days, Copleton was a teacher of English in Nagasaki and Sapporo, Japan. It was there that she conceived the original plan for this novel, and I admit it's very difficult to give a nutshell commentary. Set in Nagasaki, the most central characters include a mother and grandmother (one person) and a former lover who, despite her determination that he should not, manages to insinuate himself into her life and the life of her entire family from the 1930s through the 1970s to the 1990s in the U.S. Imaginative, believable, epic, and my need to say, "Don't miss it!" This is a fine novel of how love can destroy and can resurrect. 4.9 stars for enjoyment and quality. If you are drawn to historical fiction, that will increase your understanding and perhaps your appreciation, but you don't need to be a devoted reader of the genre, because this book goes beyond genre.

I don't think there's space here to write anything about Ha Jin's 2008 novel A Free Life, which I appreciated immensely.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlist

I discovered this year's Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist from Danielle at A Work in Progress (please see the blogroll). All of them sound interesting, and no doubt you have read a few.

I've borrowed two of the longlist titles from the library today, and I own a copy of Geraldine Brooks's The Secret Chord. I'm so happy to see that Brooks is on the list because I believe that she is one of the best authors writing in English today. As of tomorrow, I will be reading A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton, which deals with the generational repercussions of the American atomic destruction of Nagasaki over many years. Copleton lived in Japan, teaching English.

The other novel I've borrowed and hope to read soon is Girl at War by Sara Novic (NO-vich), by a Croatian writer who endured the War in Serbia/Croatia in the early 1990s. Although there have been a number of Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian authors whose novels have been translated into English, very few have been openly recognized or even reviewed in English-speaking media. I can't really understand this, particularly because English, Australian, and American U.N. forces contributed to the "peace-keeping" effort in the Balkans. I don't know.

Have you read any on the list? Do you see any that interest you?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

I'm currently in the midst of reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, the 1998 Booker Prize winner. The relationship of Clive the elite composer and Vernon, the big newspaper editor, intrigues me as it strains against and weathers several moral crises. The two men impart and half-hint at their moral crises to each other but neither man listens, appreciates, or fully comprehends what's going on with their friend OR with themselves as individuals. Both men, because of their all-exclusive attention to their careers, miss opportunities to act according to their own moralities. Very interesting indeed.

Amsterdam is a slim volume at 191 "short" pages, due to the diminution of some of McEwan's volumes. So the book is by no means much of a commitment of time for the reader, which is an interesting aspect of some of McEwan's most serious novels. Amsterdam is just as timely today as it was when it was published. The drama and fanfare of political expose and scandal brew at the heart of the novel, but actually they are merely the backdrop for McEwan's purpose.

I am enjoying this novel and must say that I'm a huge admirer of McEwan's novels and his boldness in confronting topics that writers of contemporary literature just won't touch and doesn't do.  I'm speaking frankly of On Chesil Beach. No one writes about the issue that confronts this sad couple. No one. And he did it very well.

I will confess, though, that I'm still furious with him about his treatment of the female protagonist in Atonement.

Have you read any of Ian McEwan's novels? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classics Club: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

While reflecting on my experience reading Go Set a Watchman, I decided that I want to steer clear of the controversial arguments that cropped up before and after its publication. How I could jump in! But I've realized during the week that's followed my finishing the novel, that I don't want to remember or focus on all of that noise.

I'm so glad that Go Set a Watchman was published. I'm so grateful. For me, whenever I've had a beloved author, one who stirred me to the marrow, one who provoked me to think and want to shout back, I've always wanted to read more of that writer's work. And as a reader of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought for so many decades that I would never see another word from her.

Nonetheless, despite the publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee remains to a large extent inscrutable, and that's fine with me. I'll take the glimpses that her first-written novel gave me and be content with that.

So what did I gain by reading this "long-hidden" novel? Most of all, I appreciated the insight she gave into what it was like for an intellectual woman to try to break free of the society she grew up in (which most of the world did not accept), the family she grew up in (that she felt smothered her true nature), and her youthful expectations for herself. What a vise to deal with. Recent biographies of Harper Lee have hinted at this multi-faceted struggle, but I thought this novel portrayed it so starkly that it is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

I really loved the Dr. Finch character and all of his ideologies--yes, even the parts we've learned we should look down on. I thought the character of Atticus became more remote, more idealized, and more inscrutable--an  enigma, which Lee tries to explain in this novel. I get what she's explaining, but I still don't understand the complexities of the Atticus she presented.

Anyway, I feel I can lay Harper Lee to rest in my mind. There is much that I still don't understand, but I see so much more than I did. And I can rest with that.