Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Red Pottage

Turns out Burns was onto something when he talked about the best laid schemes ganging aft agley - mine ganged aft agley all over the place. I had intended to devote August to reading through some of the Viragos I have piled in various places - and had even picked a modest six or seven to read. And I managed to finish... one. True, I am most of the way through another, but somehow August ran away from me almost entirely Viragoless. Still, the one I did read ended up being pretty brilliant - step forward Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley.

I can't remember who first put me onto Red Pottage (maybe Lyn?) but I do know that for a long time I kept an eye out for it, and snapped it up when I spotted it in the Bookbarn during this rampage.

The novel was published in 1890, and it couldn't really have been published in any other decade. There are elements of New Woman feminism alongside Lady Audleyesque sensation, and all washed down with wit. There is a certain decadence to the prose which is never over the top, recalling a period where three words could be used where one would have done - because sparseness is not the only approach to literature, and what 'would have done' is a paltry second-best to what 'can be done'. This paragraph, for instance, adds nothing to the plot - but it is a delicious sidetrack which would doubtless have been edited out ten years later.

A kingfisher flashed across the open on his way back to the brook near at hand, fleeing from the still splendour of the sun-fired woods where he was but a courtier, to the little winding world of grey stones and water, where he was a jewelled king.

Virago insist in their blurb that the novel is about Rachel West and Hester Gresley, and 'explores the ways in which two very different women search for fulfilment in a society bound by convention.' I can understand how such a synopsis would cohere with Virago's (admirable) publishing aims, but it does Red Pottage a disservice to summarise it in that manner - for it is really far more complex than that, as well as rather more entertaining.

Preparing for a George Gissing-type melancholy novel (I should mention now that I haven't read anything by George Gissing - or, indeed, Lady Audley's Secret, I'm just throwing around these references with no first-hand knowledge whatsoever) I was surprised when Red Pottage opens with neither Rachel nor Hester, but instead Hugh Scarlett. Scarlett is embroiled in an affair with Lady Newhaven, and Lord Newhaven challenges Scarlett to a duel, of a sort. They each take a taper - the one with the shorter taper must kill himself before the end of five months. Told you this was a sensation novel.

Except it is not simply a sensation novel. There's quite a web running through the interrelations of characters, and it's not long before we meet newly-rich Rachel West, a sensible and social girl who has endured years of poverty. She, in turn, is friends with Hester Gresley who, after having published an extremely successful novel, is now trying to write her second whilst living with her clergyman brother, his jealous wife, and their energetic children. These eight or so characters compose the principal cast - or at least those that are foremost in my mind a few weeks after finishing the novel.

Although the blurb talks about Hester and Rachel being very different, they seemed almost entirely identical figures to me - progressive, but with a firm sense of morals; artistic; loving. My favourite sections of the novel dealt with Hester and her brother's family - she writing away whenever she had spare moments, and he unappreciative and unadvanced, while believing himself to be deficient in nothing. Any topic under the sun would be 'thrashed out' by him, and his judgement he considered final. As for his sense of humour, Cholmondeley pens a particularly delightful paragraph on the topic:

Why does so deep a gulf separate those who have a sense of humour and those who, having none, are compensated by the conviction that they possess it more abundantly. The crevasse seems to extend far inland to the very heights and water-sheds of character. Those who differ on humour will differ on principles. The Gresleys and the Pratts belonged to that large class of our fellow creatures, who, conscious of a genius for adding to the hilarity of our sad planet, discover an irresistible piquancy in putting a woman's hat on a man's head, and in that "verbal romping" which playfully designates a whisky and soda as a gargle, and says "au reservoir" instead of "an revoir."
(Shades of Mapp and Lucia, no?) And yet Cholmondeley is unswervingly fair in her portraits. Red Pottage is no attack on the church - indeed, there is a thread of faith through it which is done honestly and well. Rather, the novel contains (among many other things) an exposure of a certain type of clergyman, who is balanced out by a much more sensitive and sympathetic bishop. Even Rev. James Gresley is not solely a figure to be lambasted - his saving grace is the love he feels towards his children, which in turn is the only sort of love within Hester's own novel which he does not consider overblown.

The conversations between James and Hester are amongst the chief delights of the novel. Jane Austen would not have spoken slightingly of them - some of the exchanges reminded me, in their linguistic delicacy and exactness, of that wonderful scene between Lady Catherine de Burgh and Elizabeth Bennett. Hester's dialogue is always carefully inoffensive, and yet subtly demonstrates how far she is from agreeing with her brother's values and pronouncements. To pick one example out of the air: 'But from your point of view you were right to speak - as - as you have done. I value the affection that prompted it.' I shan't spoil the outcome of the relationship between Hester and her family, but I will mention that it involves one of the most moving deaths I have ever read about - and it is not even the death of a human.

Cholmondeley's constant fairness can confuse, at times - simply because the more sensational aspects of the novel feel as though they require less complex characters. It would be tempting to view Scarlett as a cad and bounder, and a cowardly one at that, but Cholmondeley makes the reader question these assumptions:

But was he a coward? Men not braver than he have earned the Victoria Cross, have given up their lives freely for others. Hugh had it in him to do as well as any man in hot blood, but not in cold.
It would be ridiculous to fault Cholmondeley for creating rounded characters, and I don't intend to do so - only perhaps occasionally (only occasionally) her plot-lines are not quite so well rounded, and the consequent discord is a little unsettling.

I have done little justice to the overlapping and interweaving storylines of the novel, nor the wry humour which so often made me laugh aloud. Cholmondeley is an excellent observer of human nature, and (which is rarer) a generous one. Her generosity does not preclude laughing at traits and actions, but it does forbid pillory or scapegoating. Red Pottage is a rich, moving, funny, and deeply perceptive novel. I may only have managed to finish one Virago Modern Classic this August - but at least the one I finished turned out to be rather brilliant.

Waiting on Wednesday # 62 - Destined by Jessie Harrell

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick: Destined by Jessie Harrell

Summary from Goodreads:
When Psyche receives a prophecy gone horribly wrong, she learns that even the most beautiful girl in Greece can have a hideous future. Her fate? Fall in love with the one creature even the gods fear.
As she feels herself slipping closer into the arms of the prophecy, Psyche must choose between the terrifyingly tender touch she feels almost powerless to resist and the one constant she's come to expect out of life: you cannot escape what is destined.
Destined is a fresh and heartachingly romantic retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth from debut novelist, Jessie Harrell.
November 17th, 2011

I love the Eros (Cupid) and Psyche myth. It's my favorite! Romantic but sad, I'm curious to see how this author is going to retell this story.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Good Girls Don't by Victoria Dahl

Title: Good Girls Don't
Author: Victoria Dahl
Series: Donovan Brothers Brewery #1
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
Publisher: HQN Books
Age: Adult
With her long ponytail and sparkling green eyes, Tessa Donovan looks more like the girl next door than a businesswoman – or a heartbreaker. Which may explain why Detective Luke Asher barely notices her when he arrives to investigate a break-in at her family’s brewery. He’s got his own problems – starting with the fact that his partner Simone is pregnant and everyone thinks he's the father. The last thing he needs is a nice girl like Tessa getting under his skin.

Tessa has her hands full, too. Her brother’s playboy ways may be threatening the business, and the tensions could tear her tight-knit family apart. In fact, the only thing that could unite the Donovan boys is seeing a man come after their “baby” sister. Especially a man like Luke Asher. But Tessa sees past the rumors to the man beneath.
Good Girls Don't is the story of Tessa, the good girl, and Luke, the bad boy. Tessa is the typical next door girl, while Luke is still dealing with his divorce and his pregnant partner. They couldn't be more different, but their attraction is obvious. Of course, Tessa's brothers, Eric and Jamie, don't think Luke is a good man for her.

It's my first book of Victoria Dahl, but I really liked it. The writing was good, the characters were likable and the hot scenes were so much fun and realistic! I enjoy when a couple is not only attracted to each other but also enjoy and have fun while being together.

I liked Luke. He's having a bad time, and everybody try to make it worse for him. Specially Tessa's brother, Jaime. It's obvious he has a sweet heart and is very protective, not only with his partner but with Tessa too.

Tessa is sweet, pretty and fun. I liked that she was most of the times happy. But sometimes I think she was too immature, or unjust, specially with Luke. Sometimes I just wanted to smack her, but I realize she was a version of me when I was younger, always deciding what was the best for the other people...

Overall, I really liked Good Girls Don't. It has the right amount of family drama, romance and hotness! I can't wait to read Jamie's and Eric's stories, Bad Boys Do and Real Men Will.

More about this book at www.victoriadahl.comGoodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bout of Books Readathon Wrap Up Post

The Bout of Books read-a-thon has ended! Let's see if I completed my goal:
  • 1 book from NetGalley: 

Good Girls Don't (Donovan Family)

  • 1 book from Simon & Schuster Galley Grab: 

The Dog Who Knew Too Much: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (Chet and Bernie Mysteries)

The Dog Who Knew Too Much (Chet and Bernie Mysteries #4) by Spencer Quinn

  • 1 book from my Kindle: 

Falling in Love with English Boys

  • 1  random book ? 

The Perfect Play (A Play-by-Play Novel)

  • 1 book from my TRB pile.  Only read 124 pages :s

Going Bovine

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I didn't get to finish Going Bovine....I didn't have enough time. But I think I did good :). How did you do?

Bank Holiday Photo

All my posts at the moment seem to start by promising that I'll be returning to regular posts and proper reviews soon - at least this one comes with no false promises. I won't have time for a post today, since I'm off to Bristol to see Our Vicar, Our Vicar' Wife, and Colin all in the same place for the first time in 2011. So, instead, I'll just put up a photo of beautiful Compton Verney, which I visited last Thursday. As Debs commented, when we saw it, it's a bit like the first time Lizzie sees Pemberley...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a weekly bookish meme hosted @ The Story Siren


Bright Young Things with Bonus Material by Anna Godbersen (It was FREE yesterday, check it out today!)


The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Real Men Will by Victoria Dahl

What did you get this week?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Write a Post Help a Dog Campaign 2011

I don't usually publish non-book related posts at this blog, but as a Veterinarian and a dog's lover, I think this is important and worth to know!

In honor of the BlogPaws the Conference for Pet Bloggers, Pet Brands, and Pet Health Care Professionals, Pedigree has decided to launch a Write a Post, Help a Dog Campaign. For those of you who missed the event last year in September 391 bloggers wrote about the program and with each post, Pedigree donated 20 pounds of its Healthy Longevity dog food to shelter animals. In all, 7,820 pounds of food was donated to two shelters known across the country for their dedication to the care and re-homing of senior dogs: Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco and Castaway Critters in Harrisburg, Pa.

How you can help in 2011
Simply spread the word about Write a Post, Help a Dog 2011 and once again Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of food for each blog post. If you don’t have a blog feel free to tweet about the campaign or share on Facebook so your friends who do blog can participate. All bloggers are welcome even if you do not generally talk about pets on your blog. Its all about using Social Media for Social Good.

You can find more info about how to write your post and where to link it at Two Little Cavaliers

I think this is an amazing way to help as a blogger. Just writing a post and letting other people know how they can help. I love dogs (and cats too, by the way) and I think it's amazing that the Pedigree helps shelter animals this way.

By the way, if you are a book lover (I assume you are, since you're reading this blog!), Literary Escapism is having a swag giveaway for everyone who participates in this campaign ;)

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

I've been off on trips this week - two to Swindon (yesterday I was there reading letters, rather than diaries - which meant reading lots of different people's handwriting, rather than just Edith Olivier's. Anne Sedgwick, whoever you may be, one day I will track you down and MAKE YOU WRITE YOUR Es PROPERLY. Ahem) And my housemate Debs and I also went to Compton Verney to see the Stanley Spencer exhibition, and enjoy the beautiful grounds. More on that next week, for today we need a book, a link, and a blog post.

1.) The blog post - I don't think I've ever had an easier choice to make than this one: Sakura's review of SiaB favourite Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns. I sent her a copy, because I can be a bit pushy when it comes to my favourite authors - and she has rewarded me with a positive and perceptive review that makes me want to read it all over again. (Take note, Rachel, take note.)

2.) The link - is of a similar ilk, but not from a blog. Here is an essay about Tove Jansson by Matthew Battles in the Barnes and Noble Review, w
hich some kind soul emailed to me... but I can't right now remember who. Susan? Ruth? Nancy? Thanks, whoever it was!

3.) The book - comes from lovely Folio Society. I am thrilled to be on their review list now, let me tell you, as my first encounter with Folio books was more or less the first time I realised that a book's beauty could make me gasp. That book - or, indeed, those books - being the Mapp & Lucia series, which I eventually managed to secure for myself. But the one I'm mentioning today is Camus' The Outsider (English translation, obv.) introduced by Damon Galgut and illustrated by Matthew Richardson. They gave me a choice of three, and this is one I've been intending to read for ages. I feel a bit as though everyone else has read it first, so I daresay you can tell me about it, no?

Happy weekend everyone - although, while I've been writing this, it has started raining here. I had intended to go to the park with a book... hmm.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review: To Scotland, With Love by Karen Hawkins

Title: To Scotland, With Love
Author: Karen Hawkins
Series: MacLean Curse #2
Release Date: August 21st, 2007
Publisher: Pocket
In this saucy battle of the sexes, New York Times bestseller Karen Hawkins pits a hard-headed Scottish lord with an unusual family curse against a headstrong heiress who has a solution for every problem...except her own wayward heart. When Lord Gregor MacLean learns his childhood friend, Venetia Oglivie, has been abducted by a fortune hunter, he rides off to Scotland in hot -- and very annoyed -- pursuit. Venetia's soft heart has gotten her in major trouble this time: if he doesn't rescue her swiftly, the scandal will ostracize the provocative wench! The only sensible member of her family, Venetia is sure she can fix any problem, even this one. So when an irate Gregor catches up with her, arrogantly expecting a hero's welcome, the sparks between them begin to fly. Then an unexpected snowstorm traps them at an inn, and Gregor discovers his feelings for the lovely Venetia are far warmer than he realized -- fiery enough to burn down the inn! Now if he can only convince Venetia that his motive for marriage isn't duty... but desire.
I read the first book of this series, How To Abduct a Highland Lord, and liked it. But I loved To Scotland, With Love!

When Gregor MacLean finds out his childhood friend Venetia has been "abducted" by a man, he rides to save her before it's to late.

I always like stories where the characters are childhood friends and turn into lovers. There is so much confusion between their feelings! Gregor and Venetia feel comfortable with each other, had secret jokes and understood each other better than anyone. But when they start to have other feelings, and share some kisses, everything turns into a chaos.

They were so much fun, I was laughing most of the time I read this book. Gregor is very hot tempered, and thanks to his curse, most of the time was snowing, trapping them to the Inn. Venetia is spirited isn't afraid to express her opinion, specially to Gregor, but also don't know when to stop helping everyone with their problems.

Gregor and Venetia are caught in the secondary characters issues while they try to understand their feelings and save Venetia's honor. Add to that mix Venetia's desperate mother and bad tempered grandmother, who is one of my favorite characters!

I don't want to say more about this story, but I really enjoyed it. It was a fun book, and I can't wait to read the next one of the series, To Catch a Highlander.

More about this book at www.karenhawkins.comGoodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A day in the archives

Today I had probably the most exciting day of my DPhil research so far - and, bear in mind when you read the rest of this post, I'm not being sarcastic. When I tell you that I was off on a research trip to Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office (rather than other research destinations I've heard of friends visiting - New York, Paris etc.) you might think that I'm rather overstating the case. But, in all honesty, today was one of those days that makes me realise that I'm not the world's least suited person to be doing a doctorate. For today I got my hands on Edith Olivier's papers.

I started off going to Chippenham Train Station - from which the record office is about three minutes' walk. I wondered why the website said it was ten minutes away, until I saw the average age of the people using the archives reading room - quite a few over 70s researching their families and, in the case of the lady behind me, the history of her house. An archives reading room, incidentally, is a great place for eavesdropping. Just so you know.

Back to Edith Olivier. An easy way to write original work is to choose a topic not many people care about. Scholars have not fought over who gets to look at Olivier's diaries and letters - although a sort of biography/selected letters was written by Penelope Middelboe, picking most of the choicest bits. But I still had a wonderful time working out Olivier's handwriting (she does the most peculiar things with 'p's and capital 'A's) and slowly reading her diaries. A couple of eureka moments - when I found that she had attended a party with Sylvia Townsend Warner, for instance, or her thoughts on To The Lighthouse ('far too highbrow for me as a whole. She demands too much of the reader – who has to make his own unity.’) I snapped away with my new camera - I mentioned in the comments the other day that I opted for a blue Canon PowerShot A3200 in the end; thanks again for all your advice. I signed something saying I wouldn't publish the photographs I took, sadly, but I have included a tiny snippet of the page on which Olivier records that Martin Secker had accepted The Love-Child (her first novel) for publication: 'A Great Day'.

I'll be going back on Friday, since I only read one folder of publishers' letters and three months' worth of diary (out of about forty years... hmm) and I want to take a moment to say thank you to all the staff at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. As most of you know, I work for the Bodleian. Whenever people tell me "This is my first time" my heart melts a bit, and I go out of my way to help them - and so I trotted out this line to everyone I encountered. I troubled four separate people, from receptionist to help desk to archivist - and they were unfailingly helpful and incredibly friendly. I was so impressed - not a smidgen of grumpiness with my ignorance and helplessness! There's not much of a chance that they'll spot this post - but if any of you do, thank you so much!

Waiting on Wednesday # 61 - The Last Echo by Kimberly Derting

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick: The Last Echo (The Body Finder #3)

Summary from goodreads:
Violet kept her morbid ability to sense dead bodies a secret from everyone except her family and her childhood-best-friend-turned-boyfriend, Jay Heaton. That is until forensic psychologist Sara Priest discovered Violet’s talent and invited her to use her gift to track down murderers. Now, as she works with an eclectic group of individuals—including mysterious and dangerously attractive Rafe—it’s Violet’s job to help those who have been murdered by bringing their killers to justice. When Violet discovers the body of a college girl killed by “the girlfriend collector” she is determined to solve the case. But now the serial killer is on the lookout for a new “relationship” and Violet may have caught his eye....
ALA Booklist described The Body Finder as “a suspenseful mystery and sensual love story that will captivate readers who enjoy authentic high-school settings, snappy dialogue, sweet romance, and heart-stopping drama,” while Kirkus Reviews called Desires of the Dead “imaginative, convincing, and successful suspense.” The Last Echo heightens the tension as Violet uncovers dark murders, faces new dangers, and struggles with her love for Jay and her confusing connection with Rafe. Fans of Lisa McMann and Laurie Faria Stolarz, as well as Kimberly’s devoted fan base, won’t be able to resist Violet’s newest thrilling adventure.
Kimberly Derting
April 17, 2012

I loved The Body Finder! I still haven't read Desires of the Dead, but I can't wait to read this one :)