Thursday, May 14, 2015

May Update

Any thoughts I may have had that May would be a quiet month I soon discovered was mere wishful thinking and so far the month has been very busy with a mix of both sad and happy times

At the beginning of last week Hubby's sister-in-law passed away after a long illness . 

We returned home from that sad farewell as our daughter and family arrived for a four day visit ending on Sunday with a lovely Mother's Day lunch outing. 

Then the computer which I've known for some time was failing fast chose the weekend for its swan song (disaster!) and for the sake of my sanity buying a new one was top priority. Fortunately the service from the store was fantastic and they came and installed it immediately.

More sad stuff yesterday as we had to say goodbye to our lovely old cat - so many times we've been through this but it never gets any easier. 

Today the newly widowed brother-in-law arrives to stay with us for a while and I'm hoping the brothers will entertain themselves and I can get back to some semblance of normality. The last ten days have been an emotional roller coaster and I'm feeling just a bit frazzled.

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell
Blogging there has been none but reading when I can. Before chaos descended I finished Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar which I loved. It is the story of the Stephen sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, told from Vanessa's perspective and being set in the early 1900's gives a very interesting glimpse of the young Bloomsbury set before any of them became famous.
Read Jane's review. 

Also finished The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell, a non-fiction account of the Druce-Portland affair ' one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.' Perfect non-fiction - as easy and entertaining to read as fiction while still being aware of the meticulous research the author has done. Enjoyed it immensely.

Keeping up with reading Beowulf for Cleo's readalong
- loving it and the challenge of actually having to think about what I'm reading.  

Currently reading:

The Kill by Emile Zola 
The Long Fall by Julia Crouch - bedtime psychological thriller

On the Horizon:

I am so behind in everything I'd planned for May but don't want the pressure of trying to play catch-up so will read what takes my fancy and not worry about any of it!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Monthly Roundup - April 2015

I seem to be constantly chasing my tail and trying to catch up! All was well in April until after Easter when a nasty sinus flare-up laid me low and I really didn't feel at all like blogging. So a brief roundup of what I've been reading.

To celebrate the bicentenary of Anthony Trollope's birth I first read Rachel Ray and then Nina Balatka/Linda Tressel which I picked up at the library sale simply because it was a Trollope. Originally published anonymously in an attempt to move away from his recognisable style these two novellas are the rather depressing stories of two young women whose families will do anything to stop them marrying the men of their choice. I didn't like them - I missed England and the English but most of all I missed the humour.

Another novella - Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M.Forster. His first published work it contains the same themes that he developed to better effect in his later novels - the hypocrisy of Edwardian society, the difficulty in reconciling opposing forces and lush descriptions of the Italian landscape. I thought the opening chapter was one of the funniest I've read and overall it was enjoyable reading for the Back to the Classics challenge - read a novella. 

For Reading England 2015 I was in Devon with Rachel Ray and also with Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge.

There were books started prior to April that I needed to finish. To Let by John Galsworthy brought the first three book volume of the Forsyte Saga to completion. 

A reread of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has been on my Classics Club list since the beginning and I took advantage of the Cornflower Book Group reading to get this achieved. It's been many decades since I first read it and I certainly had a far deeper appreciation of Charlotte's writing this time and some fun thinking about the reliability of first person narrators but it took me two months to finish which is not a good sign. I enjoyed the first half but, dare I say it, became increasingly bored with Jane and Mr R. and the second half was a struggle. I know many readers would disagree but for me Jane Eyre is a book to read and love when one is young.

The only non-fiction I read was Behind the Mask: the life of Vita Sackville-West by Matthew Dennison which I found extremely disappointing. The author seemed to be able to find nothing to write about except an endless list of Vita's love affairs.

Not a lot of contemporary fiction - I finally got around to starting Susan Hill's Simon Serailler series with The Various Haunts of Men, another thriller Missing You by Harlan Coben, Jo Walton's latest My Real Children and one of my favourite books for April..

Aren't We Sisters by Patricia Ferguson

Initially I passed this over at the library because its cover looked too much like chicklit but when I saw it on the Bailey longlist I changed my mind.
Set during the early 1930's in a small town in Cornwall and focusing on women - childbirth , sexual ignorance and contraception the story revolves around three women. Letty is a disciple of Marie Stopes who travels the country in a mobile van strong in her belief that a woman should ' have as many children as she wants, when she wants.'
Norah is upper middle class, totally repressed by a domineering mother whose death has now left Norah struggling to make ends meet and having to take in a lodger - Letty.
Rae is an incognito and pregnant movie star hiding in an old
house on the outskirts of town. Woefully ignorant her only experience of childbirth comes from reading 19th century novels.
If you like good old fashioned story-telling with great characters and lively dialogue, humour, and even a thriller element, I recommend. I loved it!

Onward into May and I'm trying not to look too far ahead.
Currently I have four books on the go .....

Beowulf - for Cleo's readalong
Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar
The Kill by Emile Zola
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell (NF)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

The Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week is hosted by Lory @ The Emerald City Book Review.

I have been in Devon this month so the book I chose to read by Elizabeth Goudge was Gentian Hill because it is also set in that county.

Mid 19th century Torquay

" There was no sound anywhere. Voices were stilled upon sea and shore and the white gulls with their gold-tipped wings floated silently. The half-moons of golden water, swung and withdrawn so rhythmically by the ebbing tide, creamed soundlessly upon the golden sand, and the tiny sound of the ripples lapping against the jetties and the hulls of the fishing boats was lost in the great silence.
Into this vast peace, this clear light, sailed the great ships...."

1803, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Royal Navy ships find a welcome respite in the sheltered waters of Torbay. On one such frigate a young midshipman is reaching the end of his endurance. Anthony Louis Mary O'Connell is 15 yrs old, an intelligent, sensitive boy raised by his grandmother until her death when he was taken on as a midshipman on a distant relative's ship. A harsh and brutal life and two months later the lure of the land is too much for Anthony and he deserts the Navy.
Assuming the name of Zachary he wanders the countryside in search of work becoming increasingly ragged, footsore and hungry.

Weekaborough Farm is the home of Mary, an orphan saved from a shipwreck and adopted by farmer Sprigg and his wife.
At the age of 10 she is 'an elfin child with the graceful movements a wild woodland creature, a fawn or a gazelle.'
Mary loves the animals and frequently raids the larder at night to secretly feed the cats kept outside. It is while she is in the barn one night that Zachary appears and the two young people instinctively recognise a kindred soul in each other.

Events see Zachary return to the Navy and Mary must wait patiently for his return. 

St Michael's Chapel
The story is a retelling of an old legend of a shipwrecked mariner who became a hermit and built the chapel high up the steep side of a hill. A place to pray for those who face the perils of the sea.

Elizabeth Goudge's deep love for the Devon countryside is obvious with her beautiful, often mystical descriptions of Nature which she balances with the down to earth telling of daily routine on a farm. The ancient customs and rituals - wassailing, harvesting and corn dollies, the ploughing chant and the bull roarer- fascinating stuff to learn about.

An enchanting blend of fact and fiction, of Pagan otherworldliness and Christian faith. It's so long since I read any of Elizabeth Goudge's books ( one exception) that I'd forgotten what a unique voice she has , and one that is hard to describe, except to say I loved it. I think Love is the theme in Gentian Hill  - the following quote is written on a scrap of paper and moves from character to character throughout the story.
"Love is the divinity who creates peace among men and calm upon the sea, the windless silence of storms, repose and sleep in sadness. Love sings to all things who live and are, soothing the troubled minds of gods and men."

Related post - Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading England 2015 - Down to Devon with Anthony Trollope

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

" ...and in those southern parts of Devonshire the summer sun in July is very hot. There is no other part of England like it. The lanes are low and narrow, and not a breath of air stirs through them. The ground rises in hills on all sides, so that every spot is a sheltered nook. The rich red earth drinks in the heat and holds it, and no breezes come up from the southern torpid sea. Of all counties in England Devonshire is the fairest to the eye..."
Rachel Ray p16

The first three stops on my journey through the counties were in the North and although I have enjoyed everything I've read it's nice to now travel to a part of the country little touched by the Industrial Revolution. I haven't been to Devon but I have been to others close by - Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and I imagine it is similar - they are all very beautiful.

Rachel Ray is set in the fictional small rural town of Baslehurst which Anthony Trollope based on the real town of Kingsbridge situated in the south at the head of an estuary and six miles from the sea.

Luke Rowan comes to Baslehurst when he inherits a part ownership in a brewery which is presently being run by Mr Tappit who makes ' vile beer', 'a muddy brew'. As most of the locals drink cider nobody cares about the quality of the beer but Luke is an ambitious young man with new ideas for improvements and it isn't long before he and Mr Tappit are at loggerheads. Mrs Tappit, however, has her eye on marrying him to one of her three daughters.

About a mile and a half outside Baslehurst is the tiny hamlet of Bragg's End.

'It had a little green and a little wooden bridge over a little stream - half a dozen labourer's cottages and a beer or cider shop.'

In one such cottage live the widowed Mrs Ray and her two daughters. The elder, Dorothea, after a short-lived marriage to a curate is also a widow and a firm adherent to the Evangelical faith, a believer that ' cheerfulness is a sin.' As Mrs Ray is a sweet but weak and indecisive woman Dorothea has no trouble in ruling the roost at home. The younger daughter, Rachel, is in her late teens, a pretty country girl with a happy disposition and enough spirit to stand up to her sister.

When Luke and Rachel meet there is an immediate attraction which very soon becomes, with Mrs Ray's wavering approval, an engagement. Unfortunately, when Luke has to go to London for a period of time the combined forces of Dorothea's disapproval and the Tappits campaign to blacken Luke's name pressure Mrs Ray into withdrawing her consent to the marriage and Rachel is forced to comply.

Rachel Ray is not only a charming love story but a portrayal of middle class provincial life. The gossip and conflicts of a small community and their mistrust and suspicion of outsiders, the influence of the dour and gloomy Evangelical religion, commerce, class warfare and politics make for very entertaining reading when told with typical Anthony Trollope humour.

Very easy to read and at 400p not too long - I would recommend Rachel Ray to anyone who hasn't read Anthony Trollope and not sure where to start.

I loved it!

Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration
Reading England 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Spin Winner is...

No 2

Which means I will be reading...

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Oh dear!! It has been on every spin list I've made - I really want to read it and I know I will love it when I do........but not right now.
Obviously the spin fairy wasn't listening to my wish for something short and easy because at over 600p it is one of the longest books on the list.....and I've only just finished Mary Barton by the same author.

I don't own a copy and went over to the library catalogue to place a hold but it seems they no longer have a copy so next stop the Book Depository to buy one but that will be at least two weeks wait. This is definitely a book I want to be able to enjoy at my own pace so am not going to pressure myself into getting it read by a deadline.

You can't win 'em all!

Look forward to seeing what other spinners will be reading. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

March has come and gone and I've been MIA throughout for a variety of reasons - some good, some not so good. That's life and I'm not even going to try to catch up but am letting last month go and looking ahead to April.

Another spin from the The Classics Club is just what I need to get things rolling again.  
The Goal - to make a list of twenty unread titles from our list and on Monday 6 April one number will be chosen. The challenge is to read the book that corresponds to the number by May 15.

My Spin List

Five Lovely Ladies

1. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
2. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley
4. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Five that have been on the shelf too long

6. The Odd Women by George Gissing
7. The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander
8. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
9. The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
10. Vanity Fair by William M Thackeray

Five  about the Boys

11. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
12. Adam Bede by George Eliot
13. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
14. Maurice by E M Forster
15. Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Five by authors I haven't read before

16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
17. Highland River by Neil M.Gunn
18. The Good Companions by J.B.Priestley
19. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
20. Helen by Maria Edgeworth.

Keeping my fingers crossed for something short and easy!

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!