Saturday, March 31, 2012

Song for a Sunday

I feel I should do an April's Fool... but I can't think of anything.  So let's have a Song for a Sunday as normal, eh?

Sometimes you can't do better than a bit of Barbra and Judy, can you?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy weekend, one and all!  I think mine will be spent justifying my thesis in a thousand words (fun) and - rather better - hopefully the first trip of 2012 to Jane's Teas.  But I shall not leave you neglected, oh no - here is a miscellany to enjoy.

1.) The book - the first I heard of Marilynne Robinson's new collection of essays was through a post at Mary's Library.  Mary found When I Was a Child I Read Books a little uneven, and I've got to admit, the excitement I felt at the title (a book about books, yay!) was dampened rather when I discovered what it was actually about (philosophy and theology and stuff... oh.)  I have no problem with those topics, but they don't compare to my love of books-about-books.  Still, I'm intrigued to read it, since Robinson is such a brilliant writer - and this afternoon got a ticket to see Robinson talk about the book at Blackwell's on 15th May.  (Anyone around in Oxford then?)

2.) The link - is a week-long course my supervisor Sally Bayley is helping to run in Oxford: Sylvia Plath Interdisciplinary Masterclass.  All the info is here, for those with the interest, finances, and proximity to Oxford!  I would just add, Sally is lovely, passionate about literature, and able to engage people in discussions about it in a dynamic and friendly way.  That sounds like a testimonial, doesn't it?!  But it's true :)

3.) The other link - is the Explore Learning National Young Writers' Award, a competition for budding writers aged 5-14.  A story on 'Old and New', max. 500 words, can be submitted after April 11th by email, post, or at your local Explore Learning Centre.  Andrew Cope will be the judge - apparently he writes the Spy Dog series.  Being out of the loop on children's books, I don't know it - but I bet lots of you have read it aloud to your kids!  All the info you need is here - I'd love to know if your children/grandchildren/nephews/nieces etc. are entering.

4.) The blog post - is Daniel's at Hibernian Homme, mostly for the beautiful picture, and the question at the end - but also because if you haven't discovered Daniel's quirky, joyous, bohemian corner of the blogosphere yet, then you need to do some exploring...

Bloggiesta To Do List

Bloggiesta is on! Bloggiesta in an event from March 30 to April 1, hosted at It's All About Books, and it's about doing all the stuff you want to do to improve your blog. It's the moment to finally do it, learn how to, teach others and make friends!

My Bloggiesta To Do List:
  1. Write 5 future WoW posts. ✓
  2. Write 5 future Reviews posts. ✓
  3. Write 5 future IMM draft posts. ✓
  4. Check links on my blog. ✓
  5. Update my profile. ✓
  6. Update my review policy. ✓
  7. Update my giveaway page. ✓
  8. Write Update my giveaway policy. ✓
  9. Clean my to-be-read books on goodreads. ✓
  10. Update my Read 2012 page. ✓
  11. Clean my Google Reader. ✓
Also, there are a lot of posts from mini challenges I want to read (taken from It's All About Books):
What do you think? A lot to do but not too difficult :) I just need time. Probably going to do more on weekend, since today I have work. Are you participating on Bloggiesta too? Please let me know :D Update: I found more mini challenges I want to participate:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

P.D. James

This morning I went to the Oxford Literary Festival - only the third event I've attended in eight years in Oxford - and saw P.D. James talking with Peter Kemp (of the Sunday Times) about Death Comes to Pemberley.  As I've grown to expect from James's appearances, she was a witty and wise speaker - even without having read Death Comes to Pemberley (or, indeed, any of her books) I loved it.

My highlight from the event was the childhood story which revealed James's early propensity for crime literature: when her mother read her Humpty Dumpty, young Phyllis's question was "Did he fall, or was he pushed?"

I didn't join my friends in buying a copy and getting it signed, because of my Lenten fast, but I was tempted... has anyone read it?  I've heard mixed reviews, but would like to hear the yay or nay from you lot... those of you who are you still talking to me after my post on The Rector's Daughter!

Orcs -Forged for War by Stan Nicolls and Joe Flood– OPTIONAL

Nicolls, Stan and Flood, Joe Orcs -Forged for War 208 pgs. First Second, 2011. $13.49. (Language-PG Violence-PG-13; Sexual Content-PG-13 nudity).
Humans are a new race to the land of Maras-Dantia, and they want to take over. They fight against all of the elder races. There is in-fighting in both groups. This graphic novel follows an elite team of Orcs, under the ultimate leadership of a sorceress named Jennesta. She sends them out on missions that they don’t always agree with. For their latest mission they must guard a group of Goblins, which they don’t like at all.
This book sort of has a complex plot, which is compounded by confusing artwork. The characters all have a similar look –so I was constantly confusing goblins with human with orcs. In the end I was unsure of some of plots twists. I half wondered if I was just not paying careful attention, but came to the conclusion that the plot wasn’t interesting enough for me to care. I think students might be drawn to this battle filled epic, but school libraries won’t enjoy the topless women.
MS, HS– OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie MLS graduate & Author.

Island of the Unknowns by Benedict Carey - ADVISABLE

Carey, Benedict.  Island of the Unknowns, 259 pages.  Amulet Book (ABRAMS), 2011 (originally published as The Unknowns in 2009).  $6.95 (paperback).  Language: PG (8 Swears); Sexual Content: G; Violence: PG.  Folsom Energy is a power plant.  Folsom Adjacent is the trailer park next to Folsom Energy (hence the name Adjacent).  In other words, it doesn't really have a is a "nothing kind of place."  Nothing seems to happen there.  That is until people start mysteriously disappearing.  Lady Di and Tom Jones decide that something is wrong, and they start following clues left behind by Malba Clarke.  She uses math to lead them to answers to what is going on.  And they follow those clues and use more and more math as they go.  This book was okay.  It had its ups and it had its downs.  But I didn't love it.  The characters were quirky, but at times I felt like the author was trying too hard to make them quirky.  I enjoy math; in fact in school I liked math much more than I liked English.  And so I actually enjoyed reading and thinking about the math element.  The book would work well in a math class or in a cross-curricular unit.  It is for that possibility that I bump the book from optional up to advisable.  It deserves a place in schools, even if it is not a must-read.  EL, MS, HS - ADVISABLE.  Brent Smith, Reading Teacher

Only for Books Lovers: GoneReading

GoneReading is all about cool products for book lovers as us. But the interesting part is, they donate all of the profits to help fund libraries and reading-related charities. I think they products are amazing, but more amazing is they make it possible for people to read. So I though, why not give them a little help by promoting them on my blog?

I visited their website and spend like half an hour gawking at the products. These are my favorites:

Penguin T for WomenBook Jacket Cover

Penguin T-Shirt for Women: Chill Out & Read! / “Book Wrap” – Book Jacket Cover Protection

Book Journal - Books to Check OutBook Bookmark - Eat Sleep Read2

Book Journal – “Books To Check Out” / “Eat. Sleep. Read.” Bookmark

What do you think? Visit their website, maybe you'll find something you like :) They are also on Pinterest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Rector's Daughter - F.M. Mayor

There are a few books which I expect to love, end up not loving, and then wonder why.  I lean back in my chair, eye the novel sternly, and ask myself (and it) what went wrong.  Was it timing?  Would a re-read make me fall in love?  Have I recently read something else which does the same sort of thing, but better?  That's a sure-fire way to leave me unimpressed.  Or is the book simply not as good as everyone tells me?

Well, recently a novel joined the ranks of Hotel du Lac, Gaudy Night, and A Passage to India.  All books which have their passionate fans, and (with me) a somewhat underwhelmed reader.  Well, The Rector's Daughter, I certainly didn't hate you.  I liked you rather more than the above trio of disappointments.  But nor did I love you in the way that I anticipated I would, based on reviews by Rachel and Harriet.  So I have stalled writing about this novel... I finished it right at the beginning of 2012, and yet... what to say?  How to write about it properly - justifying my lack of adoration for this much-adored title, but not only that: this was one of those novels which gave me no heads-up on how I would structure a review.  But... well, I'll try.

The Rector's Daughter (1924) concerns the life and ill-fated love of Mary Jocelyn, the rector's daughter in question.  She is motherless, and lives a life of obedient graciousness towards her father - who is deeply intellectual, but not able to show his love for his daughter.  I think Mary was supposed to be in the mold of silently passionate women, having to be content with their lot.  A bit like Jane Eyre, perhaps... but then I have always thought Jane Eyre a little overrated.  Here she is:
His daughter Mary was a decline.  Her uninteresting hair, dragged severely back, displayed a forehead lined too early.  Her complexion was a dullish hue, not much lighter than her hair.  She had her father’s beautiful eyes, and hid them with glasses.  She was dowdily dressed, but she had many companions in the neighbourhood, from labourers’ wives to the ladies of the big houses, to share her dowdiness.  It was not observed; she was as much a part of her village as its homely hawthorns.
Mary has one great chance at love, with Mr. Herbert - and I do not think it gives too much away (for it is no surprise) to relate that her chance comes to nothing, and she must live with the consequences of this unlucky, ineluctable failure.  Love is one of the major themes of the novel.  That's true of a lot of novels, but in The Rector's Daughter the theme is love-out-of-reach; the journey from innocence to experience, bypassing happiness.  What horrifies Mary - and what seems to horrify F.M. Mayor too - is any sort of irreverence towards love.
One winter day when Dora Redland had come to stay with Ella, she and Mary met for a walk.  Mary suddenly started the subject.  "I wish you would tell me something about love.  I should think no one ever reached my age and knew so little, except of love in books.  Father has never mentioned love, and Aunt Lottie treated it as if it ought not to exist.  There were you and Will, but I was so young for me age I never took it in."

"What a funny thing to ask!" said Dora.  "I don't think I know much about it either.  There was one of the curates at Southsea - I never imagined he cared at all for me; I had hardly ever spoken to him.  I think some one else had refused him.  That makes them susceptible, I believe, and also the time of year and wanting to marry."  There was a mild severity, perhaps cynicism, in this speech, which astonished Mary.

"But, Dora, don't you think there is a Love 'Which alters not with Time's brief hours and days, / But bears it out even to the edge of Doom'?"

"Take care, Mary dear, you stepped right into that puddle.  Wait a minute.  Let me wipe your coat.  I am not quite sure that I understand what you were saying."
Dora is also a spinster, but less angsty.  I think I would have rather enjoyed a novel from Dora's perspective...

It is usually easy to give reasons why a book didn't work for me.  Indeed, they are few more satisfying activities than laying into a poorly written novel... but The Rector's Daughter isn't poorly written.

Perhaps my ennui can be attributed to spinster novel fatigue?  I have read quite a few recently, and have to say that May Sinclair's Life and Death of Harriett Frean attempts a similar type of novel rather more (for me) successfully.  The public debate about unmarried women between the world wars (covered fascinatingly in a chapter of Nicola Beauman's A Very Great Profession, and less fascinatingly in Virginia Nicholson's Singled Out) was loud and often angry; the 1920s novels dealing with this issue were written at a time when the issue was contentious, as well as potentially tragic.  Maybe I've just read too many, now?

Perhaps I found The Rector's Daughter too earnest?  I have often noted that novels others love sometimes fail with me if they are very earnest.  It kills a narrative.  And certainly there appeared to be very little humour in Mayor's novel... at least in the first half.  I was surprised, in the second half, to come across moments which would be at home in Jane Austen or E.M. Delafield's lighter work.  This passage was brilliant - it's from Miss Davey, a character (looking back) whom I remember nothing else about:
"Who can that be coming down the road?  Why, it's the pretty little girl with the dark curls we saw yesterday when the Canon took me out a little walk - your dear father.  Oh no, it's not; now she comes nearer I see it's not the little girl with the dark curls.  My sight isn't quite as good as it was.  No, she has red hair and spectacles.  Dear me, what a plain little thing.  Did you say she would be calling for the milk, dear? Or is this the little one you say helps Cook?  Oh no, not that one, only ten; no, she would be rather young.  Yes, what the girls are coming to.  You say you don't find a difficulty.  Mrs. Barkham - my new lodgings; I told you about her, poor thing, she suffers so from neuralgia - she says the girls now - fancy her last girl wearing a pendant when she was waiting.  Just a very plain brooch, no one would say a word against, costing half-a-crown or two shillings.  I've given one myself to a servant many a time.  Oh, that dear little robin - Mary, you must look - or is it a thrush?  There, it's gone.  You've missed it.  Perhaps we could see it out of the other window.  Thank you, dear; if I could have your arm.  Oh, I didn't see the footstool.  No, thank you, I didn't hurt myself in the least; only that was my rheumatic elbow."
Had I simply missed this sort of thing at the beginning, or did Mayor alter the tone?  I'm not suggesting that all novels ought to be comic novels, but without a slightly ironic eye, or dark humour, or even a slight reflective smile, I am rather lost.  This came too late in The Rector's Daughter - or at least I missed it.  Hilary wrote in her review at Vulpes Libris that "There is no distancing irony or humour – its serious tone is relentless."  I didn't find it quite relentless, but otherwise I agree with this sentence (although Hilary, as you'll see at the bottom, was overall more positive about the novel.)  I admire good comic writers so much more than I admire good poignant writers - it is so much more difficult to be comic - but maybe that is simply horses for courses.

However, as I finish a lukewarm review of The Rector's Daughter, I am chastened by the memory of my initial response to Mollie Panter-Downes's One Fine Day.  Who knows, perhaps a re-read of The Rector's Daughter would give me an equally enthusiastic second impression?

Others who got Stuck into this Book:

"This is such a brilliant book, worthy of being a classic, really, in that it so perfectly encapsulates how limited unmarried women’s lives could be before the advent of feminism" - Rachel, Book Snob

"The novel is minutely observed; there is beautiful detail about each day and the East Anglian countryside, so that although time passes in the book very slowly, it is wonderfully described." - Verity, Verity's Virago Venture

"This is a novel about how hard it is to understand other people, and how many misunderstandings and even tragedies arise from it." - Harriet, Harriet Devine's Blog

"I wouldn’t have missed it, and I do recommend it. I can understand why this novel is regarded as a hidden gem."  - Hilary, Vulpes Libres

Stealing Bases by Keri Mikulski - OPTIONAL

Mikulski, Keri Stealing Bases, 271 pgs. Penguin Group, 2011. Language - PG (21 swears, 0 "f"), Sexual Content - PG; Violence - PG; Kylie's life is falling apart. Her parents split, her BF cheated, and she lost her spot on the softball team! With everything going down hill so fast, how is she supposed to stop it? She tries the only way she knows how: get upset and let her emotions fly. Unfortunately, that doesn't help. 

Although I loved the characters and all the drama, it didn't live up to the first few books. I enjoyed reading about softball and found the games in this book to be more interesting than the other sports that have been featured. I also loved how everything was resolved--the end is definitely worth reading. 

MS, HS - OPTIONAL. Reviewer: CCH

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood - ADVISABLE

Blackwood, Gary Around the World in 100 Days, 358 pgs. Dutton Children's Books, 2010. Language - PG (2 swears, 0 "f"), Sexual Content - G; Violence - PG; Harry is tired of everyone criticizing his automobile and so agrees on a £6,000 wager that his car can drive around the world in only 100 days. Along the way, Harry gains enemies and allies, learns about himself and his heritage, and has a lot of car trouble. Yet, somehow, Harry and his companions carry on and persevere. 

A fun spin on Around the World in 80 Days, this book is an entertaining read. It's surprising how things seem to fall into place when you endure. I love how witty all the characters are and love the different ways the reader got to experience the events, e.g. first-hand, newspaper articles, and journal entries. 


Shamra Divided by Barry Hoffman - ADVISABLE

Hoffman, Barry Shamra Divided, 301 pgs. Gauntlet Press, 2010. Language - G, Sexual Content - G; Violence - PG; Dara is still traveling and trying to figure out who she is. When she arrives at Stone Mountain, many of her questions are answered by recountings of her history that Briana tells her. These stories of the past leave Dara with a sense of knowing who she is, but more questions have popped up, leaving her curiosity unsatisfied as she continues on her journey after Stone Mountain. 

While the history lessons are fun and great to know, it did not help this book live up to the first. There is still one more to read, so I'm hoping it will answer the questions Dara and the reader are left with. 


Curse of the Shamra by Barry Hoffman - ADVISABLE

Hoffman, Barry Curse of the Shamra, 325 pgs. Gauntlet Press, 2009. Language - G, Sexual Content - G; Violence - PG; It was supposed to be the best day of Pilla's life and as close as it would ever get to Dara's. The beautiful day was ruined when they were invaded and taken over by the Trocs. Dara escaped into the swamp with some others, but she's the only female among them. She's also the only one with wits enough to lead. Though Dara is strong and courageous, she won't be accepted easily and winning their land back will be even more difficult. 

In war, there has to be casualties, but I resent this fact of book writing. Some Shamra died, but I loved being with Dara as she helped others survive. Dara is an extraordinary, if somewhat impatient, leader that I found myself looking up to her with as much respect as the Shamra she rallied. I am very excited to continue with Dara on her new adventure in the sequel. 

Taboo and Dennis, Steve, Fallin Up. Touchstone, 2011. pgs. 352. Language: PG-13, , Violence: PG-13, Sexual Content: PG-13.

Raised in East L.A., Jamie Gomez was no stranger to guns, family gang connections, drugs, and alcohol. After his mother married his stepfather, he never felt like he quite fit in. After becoming a father at a young age, he tried to make it in the world. Supported by his grandmother, he ran from job to job trying to support his family until his divorce from her. After reaching fame, however, with Black-Eyed Peas (a band he helped form in 1995), however, his troubles weren’t over. Battling a drug addiction and alcoholism, he almost lost everything. This is his story and what finally became his “wake-up call.”

A touching biography for fans of Black-Eyed Peas that deals with some matur issues. . The layout and narrative of the book are well-done and easy to follow. The photos are fun to look at as well. Readers who like biographies, music, and musicians will enjoy reading this book. HS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Libarian, WHI Public Library.

Artemis the Brave by Joan Holub-ESSENTIAL

Holub, Joan, Artemis the Brave. Aladdin, 2010. pgs. 240. Language: G, Violence: G, Sexual Content: G

Artemis is know by her friends for being brave and a great huntress. To her brother, Apollo she’s not only a friend but a friend in arms. When a mortal named Orion comes to school and catches her eye, she starts to think that she might be able to have a boyfriend too. Orion, however, is making everyone at the school mad and keeps trying to rewrite Principal Zeus’ play to fit his image of what a lead role should be. Could Artemis have made an error in judging Orion?

A great novel for anyone who likes mythological fiction. The characters are likable and recognizable figures in Greek Mythology. The plot does a good job of holding the reader’s interest. The story is easy to relate to even though they are mythology characters. Readers who like realistic fiction, mythology, fantasy, and school stories will enjoy reading it. EL (4-6), MS. ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Service Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Waiting on Wednesday # 92 - Lord's Fall by Thea Harrison

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

My pick:

Lord's Fall (Elder Races #5) by Thea Harrison
In the latest Novel of the Elder Races, two mates find themselves on different paths, torn between their duty to the Wyr and the passion that binds them...

Before she met Dragos, half-human half-wyr Pia Giovanni was alone and on the run. Now, she's mated, pregnant and heading south to repair the Wyr's frayed relationship with the Elves. Being separated from Dragos is painful, but for the good of the Wyr demesne they need to figure out how to be partners, in more places than just the bedroom.

In New York to preside over the Sentinel Games, Dragos is worried about his mate, but knows that finding two replacement sentinels is essential to show the rest of the Elder Races just how strong and brutal the Wyr demesne can be. But as the games heat up, Pia's negotiations with the Elves take a turn for the dangerous, straining her bond with Dragos and threatening everything they hold dear...

The Elder Races has become one of my favorites series, and I really want to read this one. It's interesting that the couple of the first book, Dragos and Pia, are protagonists again. But I'm kind of worried about the little...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt - OPTIONAL

Runholt, Susan The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, 278 pgs. Penguin Group, 2008. Language - G, Sexual Content - G; Violence - G; Kari and her best friend Lucas knew they were going to have fun in Europe; what they didn't realize was that it would be about solving a mystery. It started out as a game, but the closer they get to proving the case, the more danger they get in. These two girls sneak around, disguise themselves, lie a lot, and get help from all around the world. 

This mystery was cute and interesting with all the paintings and new places they see. I didn't especially like how the story was told with Kari explaining and interjecting in a very distracting manner. The ending was good, though, and very satisfying. 

MS - OPTIONAL. Reviewer: CCH

A Month of Sundays by Ruth White - OPTIONAL

White, Ruth A Month of Sundays, 168 pgs. Margaret Ferguson Books, 2011. Language - G, Sexual Content - G; Violence - G; Garnet is moving to Florida. Well, technically, she's staying with family members she's never met while her mom goes to find a house and job in Florida before sending for Garnet. So while Garnet's mom is gone, Garnet has the time of her life with new family and friends. Now Garnet has a big problem: she doesn't want to leave. 

While a short book, White was able to squeeze a lot of great stuff into this book. There are conflicts and triumphs and discoveries and growing horizons. I liked getting to meet Garnet's family and enjoying new experiences with her, but this book didn't pull me in.

 EL, MS - OPTIONAL. Reviewer: CCH

Flyaway by Helen Landalf - OPTIONAL

Landalf, Helen Flyaway, 167 pgs. Harcourt, 2011. Language - PG (15 swears, 0 "f"), Sexual Content - PG-13; Violence - PG; Stevie's life is complicated and not knowing where her mom went isn't helping. Stevie is taken in by her Aunt Mindy who eventually sends her mom to rehab. Stevie's life is turning around, but what about all the good times? Can she move on, or will the past continue to haunt her? 

Reading about Stevie was sad, but that made it so much more exciting when good things turned her way. I got very attached to Stevie and was cheering her on every time she did something hard. Although her life has lots of problems I'm thankful I don't have to deal with, I can relate to some of her troubles and was able to take strength and courage from her example. 

MS, HS - OPTIONAL. Reviewer: CCH

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley - NO

Pixley, Marcella Without Tess, 280 pgs. D&M Publishers, Inc., 2011. Language - PG (11 swears, 0 "f"), Sexual Content - PG; Violence - PG-13; Lizzie is still trying to move on--five years after her sister, Tess, dies. Lizzie's life isn't the same. Her life will never be the same. Yet, she needs to move on, but how can she let go and live when her can't? 

I went into this book wary, because I knew it was going to be sad. What I was not expecting was how creepy and demented Tess was. Lizzie recalls several experiences from when she and Tess played together and Tess's actions scared and disturbed me. I only kept reading to see what I hoped was an inevitable moving on in the end when Lizzie gets better and happier. Unfortunately, the ending wasn't even that good. MS, HS - NO. Reviewer: CCH

Read, mark, learn...

I sometimes think, regarding potential topics for SiaB, "oh, you've covered that Si, no need for another post."  But then I remember how different my readership is now from when I started (although there is some overlap, of course) and it is entirely possible (ahem) that you missed my post from 2nd June 2007.  I'll forgive you for that.  It did, I should warn you, include the phrase 'independent, non-contingent paratextual elements' - but fear not, I was speaking in jest, and the topic was... bookmarks.

I imagine there are few corners of the world where a discourse upon bookmarks would be welcome... but I do you the honour of supposing that blog-readers belong in one such corner.  Recently my book group discussed how we marked pages.  A disconcerting number of them were happy enough to turn down the corners of pages (VERY NO) and nobody at all used bookmarks - just the nearest train ticket or envelope, or nothing at all.

Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that I take a different approach.

There is a little stash of postcards, particularly art postcards, by my bed.  When I start a new book, I have a rummage through these to find a postcard which works well with the book I'm reading.  That might be thematic or (more often) colour palette - basically anything which matches the spirit of the book.  It would feel quite discordant if I did otherwise...

So here are some examples... there are so many I could have chosen, but these were the first that came to mind.  I was reminded of the topic by the suitability of the postcard I used for A View of the Harbour:

I do have another boats postcard somewhere, but I think it's fallen victim to a common curse - when I finish the book, I reshelve it but forget to extricate the postcard.  Maybe I should check through all my maritime novels?  The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi, Sisters By A River by Barbara Comyns...

Here are a few more, to whet your appetite.  For all those old red hardbacks I read (and there are plenty from the 1930s) this Lowry postcard comes in handy...

...when I was reading Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy, I was struck by how appropriate this postcard was. Although the novel's Eduard Keller is not, naturally, Andre Derain (as painted by Henri Matisse) I could easily picture Keller in this way.  Plus, the turquoise of the painting perfectly matched the turquoise of the spine - which was, after all, the reason I originally pulled Maestro off the shop shelf.

So, I've exposed the peculiar tangents of my bibliophilia... do *any* of you do the same?  Even a little?  Or am I in my own strange corner...?

And let me know if you'd like to see any more...

The Black Stallion and the Lost City by Steven Farley - ADVISABLE

Farely, Steven The Black Stallion and the Lost City, 245 pgs.  Random House, 2011, $16.99.  Language - PG (1 swear, 0 "f"), Mature Content - PG; Violence - PG;  The Black Stallion and the Lost City is about a horse named The Black, and Alec Ramsay, The Black's rider, who goes for an afternoon walk and loses their way.  Soon they find themselves almost back in time with flesh-eating mares and ancient rituals of the Greek civilization. 

I enjoyed how this book places you back in time with some Greek myths, while Alec and The Black are shooting a movie called "Alexander the Great."  It was very entertaining, and when you are waiting for something to happen, you are still just as entertained, as you would be during some action.  MS - ADVISABLE. Student Reviewer: MD

First Hero by Adam Blade - ADVISABLE

Blade, Adam The Chronicles of Avantia: First Hero, 154 pgs.  Scholastic Press, 2012, $7.99.  Language - G (0 swears, 0 "f"), Mature Content - G; Violence - PG;  The Chronicles of of Avantia, First Hero is an action packed book, with you "on the edge of your seat" all the way through.  This book has legendary creatures who each has a chosen rider, and are destined to save their continent, one way or the other.  

I love how this book reminds me of the movie "Eragon", how he is a chosen rider and is destined to save his home land.  I also enjoyed how this book included a growth of friendship, because friends are some of the few other people in your life that you can trust.  EL - ADVISABLE.  Student Reviewer: MD

Book Review: Slide by Jill Hathaway

Book Cover Slide by Jill Hathaway
Title: Slide
Author: Jill Hathaway
Series: Slide #1
Release Date: March 27th, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins
Age: Young Adult
Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.
I think Slide was my first YA book read this year, and I really enjoyed it!

Vee is interesting. She's narcoleptic and fall sleep pretty easily when she doesn't want, but also, she slides. When she's touching an object someone connected, she slides into them and see what they are doing. It's pretty cool but also very disturbing, because usually people is doing personal stuff, like kissing or taking a bath, and Vee has to see everything.

But it's an interesting ability when you are trying to discover who is behind the murder of Sophie, a sweet girl who was best friend with Vee's sister. Police says it was suicide, but Vee knows she was killed...

I thought Slide was refreshing, original and I really liked that Vee was the protagonist of this story, not the romance. She's brave and strong. BTW, there is romance, but a very normal teenager romance. But there were so many other important aspects of the story, like who is really the killer (I suspected from everyone), or what is Vee's father hiding, or Rollins's secrets...

Overall, I really liked Slide. The twists were amazing, and I kind of connected with Vee. I only wished the ending wasn't so rushed, and I wanted more explanations. Why? I was surprised, and it isn't easy to surprise me. So yes, I recommend it if you want to read a good mystery.

More about this book at jillscribbles.blogspot.comGoodreads, The Book Depository, Amazon.

PD: I love the UK cover, I think it represents the book better.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Your Views...

As promised, here are links to other reviews of A View of the Harbour - I'll keep adding reviews as they appear, so let me know if you've written one.  I haven't included reviews written on LibraryThing, but they can be read altogether here.

"I love Elizabeth Taylor's writing, which so vividly evokes the shabby seaside town and the recent impact of the war on its inhabitants." - Laura, Laura's Musings

"Elizabeth Taylor brilliantly illustrates that regardless of how banal or tedious our day-to-day lives may seem, a profusion of thoughts and emotions keeps us constantly engaged even when we are silent or solitary." - Darlene, Roses Over A Cottage Door

"I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it is beautifully observed, and the setting and its community are touchingly portrayed." - Ali, HeavenAli

"As usual, I’m not sure that Taylor really likes any of her characters, and nor are they very likeable[...], but that doesn’t matter to me, as I enjoy her cool appraisal of them and their lives." - Liz, Libro Fulltime

"Quiet, pin sharp observation & layers of undercurrents that intrigue you every time you read it." - Alison, The TBR Pile

"The reader is allowed into the heads of these ordinary characters and that is where the magic begins." - Liz, efandrich

"Taylor doesn’t need to create intricate plots or dramatic scenes; she deals in the quiet understatement of every day life, managing to weave a tale of enormous profundity and interest whilst making it seem as if nothing has happened at all." - Rachel, Book Snob

"This is an extraordinarily  complex, subtle, and beautifully observed novel." - Harriet, Harriet Devine's Blog

"Wonderful prose carried me along, and so often I was touched by moments of pure insight and moments of vivid emotion." - Jane, Fleur Fisher Reads

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor - A View of the Harbour

If you've read any bookish blogs this year, you're probably aware that it's Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Year, and Laura has wonderfully organised a year-long celebration of this novelist.  I almost wrote 'underrated novelist', but she appears so often on lists of underrated novelists that I think she has to forfeit the title.  I can think of plenty who are equally deserving with less fanfare.  So let's just call her a very good novelist, and move onto March's book - A View of the Harbour (1947), published in the same year as One Fine Day, so (a) useless for A Century of Books (!) and (b) not the best novel published that year.  But definitely a darn good book.

I'm deliberately steering clear of everyone else's reviews until I have worked out my own thoughts, and thrown this open to discussion, but I shall post a list of all the reviews tomorrow - so if you've written about A View of the Harbour, either this month or earlier, than let me know!

A View of the Harbour is set in a seaside town, seen initially through the eyes of an amateur artist, Bertram, who is attempting to capture (indeed) a view of the harbour.  At the same time, of course, Elizabeth Taylor is capturing her own view of the harbour - and all the emotions which the people living there (pun alert) harbour.

It is not quite fair to say, as I often have cause to say, that nothing happens.  This is not an ordinary time in the lives of the harbour neighbourhood.  Each set of characters have come to a climax in their lives: Mrs. Bracey is nearing the end of her life; Lily Wilson is recently widowed young, and Tory is having an affair with her best friend's husband.  Such are the ingredients of soap opera, but in Taylor's hands they take place almost without fuss.  The confrontations which come every half hour in soap opera are here neatly avoided, or politely repressed.  Gossip is the order of the day, not screaming in the street.  Rumour and supposition circle around, not with the fervour of a Barbara Pym novel, but through a need to know as much as possible about one's fellow creatures.

If I were to suggest a theme for A View of the Harbour it would be right there in the title: viewing.  I think the central division between characters is whether they are observant or oblivious.  Neither 'type' takes much action as a result of their knowledge, but some seek this knowledge as though it were their lifeblood; others do not even consider its existence.  Mrs. Bracey - dying, but so slowly that it has become her way of living - is one of the watchers.  She vampirically wishes to know every movement of her daughter, but intends to spread her net wider.  Mrs. Bracey moves from her downstairs room to an upstairs room, simply so she can watch the harbour, and its inhabitants:
Up at her window, and in some discomfort (for her shoulder, her chest ached), Mrs. Bracey sat in judgment.  Guilt she saw, treachery and deceit and self-indulgence.  She did not see, as God might be expected to, their sensations of shame and horror, their compulsion towards one another, for which they dearly paid, nor in what danger they so helplessly stood, now, in middle-age, not in any safe harbour, but thrust out to sea with none of the brave equipment of youth to buoy them up, no romance, no delight.
That final few words brings to mind one of the more curious threads throughout A View of the Harbour.  The narrative, as well as characters, consistently attributes traits to all of youth.  Here's another example:
The young imagine insults, magnify them, with great effort overcome them, or retaliate.  A waste of emotion, Bertram thought, forgetting how much emotion there is to spare. 
This came so often, and so absurdly (of course young people cannot be summed up in these ways, any more than middle-aged or old people can) that I wondered whether it was a flaw in Taylor's writing, and there to serve some point that I missed?  For an author so interested in the peculiarities of individual personalities, it was inexplicable - not to mention the fact that Taylor was herself young (mid-thirties) when this novel was written.

Foremost amongst the oblivious characters is Beth, a novelist, who appears to have no idea that her husband  Robert (aren't husbands always called Robert?) is having a clandestine affair with her best friend Tory.  Taylor writes some perfectly observed scenes of conversation between Beth and Tory - the latter trying to maintain the friendship alongside a betrayal which Beth knows nothing about.  There is only one moment of fieriness - Beth still oblivious - which includes this section (the ellipsis in the middle has about half a page of dialogue in it, by the way):
"You talk as if you were Auntie Beth in one of the women's paper," said Tory scornfully.  "You've no idea of what is real, and how real people think."  She put her hand to her breast, as if she were saying: "I am real."  She was suddenly swept away on a tide of words such as came from Beth only through her pen.  "Writers are ruined people.  As a person, you're done for.  Everywhere you go, all you see and do, you are working up into something unreal, something to go on to paper... you've done it since you were a little girl... I've watched you for years and I've seen you gradually becoming inhuman, outside life, a machine.  When anything important happens you're stunned and thrown out for a while, and then you recover... God, how novelists recover!... and you begin to wonder how you can make use of it, with a little shifting here, and a little adding there, something can be made of it, surely?  Everything comes in handy. [...] One day something will happen to you, as it has to me, that you can't twist into anything at all, it will go on staying straight, and being itself, and you will have to be yourself and put up with it, and I promise you you'll be a bloody old woman before you can make a novel out of that." 
One of the novel's ironies is that Beth, as a writer, should be an expert at reading people - but though she has a complex understanding of the characters she creates, Beth does not look beyond the surface of those around her.  Or, rather, she trusts them implicitly.

When the novel opened with a painter, I thought "Right, the oldest trick in the book - an author explores ideas of creativity through the perspective of a painter, rather than a writer" - but Taylor gives us both.  It is Beth who takes on the Lily Briscoe role, in terms of structuring the book - which closes when she finishes writing her own novel.  It's always tempting, and usually erroneous, to assume that writers in novels are reflections of the novelists themselves.  However different Beth is from Elizabeth Taylor, surely something of Taylor's own thoughts and experiences must have gone into this excerpt?
"This isn't writing," she thought miserably.  "It is just fiddling about with words.  I'm not a great writer.  Whatever I do someone else has always done it before, and better.  In ten years' time no one will remember this book, the libraries will have sold off all their grubby copies of it second-hand and the rest will have fallen to pieces, gone to dust.  And, even if I were one of the great ones, who, in the long run, cares?  People walk about the streets and it is all the same to them if the novels of Henry James were never written.  They could not easily care less.  No one asks us to write.  If we stop, who will implore us to go on?  The only goodness that will ever come out of it is surely this moment now, wondering if 'vague' will do better than 'faint', or 'faint' than 'vague', and what is to follow; putting one word alongside another, like matching silks, a sort of game."
That's very striking - and perhaps illuminating.  Beth's absorption in her writing is certainly one of the most interesting threads in the novel.  But in case you think the whole book is anxious and fraught, here is one of the funnier sections (and there are plenty of moments of humour - mostly connected with the clash of perspectives, especially where children are involved.  Taylor is very good at the nonsensical commonsense of children.):
"It is for you," Stevie said, coming to lean against Robert's knees as he read.  "It is a shaver."  She laid the bunch of soiled gulls' feathers upon Robert's waistcoat.  They were loosely bound with coloured wools.
"Is it indeed?" Robert said, scarcely lowering his paper.
"It is for putting the soap on your face with instead of a shaving-brush."
Then he picked up the feathers and examined them.  When he had thanked her he glanced across at Beth, and they smiled gently at the thought of him dipping these grubby feathers into lather and painting his cheeks with them.  Amusement and affection linked them together for a moment.
"You see how soft it is!" Stevie said, entranced by her own generosity and the loveliness of the gift.
"It is very soft indeed," Robert agreed, flinching away.  ("What the devil do I do in the morning when I shave?" he wondered.)  "Next you should make a hat for your mother," he said, his eyes challenging Beth's.  "A nice feather hat for her to wear when she goes to London."
"Of course not," Stevie said.  "I am too young to make hats."
Beth nodded with triumph and malice at her husband.
You'll notice that most of my quotations come from this family - and there is a reason for that.  I found them, and their story, easily the most absorbing and original.  Although all the characters overlapped to some extent, there are really three separate threads through A View of the Harbour, and I think perhaps it was too many.  I know this is a celebratory year, but I have to admit a few problems I have with Taylor's novels... well, one major problem.  I always find that it takes me a sizeable chunk of her books to get into their flow, as it were (except for Angel - I loved that one from page one.)  She introduces so many characters, quite sketchily, and leaves us to hurry after them, trying to catch up.  That's one thing.  But what I do not understand - what I cannot rationalise, but which happens time and again for me - is why I do not appreciate her writing for the first third of each novel.  After that, I find her an extraordinary stylist, and could read away for weeks - and I definitely come away thinking Taylor incredibly good - but I always struggle to engage with her writing initially.  Does anybody else feel this way?

And is there an identifiable Taylor style?  Her quintessential sentences are almost callous - not the naivety or matter-of-fact darkness seen in Barbara Comyns or Muriel Spark, but the objectivity of the omniscient surveyor.  'Godlike', if you understand me to refer to the indifferent gods of classical mythology, rather than the very un-indifferent Christian God.  She lets her characters act, and watches them.  This struck me as a very Taylorian couple of sentences:
Prudence knew by her father's saying "whatsoever" that he had lost his temper.  When he had gone out Stevie's crying dropped into the minor key.
She describes cause and effect, but leaves a gap between them which could only be filled after intimacy with the characters involved.  Familiarity between characters, especially within family units, leads to a sort of shorthand of reactions, where emotions are seldom spoken, and actions considered but endlessly deferred: these emotions and potential actions are either understood intuitively by the observers of the novel, or.... missed completely by the oblivious.

Over to you!  This should be a sort of discussion, especially for those of you who have read the novel but don't have blogs.  What did you think of A View of the Harbour?  Do you think Taylor was successful in her aims - and what were her aims?  Would you have been able to tell this was an Elizabeth Taylor novel without her name on the cover - and if so, why?

Remember, I'll be posting links to all the reviews I can find (!) tomorrow - so let me know (and add here) if you've given your own view of A View of the Harbour...