Monday, September 1, 2014

Wrapping up 'Reading 1914'

When I think of Leonard Woolf, I think of Boomsbury, the Hogarth Press and his wife, Virginia; I don't think of compelling fiction novels. But in 1914, Woolf's second novel, The Wise Virgins, was published. It's about Harry Davis, a young cynic, the elegant Camilla Lawrence whom he loves, and the four virginal Garland girls who live next door. Woolf based all of his characters on people he knew. Harry is clearly Leonard himself, while Camilla is based on Virginia. The portrayals are well-drawn, witty, and at times a bit scathing. (Something that didn't exactly go over well when the book first came out.) I found Woolf's writing intelligent, his story well-crafted, and his observations of society cynical, but also honest and amusing. And I really enjoyed this book. Sadly, The Wise Virgins was Leonard Woolf's last fiction novel.

It's also my last book from 1914, which makes me even more sad. I've had a lot of fun this summer reading books published 100 years ago. Every one exceeded my expectations. I read and enjoyed children's books, young adult novels, and literary novels; I also read several other books not published in 1914 that deal with World War I and the events of that year. It's been an excellent summer of reading. Here's a list of the books I read if you want to check them out:

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Peaches, apples, and pears....oh, my!

"Oh those weeks of harvesting and peeling and preparing apples, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, plums and beans. All day the kitchen smelled like heaven and was filled with steam. The stove was covered with kettles and vats, and upside down on the windowsill stood processions of mason jars full of bright color..."
--Elizabeth Enright, Thimble Summer 

It's that time of year again. time to turn Gala apples into sweet applesauce; time to bottle peaches and pears; make fresh pear cake, peach jam, and yummy fruit cobbler; and time to bottle pickles, relish, and homemade spaghetti sauce. It's a lot of work (and a lot of clean up when you're done!), but this annual ritual of bottling fruit is like bottling a little piece of summer to enjoy all winter long.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ireland, Archaeology and a Mystery

Erin Hart's Haunted Ground offers all three. When a bog body is found in the Drumcleggan Bog, Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin team up to investigate not only the red-haired girl's identity, but when she lived and how she died. But that's not the only mystery troubling the small town of Dunbeg. Two years ago, Mina Osborne and her small son went missing. The police suspect her husband, Hugh, but no one knows what really happened. Maybe Cormanc and Nora can help Detective Devaney find evidence to solve that mystery, too.

I really enjoyed the archaeological aspects of this novel--how things can be preserved in the peat for hundreds of years, and how, once found, they offer a doorway into the past. I also loved getting to know Ireland a little better--glimpsing part of its history and culture, even its music. But it's the mystery surrounding Mina's disappearance that drives this novel. Haunted Ground is well-plotted and well-written, with likeable characters. (Especially 39-year-old flute-playing Cormac with his dark brown hair, intense dark eyes, and lean rower's build, and his love of the past.) There were a few coincidences at the very end surrounding the red-haired girl from the bog that felt just a little too neat and convenient, but that didn't stop me from enjoying this book. It's an interesting mystery; plus, it's set in Ireland...what more could you possibly want?

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Eighth Classic of 2014...

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Written in 1893, this novel deals with the role of unmarried women in Victorian society. Some of Gissing's characters are militantly single and opposed to women marrying; some are women of independent means generously trying to help other, poorer women achieve the same; and some of the women just want to get married. I liked the mix of views; they gave the novel added depth and made it feel more honest. Rhoda Nunn is one of Gissing's militant characters. Her take on single women in society made me smile:
"Do you know there are half a million more women than men in this happy country of ours? So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally--being one of them myself--take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world's work."
Monica Madden, on the other hand, is the youngest of three single sisters. She's working as a shop girl in London when she meets an older gentleman named Edmund Widdowson. Although she doesn't love him, she wonders if marrying him might not be such a bad thing. After all, her older sisters don't appear to be very happy or satisfied in their single lives.
"As things went in the marriage war, she might esteem herself a most fortunate young woman. It seemed that he had really fallen in love with her; he might prove a devoted husband. She felt no love in return; but between the prospect of a marriage of esteem and that of no marriage at all there was little room for hesitation. The chances were that she might never again receive an offer from a man whose social standing she could respect."
I really enjoyed reading about these 'odd women'. Their lives are funny and sad, sometimes fulfilling, (more often not), hopeful, poignant and brave. As a single girl myself, I could relate. I also enjoyed Gissing's style of writing. It's as if he borrowed the best of Jane Austen--her characters and her wit--and combined it with Thomas Hardy's gritty realism. There aren't a lot of happy endings (or happy marriages) in his world, but then this book is a criticism of Victorian society and its oppression of women, not a romantic fairy tale. There were moments when I wished for a little more happiness, especially for Monica and Rhoda because I liked them both so much. But, in books as in life, we don't always get what we want. Still, I'm very glad I read this book.


Friday, August 22, 2014

I just couldn't resist...

So I was at Marissa's Books, a used bookstore here in Salt Lake City, just browsing the shelves, not really expecting to buy anything, when I spotted a book with a cover and title I just couldn't resist picking up:

Then I read the blurb on the back:
Out stepped two gorgeous girls...  The mysterious spaceship hovered over Washington and the whole nation was alerted. A small craft detached itself from the ship and came down to earth. The occupants emerged...
Thus begins Richard Wilson's immensely entertaining novel of the host of lovely ladies from outerspace who invade a U.S.A. already dominated by women. It's as exciting as it is deft and entertaining.
So I flipped it open and read the opening line:
"The women had taken over by 1998 but this had never bothered Dave Hull personally until just now."  
And I just had to buy it. (Even though I don't read much science fiction.) Call it a bookish impulse. I don't know if it's any good or not, but it made me smile. And any day with a new book in it is a good day, don't you think?

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bookish first impressions...

While a book's cover or title may make me pick it up, often it's the first line that helps me decide whether or not to read it. First impressions are so important! Here are the first lines of some books I recently read---books that I enjoyed reading, but didn't review. See if any of their first lines strike you.

First Line:  "By 1927 there were twelve girls who danced all night and never gave names, but by then the men had given up asking and called them all Princess."
Title: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
(This is a creative retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales: The Twelve Dancing Princesses; I love that Valentine set her novel in the Roaring Twenties.)

First Line: "I want a refund from"
Title: Ungifted by Gordon Korman
(This is a fun and entertaining middle-grade fiction novel about kids who are gifted...and those who aren't.)

First Line: "The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom."
Title: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto
(A quiet and beautifully written novel about two lost souls living in Japan and their hesitant romance.)

First Line: "The water was so cold it took Heather's breath away as she fought past the kids crowding the beach and standing in the shallows, waving towels and homemade signs, cheering and calling up to the remaining jumpers."
Title: Panic by Lauren Oliver
(This book is NOT a copy of The Hunger Games like everyone said. For one thing, it's not set in a dystopian future, for another, the seniors who decide to participate in the Panic aren't forced to play. And it's a game played for money. I thought it was a fun read.)

First Line: "The bride stood like a pillar of salt, rigid under layers of itchy petticoats."
Title: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
(This novel is a poignant immersion into the arranged marriage of Chani and Baruch and into London's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Very interesting!)

Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bookish Art for August

Marcel Duchamp - Apropos of Little Sister, 1911

"Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things 
which escape those who dream only by night."
--Edgar Allan Poe

(P. S. It's my 200th post today! When I started this blog I never thought I'd get this far. And I just want to thank everyone who visits, comments on, and reads my blog. You're the best!)