Saturday, February 28, 2015

Monthly Roundup - February 2015

Books read in February = 8

Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mrs Humphry Ward
In Chancery by John Galsworthy

The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes
The Crooked House by Christobel Kent
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Mangle Street Murders by M R C Kasasian

One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens
The King in the North by Max Adams (NF)

rereading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - 100/407p

Fiction = 7
Non-Fiction = 1
Library Books = 5
E-books = 0
Off my Shelf - 3

Other Posts

Reading England 2015 - Where to next?
Library Loot                                          
Shirley Country - A Visual Tour
I'm Reading..                                 
Library Loot - Books for The Begorrathon

Added to My Bookshelf = 2

Early for my hairdressing appointment I popped into the charity shop and couldn't resist the James Herriot which I bought for the beautiful photographs of Yorkshire but no doubt will also reread the stories. For $2 the poetry anthology was too good to leave behind.

The Best of James Herriot - memories of a country vet
The Rattle Bag - edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

What's Ahead in March

  • hopefully another month of summer although the mornings already have an autumn feel.
  • continuing Jane Eyre
  • To Let - the third part of The Forsyte Saga
  • another county, another book for Reading England
  • The Begorrathon - reading Ireland.
That should be enough to keep me busy!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Library Loot - Books for The Begorrathon

March brings The Begorrathon - a month long cultural celebration of all things Irish hosted by Cathy@746 Books and The Fluff is Raging . You can read all about it at either of those links.

With the end of the month rapidly approaching I set off to the library to pick up the three books I had planned to read but old habits are returning and I came home with a couple more than expected. 

Through Connemara in a Governess Cart by Somerville & Ross.......I have always enjoyed Lisa's reviews of the books of S & A and have had this one on my TBR for quite a while. It is the only one my library has but fits in nicely with The Begorrathon.

Laws in Conflict by Cora Harrison.....In 2010 I read the first in this mystery series set in 16th century Ireland, really enjoyed it and was looking forward to more. Unfortunately the library never bought any more  until last month when I noticed they had added all further seven of the series - I have some catching up to do.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne.....'a courageous, deeply moving account of a nation and a man living through a period of cataclysmic, irreversible change.'

Academy Street by Mary Costello .....' the heartbreaking and evocative story of one woman's life spanning six decades.' The sort of book I would have expected to be of chunkster proportions and I'm interested to see how a lifetime can be portrayed in 178 pages.

The Doll's House by Louise Phillips ... Irish Crime. Criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is called in to help in the investigation of a murder after a body is found in a Dublin canal.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they have checked out from the library.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I'm reading....

......more books at once at once than I usually do. There are books all over the house with bookmarks inserted at various points of progress and when I look for something to write a post about I come up empty handed......nothing is finished. So ....I'm reading -

The Brontes by Juliet Barker, although browsing is probably a better description, and discovering the pleasure of owning a book that needs time and concentration to appreciate. I love finding threads that link one author to another and here I read of Charlotte Bronte's visit in 1850 to Fox How, the home of the Arnolds. Having a ' highly idealized impression of the deceased Dr was an intense disappointment to meet his widow and daughters' who she found to be ' lacking that genuineness and simplicity one seemed to have a right to expect in the chosen life-companion of Dr Arnold..........neither she or her daughters were intellectual.'

Dear me! Charlotte - a touch of intellectual snobbery there.

Mary Arnold (Mrs Ward) speaks of the same occasion in an address given to the Bronte Society at Bradford in 1917. You can read this article here - it's very entertaining if inaccurate at times and is only one in a collection from various people written to celebrate the 1916 centenary of Charlotte's birth. Which means we have a bicentenary next year and I should have saved all this Bronte reading until then. 

I'm rereading Jane Eyre now - it's the choice of the Cornflower Book Group and as it has been on my Classics Club list for almost three years I thought this was a good opportunity to reacquaint myself with a book I read in my teens and  know I'll be seeing from a completely different perspective.

The King in the North by Max Adams - NF

Seventh-century Britain and the biography of King Oswald - considered the first great English monarch (634 - 42) he re-united and re-Christianised the Northeast; founded a monastery on Lindisfarne and forged a hybrid culture of Briton, Irish, Scot and Anglo-Saxon. Much of it is set in Northumbria around Bamburgh Castle with its glorious coastal views although nothing remains from Oswald's time except the gateway that bears his name. 

Bamburgh Castle
St Oswald's Gate


I'm really enjoying this and it's providing some 
excellent background for Beowulf but can only read it in small doses so can't see me finishing it before the end of the month.

Finally two light and relaxing books for bedtime..

The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson - scandinavian crime.
One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens - the second in the author's chronicles of her working life - this time she's doing her nursing training. Easy reading but not as funny as One Pair of Hands.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mrs Humphrey Ward

Reading England 2015 - Westmoreland. ( now a part of Cumbria)

Lyth Valley, Cumbria
The setting for the story is the beautiful Lake District and the Lyth Valley a few miles SW of Kendal where Mrs Ward's grandparents had a summer home, Fox Low, at which she spent time during her girlhood. Her descriptions of the countryside are lovely....

" A Westmoreland wood in daffodil time - it was nothing more and nothing less. But to this child with the young passion in her blood, it was a dream, an ecstasy. The golden flowers, the slim stalks, rose from a mist of greenish-blue, made by their speary leaf amid the encircling browns and purples, the intricate stem and branch-work of the still winter-bound hazels. never were daffodils in such a wealth before. They were flung on the fell-side through a score of acres, in sheets and tapestries of gold....."

Levens Hall which she rented while writing Helbeck was the inspiration for Bannisdale.

"It was built of grey stone, covered with a rough-cast, so tempered by age to the colour and surface of the stone, that the many patches where it had dropped away produced hardly any disfiguring effect. The rugged pele tower, origin and source of all the rest, was now grouped with the gables and projections, the broad casemented windows, and deep doorways of a Tudor manor-house."

Bannisdale is the home of the Helbecks, one of the northern Roman Catholic families that for centuries stayed true to their faith . For Alan Helbeck it is a struggle to keep the house and estate solvent and the interior of his home has slowly become a shadow of its former self as he sells more and more of the family possessions. He takes his responsibilities seriously but knows if it hadn't been for Bannisdale he would have become a Jesuit priest. 

Alan has a sister, Augustina, who he has not seen for seventeen years. She married out of the faith and he refused to have anything more to do with her. Now she is widowed and returning to Bannisdale to live with her brother, accompanied by her stepdaughter, Laura. 

Laura's father was an atheist and he raised his motherless daughter according to his beliefs, emphasising freedom for the self without any controlling forces. Alone and grieving in a strange household she is appalled by daily prayers, the chapel, the visiting nuns - the routine of a Catholic family.
She turns to her father's farming relatives who live nearby but only finds an equally fanatical Protestant home.

Despite their differences Alan and Laura are drawn to each other and fall in love. Laura is unable to reconcile herself to living under the conditions his faith would impose on her and leaves to stay with friends in Oxford but is forced to return when Augustina is dying.

It is a story of a relationship between two people with completely opposing religious beliefs. Mary Ward's family circumstances gave her an inside view of the conflict and resulting unhappiness of such a situation and has tried to give a balanced account but it is impossible not to feel more for Laura who is expected to give up everything.

If it gets a little melodramatic now and then it's forgiveable and overall I found it powerful and moving. The ending was a bit disturbing and I don't fully understand Laura's actions - I thought she had other choices - will maybe have to reread the final chapters.
It is a tragedy and I cried! What more can I ask for.
I recommend!

About the Author

Mary Augusta Arnold was born in 1851 in Hobart, Tasmania, the daughter of Thomas and Julia Arnold.

* Her grandfather was the Dr Arnold of Rugby School renown.

* Matthew Arnold the poet was her uncle.

*Her sister Julia married biographer Leonard Huxley and was the mother of Julian and Aldous Huxley.

Thomas Arnold, a Professor of Literature, was appointed inspector of schools in Tasmania in 1850. In 1856 he converted to Roman Catholicism with the result he lost his job and the family returned to England. He later reconverted back to Anglicanism and then again back to being a Catholic. It did not make for a happy childhood and the affects can be seen in her writing. Mary Ward was an interesting woman who achieved more than being a novelist and probably deserves to be remembered more than she seems to be today.

Read more about her life

Back to the Classics 2015 - a forgotten classic

Monday, February 16, 2015

On the Lighter Side

Four mini-mentions from the crime & psy.thriller library shelves.

The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

Alison has put her past behind her and lives a very quiet life which is exactly how she likes it. Until a wedding invitation takes her back to the coastal village where she once lived.
When her name was Esme.
Where she was left the only survivor of a terrible tragedy.
Now Alison must confront the past and seek the truth of what happened.
I loved The Crooked House. It has everything I like in a psychological thriller - an atmospheric, slightly spooky setting, a fast pace with a continuous escalation of tension and suspense. Hard to put down!

The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes

Taking a break from her London life psychologist Alice Quentin has the opportunity to study treatment methods at Northwood high-security hospital. One of the inmates is child killer Louis Kinsella and when young girls begin going missing and are later found dead a link is suspected between him and the murders. Alice is once again called in to help the police.
This is the third in this series and having enjoyed the first two I was looking forward to this one and it didn't disappoint. Well-written and suspenseful.

The Girl on the Train

Every morning Rachel takes the same train and every morning the train stops at the same signal and Rachel watches the same couple. She fantasizes about what she imagines their perfect life to be and compares it to her less than happy existence. 

I tend to avoid over-hyped books like this one but have to admit it was easy, and at times compulsive, reading but I also found it too repetitive and lacking in the surprise twists I expected. It wasn't that hard to see where it was going. Good but not great!

The Mangle Street Murders by M.R.C.Kasasian

March Middleton is the ward of London's most famous personal detective, Sidney Grice and she is determined to help on his next case. He thinks women are too feeble for detective work but soon discovers how mistaken he is.
Set in Victorian London this new detective  series strikes a perfect balance between the relationship of a duo constantly at loggerheads and an interesting and complex criminal investigation . Original and very funny I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to bringing home the second book very soon 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley is the least well-known, the least liked and the least written about of Charlotte Bronte's works.Published in 1849 a year after the hugely successful Jane Eyre it suffered then, as now, from readers expecting another Jane and suffering disappointment. Intended to be different, to be a social and political novel, Charlotte warns her readers on the first page to expect 'something as unromantic as Monday morning, - not exactly a truthful declaration.

The strongest criticism has been - it has too many themes that go nowhere, no real story and no real focus. There is..

*History - Yorkshire in 1811/12 at the time of the Luddite riots . The Napoleonic War had left England deeply in debt, taxes were high and unemployment caused by wartime trade restrictions and embargoes, and the increasing use of labour-saving machinery in the textile mills left the working class artisans struggling to survive and unable to see any way out except through violence and disorder.

* Social history - a portrait of  Yorkshire habits and manners with many of the characters based on people Charlotte knew well. Curates and clergymen, mill owners and maiden spinsters, a governess and a tutor - the middle class 'haves' but what is lacking , and what would have tied in with the Luddite theme, is being taken into the life of the 'have-nots' - a working class family. That is kept at a distance and only in one brief passage is there a glimpse of of their misery.
"On his entrance his wife served out, in orderly sort, such dinner as she had to give him and the bairns. It was only porridge, and too little of that. Some of the children asked for more when they had done their portion - an application which disturbed William much."
* The Role of Women - particularly that of unmarried women, a future that even at 18 Caroline Helstone is already confronting..
" I have to live, perhaps till seventy years. As far as I know, I have good health, half a century of existence may lie before me. How am I to occupy it? What am I to do to fill the interval of time which spreads between me and the grave?"
It's a subject that Charlotte was passionate about and she takes every opportunity to climb on her soapbox and pour forth her feelings; to the extent she puts words into the mouths of her characters that you can't imagine them ever saying.

* Personal Relationships Robert Moore is a mill owner struggling to stay afloat. His cousin Caroline Helstone is in love with him but although he is attracted to her he knows he needs to marry money and sets his sights on the wealthy Shirley Keeldar but this lively young woman has her own ideas about marriage and is drawn to Louis, Robert's brother and her former tutor.

The growing friendship between shy Caroline and the spirited Shirley makes for delightful reading. Neither of them fit into the local society, their different personalities perfectly complement each other and both have something to give to and to learn from the other.

In the last part of the book the social issues fade into the background and the personal stories become the focus. If Charlotte was intent on happy ever after for everyone who can blame her considering her own circumstances.

She began writing Shirley in 1848 but laid down her pen when her brother, Branwell, died in September. Three months later Emily died and early in 1849 it became obvious that she would soon lose Anne as well. It was after Anne's death a few months later that she resumed writing Shirley, pouring out her grief in the chapter The Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is impossible to imagine such loss and the depths of pain and despair she must have felt.

I am not a critical reader so none of the criticisms bothered me one whit. I may be in a minority but I loved Shirley, loved all the different themes, the stunning descriptions of the landscape, the history and the people of Yorkshire. A real pleasure to read and a wonderful beginning to my journey through the English counties.

Related post - Shirley Country: A Visual Tour

Back to the Classics 2015 - person's name in the title.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shirley Country: A Visual Tour

Gomersal and the Spen Valley

" They looked down on the deep valley robed in May raiment; on varied meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden with king-cups. Today all this young verdure smiled clear in sunlight; transparent emerald and amber gleams over it. On Nunnwood - the sole remnant of antique British forest in a region whose lowlands were once all sylvan chase, as its highlands were breast-deep heather - slept the shadow of a cloud; the distant hills were dappled, the horizon was shaded and tinted mother-of-pearl; silvery blues, soft purples, evanescent greens and rose shades, all melting into fleeces of white cloud, pure as azury snow, allured the eye as with a remote glimpse of heaven's foundations. The air blowing on the brow was fresh, and sweet, and bracing.
'Our England is a bonny island,' said Shirley,' and Yorkshire is one of her bonniest nooks.'

Shirley is set in the Spen Valley around the village of Gomersal in West Yorkshire. Six miles south of Haworth it was an area Charlotte knew well as her friend Ellen Taylor lived there at The Red House which is now a museum. In Shirley it is called Briarmains and is the home of the Yorke family.

The Red House, Gomersal, West Yorkshire

" It whitened the pavement in front of Briarmains ( Mr Yorke's residence), and made silent havoc among the tender plants in his garden, and on the mossy level of his lawn. As to that great tree, strong-trunked and broad-armed which guarded the gable nearest the road..."

" Those windows would be seen by daylight to be of brilliantly stained glass, purple and amber the predominant hues, glittering around a gravely tinted medallion in the centre of each, representing the suave head of William Shakespeare, and the serene one of John Milton."

A great many of the novel's characters were drawn from life, including the Yorkes who Charlotte based on the Taylor family she knew so well. If she thought she was safe in her anonymity she was mistaken and it didn't take long for the community to recognise themselves. Described as ' a large, gloomy censorious woman ' it is not surprising that Mrs Taylor took offence.

Also now a museum is the Elizabethan manor, Oakwell Hall, - Shirley's home, Fieldhead.

Oakwell Hall, Birstall, West Yorkshire

" If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be termed picturesque. It's regular architecture, and the gray and mossy colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet. The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades. 

"Mr and Mrs Helstone were ushered into a parlour: of course, as was to be expected in such a gothic old barrack, this parlour was lined with oak: fine, dark, glossy panels compassed the walls gloomily and grandly."

" As to the mill, which was an old structure, and fitted up with old machinery, now become inefficient and out of date he had from the first evinced the strongest contempt for all its arrangements and appointments. His aim had been to effect radical reform.....

......He never asked himself  where those to whom he no longer paid weekly wages found daily bread; and in this negligence he only resembled thousands besides, on whom the starving poor of Yorkshire seemed to have a closer claim."