Friday, July 31, 2015

My Twelfth TBR...

Disclaimer:  I love Henry James. Ever since I first read The Portrait of a Lady I have been an unapologetic fan of his writing. So, I am not objective when it comes to his books; in fact, you might say I am predisposed to like whatever he writes. Including this novel:

The Princess Casamassima by Henry James is about a boy named Hyacinth Robinson. His mother, an unmarried French dressmaker, murders his father, an English nobleman, when he is just a baby. Hyacinth  is raised in poverty by a kind-hearted but humble dressmaker; he grows up hating the sordity of his surroundings, and the ugliness and ignorance of those around him, and longs for a better, finer existence.
"By the nature of his mind he was perpetually conscious that the circle in which he lived was an infinitesimally small, shallow eddy in the roaring vortex of London, and his imagination plunged again and again into the waves that whirled past it and round it, in the hope of being carried to some brighter, happier vision -- the vision of societies in which, in splendid rooms, with smiles and soft voices, distinguished men, with women who were both proud and gentle, talked about art, literature, and history."
As a young man he befriends some revolutionary idealists consumed with injustice, class warfare, socialism, and fighting for the downtrodden masses against those in power. (Although for most of the book they're more talk than action.) Hyacinth gets drawn into their radical politics and, in a rash moment of youthful fervor, makes a "sacred vow" to assassinate a major political figure when called upon. But it's the dazzling Princess Casamassima, also caught up in the "Great Social Cause", who really impacts Hyacinth's life. In her brilliance and beauty he finally finds the world he's been searching for (although it seemed to me that she was using him as a stepping stone to something, or someone, greater; I had a hard time liking her as much as Hyacinth did). Things go wrong for Hyacinth when his radical leanings start to conflict more and more with his own vision of the world and all the good that he sees in it, and he soon comes to regret the vow he made.

Honor, integrity, and nobility of character always play an important role in James' novels; his characters are often tormented by their own internal struggles and the choices they are forced to make, which means his endings are rarely happy. The Princess Casamassima is no exception. This novel is a tragedy. And while it will never be my favorite Henry James novel, I think Hyacinth Robinson will linger in my mind for awhile. The biggest plus of finishing this book is that, at 590 pages, it qualifies as my "Very Long Classic Novel" in Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge.

Happy Reading!

My four favorite Henry James novels: 
  1. The Portrait of a Lady
  2. The Wings of the Dove
  3. The Awkward Age
  4. The American

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Bookish Quiz...

Here are my answers to five random questions that are unapologetically bookish; what would your bookish answers be?

1. If you could have lunch with any dead author (miraculously brought back to life for the occasion) who would it be?
Bram Stoker...because I'm not scathingly witty enough 
to lunch with Dorothy Parker.

2. Which fictional character would you love to hang out with?
Nancy Drew

3. If you could jump into any book and temporarily trade lives with one of its characters, who would you choose?
Elizabeth Bennett

4. If you could visit any fictional setting, where would you go?
I'd love to spend the day shopping in Diagon Alley...maybe buy
some chocolate frogs, or a wand, or my very own owl... and then
I'd like to visit Honeydukes and Hogwarts.

5. Which fictional leading man (or lady) would you like to sped a romantic evening with?
Francisco d'Anconia

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Two Fun Reads

The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
"Alice pulled back the covers, easing herself into bed... The most important day of her life was almost over, and she wanted now only to rest. She had done it, she had made the leap. No more cleaning up cow dung, no more twisting the neck of squawking chickens. She was a factory girl now; she'd soon be working the looms and making money. Tomorrow it would begin."
Things I loved about this book:  Alice Barrows, Lovey Cornell and the other spunky mill girls; the 1832 Lowell, Massachusetts setting; Samuel Fiske, the mill owner's responsible oldest son; and the scandalous mystery and historical trial surrounding the murder of one of the mill girls. From start to finish, this novel was a pleasure to read. (And the ending will make you smile.)

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

Claire Roth is an artist who has just been offered an amazing chance to exhibit her own pieces in a high-end Boston gallery, but there's a she isn't sure she wants to pay.
"My own show. The sweet possibility of reclaiming all that's been lost, everything I've ever wanted. But a forger? A pretender? The absolute last thing I want to be."
Things I loved about this book:  delving into the world of art and oil painting, forgeries, Degas and the still unsolved mystery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Shapiro does an excellent job of mixing fact with fiction in this clever mystery. The Art Forger is captivating fun.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Miss Marjoribanks

I was a bit apprehensive about reading this particular classic. There seemed to be more unfavorable reviews of it than favorable, and I was worried I might not like it. Happily for me, however, it turned out to be not only an enjoyable read, but a surprisingly funny one, too. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant is like a cross between Jane Austen's Emma and Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. It's heroine, 19-year-old Lucilla Marjoribanks, has been away at school, but now she's returned home to Carlingford with decided views about society and her father and her own duty to both.
"...the Doctor's daughter was not a mild young lady, easy to be controlled; but, on the contrary, had all the energy and determination to have her own way ... Lucilla felt more and more that she who held the reorganisation of society in Carlingford in her hands was a woman with a mission."
 She takes charge of her father's household, redecorates the drawing room in colors that complement her complexion so that she'll look especially well when she hosts her Thursday Evenings, and she quickly begins her successful "reign" over Grange Lane. But it's Lucilla's views on men, religion, marriage, and her own importance in society that really made me smile.  Here are four examples:

In such work as hers, a skillful leader is always on the outlook for auxiliaries; and there are circumstances in which a nice clergyman is almost as useful to the lady of the house as a man who can flirt.
For everybody knows that it requires very little to satisfy the gentlemen, if a woman will only give her mind to it." 
...(she) had been brought up in the old-fashioned orthodox way of having a great respect for religion, and as little to do with it as possible...  
 "I don't see the good of single women," said Lucilla, "unless they are awfully rich..."
I ended up really liking Miss Marjoribanks.  There's one sad thing that occurs in the second half of this book, but overall this classic novel not only made me smile, but on several occasions, it actually made me laugh out loud. I got the definite feeling that Oliphant was poking fun of Victorian society with Lucilla's egocentric yet "magnanimous" views of society and Carlingford's submission to this determined heroine, which is why I'm counting this book as my Humorous or Satirical Classic for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge.

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bookish Thoughts...

On library book triage.  Do you ever check out too many library books? This happens to me more often than it should. And when it does, I find myself forced into a kind of bookish triage: stacking the books that can't be renewed into the "must read first" pile, throwing the books I'm not sure I really want to read, or that I know I can easily renew for 3 more weeks, into the bottom of my bag, and then hoping I'll get a chance to read the books that are left before they're due. You'd think I'd learn to limit the number of library books I check out, but I never do.

On Little Black Lies.  Sharon Bolton is one of my favorite authors, and her latest mystery is my favorite kind of psychological thriller: page-turning, suspenseful, with unexpected twists and turns, and a nice mix of complicated characters. It's set in the Falkland Islands and centers around some missing children. But it's so much more than that. I loved the setting and definitely did not see the ending coming. To tell more than that would be to give something away. So I'll just say that Little Black Lies is an awesome read.

On my library still being closed for renovations.  It's been over two months! Two very long months and my library is still closed. They were supposed to reopen on July 6th. But they didn't. Now they're saying maybe the middle of August. But I'm not holding my breath. And the next closest library, while nice, is so small it never has any copies of the books I really want to read. It's so frustrating. So, that's my bookish complaint this summer. What's yours?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reading the Alphabet, Part V

Author:  VanLiere, Donna
Title: The Good Dream
First Line: I didn't set out to be an old maid.

My Thoughts: I picked this book up because of its title, but it was the first line that made me want to check it out. And I'm glad I did. It's set in 1950 in the small town of Morgan Hill, Tennessee. The main character, Ivorie Walker, is only thirty, but everyone in town has already declared her to be an old maid, something she doesn't exactly mind. "I gave up trying to talk to single men when, years earlier, I told Lloyd Parker I felt fine as frog hair. There's no way back from something that idiotic."  But since her mother's death, she's felt an emptiness in her life that she doesn't know how to fill. Then, one night, a young boy wanders into her vegetable patch and steals her tomatoes. He is dirty and malnourished and comes from the hills. His mother is dead and can no longer protect him from his father, but Ivorie thinks she can ... even against the advice of everyone else in town who warns her not to get involved.

This is an amazing and beautifully told story; I didn't even mind that the narrative alternates between Ivorie and the boy. Ivorie is a great character--stubborn and funny and kind. And very memorable. I really liked her. This novel is both heartbreaking and heartwarming...a great combination in a book when you can find it. And I'm very glad I found this particular novel on the V shelf. Reading the Alphabet has been a lot of fun; I can't wait to see what bookish serendipity the U shelf holds for me.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

July's Bookish Art...

Alfred Chantrey Courbould--Girl Reading in a Sailboat

"She had always been an unashamed reader of novels..."
Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn

Monday, July 6, 2015

Reading the Alphabet...

The W shelf has been good to read. I was wandering the library stacks the other day and ran across a book written by an author I've never read before; I picked it up on a whim and quickly got caught up in a very well-written thriller. Talk about bookish serendipity!

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson tells the story of Christine Lucas, a woman in her forties who has a rare form of amnesia--whatever pieces of her life that she manages to remember while she's awake, she forgets all over again when she goes to sleep. Her husband, Ben, has to tell her who she is each morning. But he doesn't know about the journal she's been keeping; only Dr. Nash, the psychologist she's been working with in secret, knows that. It is a journal with a warning on the first page: Don't Trust Ben. It's a journal that holds the truth.
"My own truth, one I have not been told but have remembered. And it is written now, etched in this journal rather than my memory, but permanent nevertheless. I know that the book I am writing may be dangerous, as well as necessary. It is not fiction. It may reveal things best left undiscovered. Secrets that ought not to see the light of day."
But they are secrets that Christine is determined to figure out, no matter the cost.

This is a hard book to put down. Not knowing whether or not to trust Christine's memory as she begins to uncover her husband's lies one by one makes this novel even more chilling. Which version of her life is the truth? And the mystery surrounding her loss of memory deepens with each journal page that she reads. This novel, with its unexpected twists, especially at the end, is quiet suspense at its best. I'm so glad I spent another week reading from the W shelf.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bookish Link #5:

Got love for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?
Then The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills
is the perfect read for you.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bookish Link #4:

Fascinated by the mysterious Edgar Allan Poe and his macabre tales?
Then check out these equally fascinating mysteries that feature Poe
as one of the main characters: The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
and The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bookish Link #3:

Ever get nostalgic for the  days of Nancy Drew?
Then check out Girl Sleuth by Melanie Rehak, the true story
of Nancy, her creator, and the women who authored the series.