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 Austen wrote about this very fact, but as an unmarried woman in the family, she had expectations to fulfill that superseded her own needs.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