Saturday, September 28, 2019

Another classic...

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West begins with the death of Lord Slane, former viceroy of India and prime minister of Great Britain. He leaves behind his six grown children and his eighty-eight-year-old widow.
"...and the problem of her future lay heavy upon her sons and daughters. Of course, she would not question the wisdom of any arrangements they might choose to make. Mother had no will of her own; all her life long, gracious and gentle, she had been wholly submissive--an appendage....That she might have ideas which she kept to herself never entered into their estimate. They anticipated no trouble with their mother."
But Lady Slane surprises her children. Instead of dutifully accepting their plans for her, Lady Slane sells her house, moves to Hampstead, forbids her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to come visit her, and makes friends with a few eccentrics. Lady Slane's small rebellions, and her children's indignant reactions to them, made me smile. Only her youngest daughter, Edith, cheers her on. I found myself cheering her on, too. This is how Lady Slane defends her newfound freedom to her children:
"If one is not to please oneself in old age, when is one to please oneself? There is so little time left."
Written in 1931, All Passion Spent is one of those quiet, character-driven novels that is contemplative and melancholy at times, and unexpectedly humorous at others. Some of Lady Slane's reminiscences about her younger self, and the dreams she had of being an artist that she gave up when she married, made me a little sad. But I was glad she managed to steal a little happiness for herself at the end of her life.
"How oddly it had come about, that the whole of her life should have fallen away from her--her activities, her children, and Henry--and should have been so completely replaced in this little interlude before the end by a new existence so satisfyingly populated! 'Perhaps,' she said aloud, 'one always gets what one wants in the end.'"
Only 167 pages long, this is a charming little read. I admired Sackville-West's writing except for one thing:  her overly long paragraphs. Many were a page and a half long! And that did slow down the narrative for me. Overall, though, I liked this one. It's a little bittersweet and sad, but not depressing. And I liked the characters. Best of all? It fills my Classic By a Woman Author category in Karen's Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

From my TBR shelf...

Title & Author:  The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates

Why I bought it:  I like Darcy Coates; and I like books about creepy old houses that might be haunted.

The premise:  Ashburn House holds many secrets:  there isn't a single mirror in any of its rooms; there are boxes and boxes of candles in the attic; rumor has it that the Ashburn family was murdered there; and in the woods surrounding the house, there's a solitary grave. Of course, Adrienne didn't know any of these things when she inherited Ashburn House from her Great Aunt Edith. She didn't even know Ashburn House existed. Now she's stuck in this ancient house with nothing but her cat, Wolfgang, for company, and a scant twenty dollars in her pocket. She has no WiFi, and no phone. She doesn't know anyone in town. And she's started having unsettling dreams at night about something unnatural crawling through the woods...coming for her!

My thoughts:  Adrienne seemed ill-prepared to inherit any house, let alone a haunted one. And when strange things start to happen around her, she's loath to attribute any of them to supernatural causes. Not that I blamed her. When your electricity keeps going out, your first assumption is that there's a problem with your fuse box, not that you have a ghost. And she doesn't have a lot of clues to suggest otherwise. That's one of the flaws with this book--there aren't enough clues to help the protagonist or the reader figure out the mystery. And the suspense in this one builds very slowly. It's not until the last hundred pages that things get really eerie and intense. There are a few good scares at the end, and I liked the way Coates wrapped things up, but I have to say, this isn't my favorite of her novels. Still, it's a good book for this year's R.I.P. reading challenge.

My rating:  3/5 stars.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

September's Bookish Art...

Walter Crane -- At Home, a portrait, 1872

"There was always time for books. Reading was knowledge,
it was pleasure, it was joy, it was life."
--Hunter Shea 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A bookish gem...

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan isn't really about a bookshop. It's mostly about Zoe, a single mom, and Hari, her four-year-old son, who hasn't started to speak yet. Escaping her dismal job in London, and her even more dismally expensive flat, Zoe heads to Scotland to be a nanny. Only once she's there she discovers that her three charges are the opposite of welcoming; their ramshackle estate isn't exactly comfortable or convenient; and Ramsey, their single father, is mostly absent. And Hari still isn't talking. Down but not defeated, Zoe presses on. After all, she can't exactly go back home. And soon everything around her starts to change for the better.

What I loved most about this book:

  • It's set in beautiful Scotland.
  • Nina and Lennox from The Bookshop on the Corner are both in it. (And Nina's pregnant!)
  • Zoe is plucky, vulnerable, resilient, and witty; and her interactions with Shackleton, Mary and Patrick, the three hard-to-deal-with Urquart children, totally made me laugh.
  • There's lots of talk about books and reading.
  • Ramsey isn't your typical hunky hero, but in his own quiet and awkward way, he's hard to resist.
  • It has a happy ending.
Happy Reading!

Monday, September 16, 2019

British Library Crime Classic...

Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon, first published in 1936, is a country house murder mystery. Lord Aveling has invited a dozen guests to Bragley Court to enjoy a weekend of hunting. His guest list includes an artist, a gossip columnist, a stage actress, a pretty young widow, and a mystery novelist. But he ends up with an unexpected thirteenth guest when John Foss gets injured at the local train station and is brought to Bragley Court to recuperate. Luckily, John's not superstitious--besides, any "bad luck would come to the thirteenth guest who passes in through the door." And that isn't him.

Bad luck does come to Bragley Court when a portrait of Lord Aveling's daughter is vandalized, a family dog is killed, and a stranger's body is found at a nearby quarry. Then, one of the thirteen guests ends up dead, and Lord Aveling calls Detective Inspector Kendall to come and investigate the murders--a job made harder by the many secrets every guest seems to be concealing. (Even the butler has something to hide!)

This is another entertaining mystery from the Golden Age of detective fiction. I had fun trying to figure out what secrets each character was keeping, and who among them had a motive to commit murder. I also liked the snarky friendship between Pratt, the artist, and Bultin, the gossip columnist; John's attraction to Nadine, the pretty young widow, made for a nice side story. And throughout the novel there were witty bits of dialogue and eye-rolling moments between the various characters that totally made me smile. This is a good one.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Thirteen reads for Friday the 13th...

There's a book here for everyone, from a fun picture book to young adult, 
to all kinds of mysteries, a spy thriller, some supernatural, and even a romance.

Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

Thirteen O'clock by James Stimson

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo

The Thirteenth Pearl by Carolyn Keane

Sleeper 13 by Rob Sinclair

13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman


The Thirteen by Susie Moloney

Don't they all look like fun?

Happy Friday  the 13th ... and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Back to the Classics...

"It's really a very ordinary story, containing many longueurs and in places the style is very uneven. The author has a weakness for striking effects and resounding phrases. ... For all that, his story makes for easy reading. There's a plot, it makes sense and --most important of all-- it's original. ... And it does have some literary merit."

The Shooting Party by Anton Chekhov takes place over the course of a summer in and around the sleepy town of Tenevo, Russia. The main narrator, Sergey Petrovich Zinovyev, is an investigating magistrate. He's young and handsome, but he's also dismissive, careless, disdainful, and often cruel to his supposed friends. The dissolute, weak-minded and often drunk Count Karneyev is one of those friends, as is Urbenin, the Count's older, stolid estate manager. Not much happens besides some drunken revelry until the three men meet Olenka, the pretty forester's daughter, walking in the woods one day.
"...a girl of about nineteen, with beautiful fair hair, kind blue eyes and long curls. ... Poor little fair-haired girl! Did I imagine for one moment on that serenest of May nights, that she would later become the heroine of my troubled novel?"
That's when things change, with a sudden marriage, an adulterous affair (or two), and murder. There's even a plot twist at the end. Disenchantment, with life, with love, and even with one's self, seems to be the main theme of this novel. Chekhov writes well, but overall, this is a pretty depressing story. And none of the characters are very likable. Needless to say, this one won't make my favorite reads of 2019 list. But it does count as my Classic in Translation for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge which makes me happy.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Haiku Reviews...

The Spitfire girls by Soraya M. Lane

World War II:  British
and American girls prove they
can fly bombers, too.

Historical Fiction .... 320 pages .... 2.5/5 stars.
(This one fell a little short for me, but my mom loved it! So if you're interested in this time period, I say give it a try.)

She Walks In Power by MaryLu Tyndall

A knight's quest to find
the Spear; and the young maid who's
destined to guard it.

Christian Fiction .... 318 pages .... 4/5 stars.
(Captivating medieval adventure reminiscent of Robin Hood.)

Cold Sight by Leslie Parrish (aka Leslie A. Kelly)

One reclusive psychic
One persistent crime reporter.
One serial killer.

Suspense (with a little romance) .... 345 pages .... 4/5 stars.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

From my TBR shelf...

Title & Author:  When the Power is Gone by P.A. Glaspy

Why I bought it:  EMP, preppers, survival. Need I say more?

The premise:  Anne Mathews is trying to get her teen-age son out the door for school when the lights, the phones, and everything else goes dark. Anne immediately suspects an EMP, especially when she can't get her car started. And even though she never thought it would actually happen, she and her husband, and their close friends and neighbors, the Hoppers, have been preparing for this exact worse case scenario for years. Now they're going to have to put all those plans to the test, because their day to day life just became a fight for survival.

Favorite line:  "Yep, I knew exactly what this was. And it was going to really suck."

My thoughts:  I love reading books about preparing for and surviving unexpected disasters, especially when the characters are as likable as the ones in this book. They're practical, smart, and determined to survive. And even though they know they can't help everyone ,they do try to help the ones they can. I'd love to have them as my neighbors! And while the plot of this one is pretty predictable, I thought it was also well-written, fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining. I'll definitely be buying the sequel.

My rating:  4/5 stars.

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Queen me!

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile
by C.W. Gortner

"I had read enough of our history to know that if female succession was not forbidden in Castile as it was in Aragon, no one actually believed a woman capable of ruling. The few who succeeded had encountered relentless opposition, sacrificing everything to retain their tenuous power. In the end, none had lived a happy life; all had paid a price for the right to call themselves queen. Was this what God required of me?"
What I quickly discovered while reading this book is how little I know about Spain's colorful history. And all I really knew about Isabella of Castile is that she was the queen who supported Christopher Columbus's journey to America. But she was so much more than that.

Her early life was not easy; her mother was high strung and often suicidal. At thirteen, Isabella had to learn to navigate the intrigues of the Castilian court all while her beloved younger brother, Alfonso, challenged her older half-brother, Enrique, for the crown. Then, at sixteen, when she was declared the official heir to her brother's crown, she had to stand up against the many powerful men around her who wanted to decide her future for her. She refused to give in to them, and somehow even got the king to agree that she could choose for herself whom she would marry.

She chose her cousin, Ferdinand of Aragon. They had five children. And together they united their two realms and drove the Moors from Spain. Isabella valued education and made sure her four daughters were as well-taught as her son. Sadly, she also allowed Torquemada to carry out the Spanish Inquisition. Throughout her life, Isabella drew on her faith in God for guidance and strength. For her, duty to God and to Castile were paramount.

This novel is a fascinating account of Isabella's life; it's well-researched and well-written. I love it when historical fiction is both engaging and informative. And Isabella is such a complex character; Gortner does an excellent job of showing her courage and tenacity, her mistakes and imperfections, and the many struggles she endured over the course of her life. Not only did I enjoy reading this one, but I learned a lot, too.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Time for R.I.P. XIV!

Readers Imbibing Peril  is always a fun autumn event in the book blogging world. I haven't participated in the past few years, but I couldn't resist joining in this year. (Although I probably won't post most of my R.I.P. reviews until October.) The purpose of the challenge is to have fun reading and sharing books that could be classified as Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural. Shouldn't be too hard for me considering that's what I like to read most of the time anyway.

In Peril the First, which is the level I'll probably shoot for, you just have to read any four books that you feel fit the above categories. If you only want to read two books this year, then Peril the Second is the category for you. And if you only want to read one, then 'sign up' for Peril the Third. There are also categories for short stories and movies. There's no pressure and no stress. It's just for fun. It runs from Sept. 1st to Oct. 31st.

Here are some of the books I'm planning on reading in October that I think would fit this reading challenge perfectly:

Happy RIPping!