Tuesday, June 9, 2015

10 Books of Winter - Tick off Two

Cold, wet wintery days and two books with less than 300 pages have meant a strong start to the 10 Books of Winter Challenge. After standing on one leg scratching my head and constantly changing my mind I decided to let random.org decide for me the order I would read them in.

News From The City of the Sun by Isabel Colegate

 To nine-year-old Dorothy Grant, the abbey is an enchanted new world. Here, in the drab, conventional Thirties, the Whitehead brothers - autocratic but non-violent anarchist Fisher, Arnold, the practical plodder, and visionary, depressive Hamilton - have collected together a colourful array of adherents to their co-operative Utopia.

Living near and intermittently attached to the community, which shelters under the northern escarpment of Salisbury Plain, Dorothy observes the ebb and flow of its shifting and sometimes mismatched philosophies from the Thirties through to the flower children and mind-expanding drugs of the Seventies.....until beautiful Marilyn Skinner's revolutionary ideals lead to violence and death.

I like Isabel Colegate's writing style and enjoyed the first part of the book, up to the end of World War II, very much but then it seemed to start rushing through the decades, characters were growing up in a few paragraphs , which was all a bit muddled and confusing.
The ever-changing social background of England through four decades was most interesting and something the author portrays very well.

The title puzzled me all the way through. I couldn't see the relevance to the story so I did some googling and discovered that in 1602 a gentleman called Tommaso Campanella wrote a work of utopian fiction called City of the Sun so there is the connection to the abbey and the Whitehead's vision. I might have to read it again and look at from a different perspective.

Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang

The author spent many hours with her great-aunt, Yu-i, drawing forth the story of her life. Born at the beginning of the 20th century Yu-i grew up in the perilous years between the fall of the last Emperor and the Communist Revolution, her life marked by a series of rebellions , including the first and most lasting: her refusal to have her feet bound. An early,unhappy marriage to a well-known Chinese poet brings her to England, a divorce and being left to raise her son alone. It's the story of a strong woman struggling to emerge from centuries of custom and tradition and find independence.

Listening to Yu-i, Pang-Mei begins to understand her own ambivalence towards her Chinese heritage, the tug-of-war between her American upbringing and the familial duties still expected by Chinese parents.

Fascinating reading!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Reading England 2015 - Cornwall Calling

Of all the English counties Cornwall is the one I feel most familiar with even though I've never actually been there except as an armchair traveller. Adventuring with the Famous Five and immersing myself in Rosemary Sutcliff's historical world when I was very young and later loving the Gothic Romances of Victoria Holt and Madeleine Brent, Susan Howatch's wonderful family saga Penmarric and let's not forget Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham. 
 I've been recording the new series of Poldark and saving it to watch as I revisit Cornwall this month. I remember the old one well, especially Angharad Rees as Demelza, and keeping my fingers crossed that this one will live up to expectations. I've borrowed Poldark's Cornwall from the library to read along with it.

When we were making our lists for Reading England Jane recommended the following title which I hadn't heard of but am really looking forward to.........no fiction this time, I'm going walking!

Rambles Beyond Railways: or Notes in Cornwall Taken A-Foot by Wilkie Collins

 In 1850 Wilkie Collins and his artist friend, Edward Brandling, set out on a walking tour of Cornwall. At the time the railway stopped at Plymouth and travelling further west meant sailing to St Germains....but not for long.
This account of their travels with illustrations by Brandling was published in 1851 and in a second edition the following year Wilkie notes ' Since this work first appeared, the all-conquering Railway has invaded Cornwall; and the title of my book has become a misnomer already.'

So I am ready to walk...

'...walk, and be merry; walk, and be healthy; walk, and be your own master! - walk, to enjoy, to observe, to improve, as no riders can! - walk and you are the best peripatetic impersonation of holiday enjoyment that is to be met with on the surface of this work-a-day world.'

Monday, June 1, 2015

Monthly Roundup - May 2015

May has ended with another full-on family few days and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that June will bring me some days of solitude and quiet.

To keep my records up to date a very quick roundup of what I read this month - total books = 11

The Kill by Emile Zola
Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar
The Shore by Sara Taylor
Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell (NF)
The Sandman by Lars Keplar
Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridson
The Long Fall by Julia Crouch
Second Life by S.J.Watson 

Looking forward to......

Allie's Victorian Celebration 

I have Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope half-finished , the next county for the Reading England challenge ready to go and after reading O's glowing review of Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell which was my Classic Club spin winner I'm eager to get on and read it now.

Hope everyone has a great June!


Friday, May 29, 2015

10 Books of Winter

Cathy @ 746 Books has a challenge to read 20 books between 1 June and 4 September with an option to read 10. I doubt I'd manage to stick to a list of 20 so will try for the 10. I have had to desecrate her nice button because down here in the Southern Hemisphere summer seems a long way away.

The books I've chosen are the bits and pieces I've picked up at sales and fairs, put away in a cupboard where they languish out of sight and out of mind. This month I finally bought a secondhand bookshelf and brought them out into the light and this will be an opportunity to finally get some of them read.

My 10 Books of Winter

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton
Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
News From the City of the Sun by Isabel Colegate - read June
The Winter Book by Tove Jansson
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The Traveller Returns by Patricia Wentworth
Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett
For Love Alone by Christina Stead
Bound Feet and Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang - read June

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Kill by Emile Zola

translated from the French by Brian Nelson.

The Kill is the second volume in Emile Zola's cycle of twenty novels that through the fortunes of one family explores the ways in which human behaviour is determined by heredity and environment.

The setting moves from the Provencal town of Plassans to Paris during the years 1852 - 1862. Having established himself as Napoleon III, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte set in action a policy of modernisation and under the administration of Haussmann great numbers of buildings were torn down and thousands of people evicted to make way for the long straight boulevards, parks and grand mansions of the 'new Paris.'

The title La Curee/The Kill refers to a hunting term - the part of an animal fed to the hounds that have run it to ground.

" This was the time when the rush for spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. the appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sound of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in six months. the city had become an orgy of gold and women. Vice, coming from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread out over the ornamental waters, shot up in the fountains of the public gardens, and fell on the roofs like fine rain. At night, when  people crossed the bridges, it seemed as if the Seine drew along with it, through the sleeping city, all the refuse of the streets, crumbs fallen from tables, bows of lace left on couches,, false hair forgotten in cabs, banknotes that had slipped out of bodices, everything thrown out of the window by the brutality of desire and immediate satisfaction of appetites."
Having inherited his parents lust for money Aristide Rougon arrives in Paris 'with the ravenous hunger of a wolf' determined to make his fortune. His brother Eugene persuades him to change his name to Saccard and finds him a job at City Hall where, by keeping his eyes and ears open he discovers the plans for the rebuilding of the city but it isn't until his first wife dies that he is able to dive into the world of property speculation.

Aristide's widowed sister, Sidonie, a wheeler and dealer in peoples secrets and scandals brings him together with a young woman who is pregnant following a rape. The marriage to Renee is a business investment - she keeps her reputation and he has her dowry to spend. In no time they are living in luxury, separate lives, as Aristide makes money and Renee spends it. Lonely and bored her closest companion is Maxime, her stepson.......' delicate and corrupt, lascivious - a defective offspring in whom parental shortcomings were combined and exacerbated.' Their relationship eventually becomes a love affair as they sink deeper into a life of debauchery and depravity.

As in The Fortune of the Rougons most of the characters are appalling people although, despite her terrible behaviour, I did have some sympathy for Renee who seemed very much to be a victim of her environment.

The Kill is a scathing indictment of the excesses of the Second Empire and Zola doesn't mince words. His descriptive prose is incredible, powerful and intense it brings people and places vividly to life.....and often left this reader having to take a break and breath fresh air.

I am loving the Rougon-Macquart novels and look forward to the next one.

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)