"Northanger Abbey"

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I love Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen. I wish she had lived longer and written more novels, but then maybe the few we have wouldn't seem so precious. I keep looking at beautiful leather bound sets that run in the $600 range and saying "someday", but really that's a lot of money. Still, maybe, someday.

I decided to re-read Northanger Abbey when I realized I couldn't remember parts of the story. It isn't my favorite Austen book; I think that will always be Emma, or Pride and Prejudice, or maybe Sense and Sensibility. I don't know. I keep changing my mind. Usually the one I've just read becomes my favorite for awhile.

I like the main character, Catherine Morland, but I don't love her as I do her other main characters. Catherine is sweet and innocent, but a little too susceptible to peer pressure and flights of fancy. She isn't the strong, intelligent woman that Elizabeth Bennet is.

Her romantic interest, Henry Tilney, is likable enough, but there are times when I fear he is laughing at Catherine, or at least taking just a little too much enjoyment in her naive suppositions about others. Still, when I read it I'm always rooting for Catherine and Henry to get together.

Austen always gives me somebody to enjoy hating and this time it's Isabella Thorpe. Actually there are two because Isabella has a brother, John, who is equally obnoxious. They are social climbers who spend all their energies trying to marry fortunes. They connive and scheme and lie until you want to shake them and then shake the people over whose eyes they are pulling the wool.

As much as I love the stories of Jane Austen, it's her writing that brings me back again and again. There's just no one like her. Her skill with sarcasm is a wonder to behold. For example:"Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of ministering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."  Wouldn't it be a hoot to sit and have tea and conversation with her?

Well that's my Austen fix for awhile. On to other things now.

Next up: The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins.

Time for the Friday Hop...

The Friday Blog Hop is hosted by Crazy For Books. This is what she has to say:
In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 300 links every week!! 

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.


1.  Enter your book blog link in the Linky List below
In your link, please state the main genre that you review:  eclectic, contemp. fiction, ya, paranormal, mystery, non-fiction, etc.  Please do not list every genre you review - if you are review a variety, please put eclectic!  The Hop gets jumbled up if the title is too long, so please limit to one genre.  I will be limiting the number of characters in the title to ensure the Hop doesn't look messy!  Thank you!
Example:  Crazy-for-Books (literary fiction)
NOTE:   You no longer have to enter the length of time you've been blogging, but do let us know if this is your first time hopping with us!

2. Post about the Hop on your blog.  Spread the word about the book party!  The more the merrier!  In your blog post, answer the following question (new question each week!).  If you have a question that could be used in a future Hop, leave it in the comments!  Thanks!

This week's question comes from Libraryscatbooks!

How many blogs do you follow?
I have a list of about 40 that I try to check at least 3 or 4 times a week. But then I try to check out the blogs on their blog rolls too, so it can take some time. If I'm not careful I could spend more time reading book blogs than books and that would just be pointless.  I am so grateful to other book bloggers for introducing me to authors I'd never read. I'm  having a blast doing this blog!
Enjoy your weekend!

It's Nice To Be Nice!

As I was browsing through some blogs this afternoon I came across Operation Nice, where everyone is encouraged to talk about the "nice" things that others have done for them or that you might have done for someone else. I thought it was such a great idea that I wanted to promote it here. I think it's great that one person is taking a stand for ordinary everyday niceness in a world filled with indifference and cynicism. No fear of accusations of naivete or of being laughed out of cyberspace, she just decided to make a difference and she is doing just that. I'm putting the badge on my sidebar and I encourage others to do the same. I have lived enough years to know that the tiniest bit of niceness can make a very real difference in your day. So, well done Melissa! Thanks for being a role model to all of us!

"The Handmaid's Tale"

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This book was a surprise of the best kind. I had no real interest in reading it, because I thought Margaret Atwood was a writer who would be over my head. I chose it for the Canadian Book Challenge thinking I could then cross it off both the Canadian list and my guilt list. I am happy to say it was a fascinating story.

Dystopian novels seem all the rage at the moment. I didn't even know what they were till I picked this one up. I looked up "dystopian" and found it defined as "a time in the future when everything is as bad as possible". Based on that definition, I have just read my first dystopian novel!

It's a brilliant and complex story that illustrates how our freedoms are lost when we begin to deny personal equality and allow the state to decide what we will do and who we will be. It is a warning that we must exercise our personal freedoms and never start down that slippery slope of trading those freedoms for security. I got angry at our stupidity as a society, and then more than angry at the carelessness with which men treated women. I hope everyone who reads it gets angry too. This is a cautionary tale we would do well to heed.

Offred, the main character, is a Handmaid. She was once a wife and mother but when the family tried to escape an increasingly oppressive society  her husband was shot and her daughter taken by the government. She has no choice now. Her status has been decided for her.

Handmaids wears red, Wives wear blue, Marthas (housekeepers) wear green. These positions are chosen for each woman by the government and wearing the required colors identifies your position to the rest of the world. The Handmaids job is to bear children for her Commander and his wife. Once her childbearing days are over she is sent to the colonies where all useless members of society go. They don't live very long there.

The author has an incredible imagination; she has created a society, beyond any I have ever read or thought, in this book. Details of the character's lives and the deterioration of their free society unfold as the story goes back and forth between Offred's old life and her life now as a Handmaid.

At the risk of sounding slightly over-the-top, I was stunned and almost mesmerized by this story. I have to read more of Atwood's books now. Due to some explicit sexuality I'd only recommend this one to adults, but I hope you find it as irresistible as I did. (I really wanted to say "gripping" there instead of "irresistible" but I just found it on a list of "words you must never use in a book review".) Wait. If I give in to that is it the first nudge down the slippery slope?  I'm going to wave my freedom-of-speech banner and say: It was GRIPPING!

This is my third book for the Canadian Book Challenge.

An Award!

Awarded by What Red Read
 It's always fun to get an award and I have to thank Red of What Red Read for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thanks Red for taking the time to look through my blog and for considering it worthy. Your kindness is appreciated!

One condition of the award is sharing 7 things about myself:
1. I used to be a soloist.
2. I had cancer last year. It was removed and so far so good.
3. I sell some stock photography online.
4. I think Sean Bean is gorgeous.
5. I love mangoes. 
6. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia  about 20 years ago.    
7. My favorite color is white. Really.

 Another condition is passing it on to 15 other bloggers of merit. 
Here are the 15 I've chosen:
1.The Perpetual Page Turner
2.Words, Words, Words.
3.The Book Whisperer
4.The Book Mine Set
5.Page After Page
6.Fingers And Prose
7.Bookworm With A View
8.A Few Of My Favorite Books
9.Classic Literature Reviews
10.One Literature Nut
11.The Book Buff
12.Words About Words
13.A Novel Source
14.Deliciously Clean Reads
15.Or So I Read

All you have to do is grab the award graphic, do a post on your blog about the award and who gave it to you, tell 7 things about yourself, and pass the award on to 15 blogs you feel have earned it. Don't forget to contact them to let them know!

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

Jonathan Livingston Seagull  by  Richard Bach

I remember hearing about this book all through the Seventies. I think there might have been a movie, but I know it was referred to constantly in magazine articles, on tv shows, in the newspapers. It was of those things that I knew I should probably read but, geez it was about seagulls. I live on the east coast and seagulls are part of my daily life so it didn't seem very interesting to me.

So here we are 40 years later and I just happened to find a cheap copy somewhere and figured I might as well check it out. It wasn't what I expected at all. For one thing it's more novella than novel. 127 pages and a lot of those are photos of seagulls which may be great in their originals but the reproductions in the book I have are horribly grainy and boring, like newspaper pictures.

The characters are talking seagulls who seem to have some internal measuring mechanism that can tell them at what speed they're flying. The plot is a confusing mixture of inspirational "you-can-do-whatever-you-put-your-mind-to" stuff, a little bit of sci-fi that doesn't seem to fit at all, and some misguided spiritual imagery and platitudes. It's an allegory that never quite gets there; it might not even know where "there" is.

On the cover of my copy it says "The Glorious #1 Bestseller". I seem to have missed the glorious part. It reminds me a bit of The Alchemist which I also didn't like. I know if I took the time to read it more deeply I might get more out of it, but it's been a crappy week, and I've been sick so I'm not really hearing the "life is beautiful" message right now. I'll put it back on my shelf and maybe get into it a little deeper some other time. For now, this one isn't for me and I can't really recommend it at all.

The Friday Hop

The Friday Blog Hop is hosted weekly by Jennifer at Crazy For Books.  It's a chance for book bloggers to find each other on the net and share reading tastes and reviews.

Each week she gives us a question to answer in our blog hop post. This week it's: How many books are on your to-be-read shelf? My answer: 74 actual books that I own but haven't read. But I have a list. Boy do I have a list. As of 3:34 this afternoon, there are 371 titles on it. It grows every Friday when I start checking out the blogs on the hop, so I have no doubt it will be bigger than 371 by tonight.

If you're here from the hop, please leave a comment so I can return your visit. Have a great weekend everyone.

"The Blue Castle"

The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I didn't read Lucy Maud Montgomery until I was an adult. I'm not sure how that happened, but once I discovered her I devoured everything I could get my hands on. I loved the Anne books (I'm trying to find a good time to re-read the series) and everything she wrote after that, but again, somehow I missed "The Blue Castle".

It is so much fun to read L.M.M. She has her characters step just over the line of socially acceptable behavior, never far enough to do any real damage, but enough to leave the people around her slightly shocked and horrified. For example:

" 'Don't worry, Mother,' said Valancy, lightly but quite respectfully. 'It isn't likely I'll do anything very terrible. But I mean to have a little fun.'  'Fun!' Mrs. Frederick uttered the word as if Valancy had said she was going to have a little tuberculosis." 

She paints a wonderful backdrop of prim and proper and then throws something a little uncouth up against it and the contrast is always funny. Watching superior people get their comeuppance never gets old. Probably not a great statement about  my own character, but moving right along...

In typical Lucy Maud style the heroine's name is Valency. There cannot be a more romantic name in the English language. I'm not usually a fan of romances, but I could read a lot of them when they're written in the wonderful language of the author's day. I wish we hadn't allowed our language to become lazy and mumbly. I think I'd rather read a bad story written in good English than a good one written in bad English. I guess that's why I love old books; authors seemed able to arrange their words in a more pleasing fashion and to say more with fewer words a hundred years ago. 

The characters, writing and appreciation for nature are all typical Lucy Maud. I can't say I liked it as well as the Anne books, but it doesn't matter. It's fun to read and I recommend it to everybody.
 This is my second book in the Canadian Book Challenge.

"Nella Last's War"

Nella Last's War edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming

I don't know why I love memoirs so much. It doesn't seem quite right that I should get so much enjoyment out of reading other people's diaries. I don't think I'll pursue that line of thought any further though because, well, just because. This is a diary and I loved it. And it turns out, she had a talent for writing, one more reason why you'll enjoy reading it.

It is the diary of an ordinary housewife, Nella Last, in a small town in England, and it covers the time period between September 1939 and August 1945. Nella was 49 when the war started. She had a husband and two sons, one of whom had already left home to embark on a career. The younger son joined the armed services and was in uniform for the duration of the war. Nella's diary is full of stories about her family, her marriage, her volunteer work and the difficulties of day to day life with blackout curtains, rationing and enemy bombers flying overhead.

There are numerous movies out there that tell us what war is like from the viewpoint of the soldiers fighting it; this book shows us what it's like for regular people trying to carry on a life while war rages around them. Gas for recreational use was cut off and they couldn't go anywhere except by bus. Rationing became severe in the last years of the war, so they tried to grow things like onions and tomatoes that they couldn't get at a grocery store. Nella tore up the lawn to keep hens so they would have eggs.

For months at a time air raid sirens would sound in the night and bombers would drop their deadly loads on Nella's town, sometimes on her street. At times they slept in their clothes so they could get to their shelter quickly if need be and sometimes they even went to bed in the shelter. I often wonder how they could keep going with life the way it was, but I guess it's what we all do. We say we can't take anymore, then we put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

Her soldier son, Cliff, was on her mind all the time. She didn't always know where he was and long periods of time would go by in which she wouldn't hear from him. She wrote regularly but had no way of knowing if he was receiving her letters.

Nella was a creative woman and managed to get everyone fed and looked after with very little money or access to fresh food. It was both interesting and inspiring to learn some of the economies she practiced and how she made do with what she had.  She used those skills in several volunteer services helping to raise money for prisoners-of-war boxes and providing food and endless cups of tea for tired, lonely soldiers .

In some ways Nella found herself during those awful years. She became more independent, less afraid of speaking her mind. She knew she was changing and was glad of it, even when her husband and sons were not.  This was the second war for her; her children were babies during the first war. I hadn't thought of it before, but there were only 21 years between the end of the first world war and the start of the second. Middle aged people around the world were enduring their second round of hell. Nella has a lot to teach us about perseverance. I admire her and her work ethic, her sense of humor and her loyalty to her family. She was always a strong woman, but it took the war to help her realize it. I've seen another book called Nella Last's Peace, which takes place in the years immediately following WWll. I hope I'll be able to find it; I'd love to read about how they gathered up the pieces of their lives and tried to make something normal from them again.

The story isn't all hardship and grief. There are funny things such as happen in every normal day to day life. People change and grow and times marches on even during war years. Laughter is engaged in where ever it can be found and it's value is understood.

I was continually struck by the way ordinary things seeped into war and how war seeped into ordinary things. Like in the following passage:  "Another disturbed night. The guns and bombs were so bad on Merseyside that our windows and doors rattled! I called in at the grocer's to see if any marmalade had come in. I prefer it to jam..."   Bombs and marmalade had become equally commonplace and required no pause or change in direction for the conversation.

I recommend Nella Last's War to everyone. It's an eyeopener, a fascinating historical account and overall a great read.

Ummm.....is this normal?

Wow. I signed up with Goodreads a couple of days ago, added some books to my shelves and yesterday started posting some of my reviews. Someone else had a review up about The Picture Of Dorian Gray that I commented on with the following:

"I agree with you about this book. To me it's pointless and not worthwhile reading. But...please don't judge all classics by that one! There are so many wonderful old books and it would be a shame to miss them all because of one senseless one. Try "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "My Antonia" or "Tess Of The D'Ubervilles". "Pride and Prejudice", "Little Women" and "Anne of Green Gables" are also classics that I love.They are all much better stories than Dorian Gray and are well written. And trust me, you don't have to be smart to read them! Hope you find something you like."

I got this response today from someone called Genesis:

"You people make me sick. You are obviously quite shallow and have a such a freakish lack of appreciation for literature and truth and beauty of the mind, that I find it hard to call you people at all."

Well. I guess I'm so used to our little blogging community and people being thoughtful and, well...nice that it caught me off guard. Is this normal for Goodreads or was I just lucky enough to generate some serious hostility on my first day? I'm fine with being disagreed with, but how do you have a conversation with a start like that?

Blog Hop

The Friday Blog Hop is hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books. Each week she asks participants to answer a question in their blog post. This week she asks "Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?"

My answer: most of the time I don't listen to music because at our house the tv is on all evening and when everyone has gone to bed and I get a chance to read I love the quiet. The odd time I do put music on it is quiet classical music. I get very involved with music that has words and find myself thinking about those instead of the book, so quiet instrumental is about the only music I can read to. Even that can be distracting because the emotion in the music never coincides with the emotion in the reading. I have one CD called "Classical Music For Reading" that I'd have to say is my favorite. If I'm going to listen to anything while reading, it would probably be that.

If you're visiting from the hop please leave a comment so I can return your visit. If you've never heard of the hop, check out Crazy For Books at the link above and you'll find an amazing list of book blogs full of reviews on books of all kinds.

Have a great weekend!

"The Book Of Negroes"

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
(Published as Someone Knows My Name in the US, Australia and New Zealand)

I read this one for our Book Club's August meeting, but it's also my first book for the Canadian Book Challenge. I thought it would be great for both because it should lend itself to good conversation, and it showed me a part of Canadian history that I was completely unfamiliar with. Not a part I'm proud of, but a part every Canadian needs to know.

We had our Book Club meeting tonight but it was a small group, which is normal for summer now that I think of it. We probably should have scheduled this book for a different time of year. We had a good discussion, but it's always better with more people and more viewpoints to consider; it would be hard to read this story and not develop strong feelings about it. It has received much high praise and I'm aware that anything I say will seem insignificant in comparison, but I'm going to try anyway.

It really isn't just a book; it's an experience. It's been a while since I read anything this remarkable. The main character, Aminata, is so vibrant, so real, that I have a hard time remembering it's fiction. It seems more like a memoir, and possibly the best memoir I've ever read. Hill has his hand on this woman's pulse... no, he puts your hand on this woman's pulse all the way through the book. You can practically hear her breathing.

The writing is good to the point where you aren't even aware you're reading it. It's just happening to you. It takes you away, to Africa, South Carolina, New York, Nova Scotia, Africa again and then London. It's deep and rich and full of life. I know this word is quickly becoming overused but I have to say it; it truly is magnificent.

It is brutally honest, and yet not brutal; it is sexually plain-spoken, without being voyeuristic; it is chastening, but not preachy; and it is beautiful and heart-breaking and inspiring without being lofty, or maudlin or cliched. Lawrence Hill knows what he's doing.
The Book Of Negroes is an actual historical military document. It was the ledger in which Black Loyalists registered before being transported by ship from New York to Nova Scotia, with the promise of freedom and land once they arrived. To get on the list, each one had to prove he/she had supported the British during the American Revolutionary War. This book follows the story of one slave, Aminata Diallo, from the time she was savagely removed from her African home and parents at the age of eleven, to her voyage to Nova Scotia and beyond. If you're thinking you've read similar stories before, please don't let that stop you from picking this one up. It's on a whole other level.

It's hard to explain how a book about the slave trade, and about the horrors and cruelty the slaves were subjected to could be so beautiful. It is gut-wrenching at times, but this wonderful strong woman, Aminata, somehow finds a way to fight through despair and keep on living, even through unimaginable indignities, loss and pain that left me feeling both outraged and responsible.

Aminata's husband was the slave of another plantation owner, which meant they saw each other only a few times over the course of her life. He risked his life every time he set out to find her, but he followed her movements as well as he could through the "fishnet", a loose network of slaves who passed information back and forth. She loved him and remained faithful to him to the end of her life, though most of the time she didn't know if he was dead or alive.  I especially loved the parts of the story where he somehow found her and they were able to be husband and wife for a couple of days. Their pure joy at being together was beautiful.

There is heart-rending misery in Aminata's story, living side by side with a contagious joy. She found meaning and purpose in helping other women deliver their babies, taking care of the sick, sharing her shelter and small stores of supplies with anyone who needed them and teaching others to read and write. She is inspiring and flawed. She is real.

I think this character is going to be remembered and celebrated for a long, long time. The book's timeless message will be just as profound 50 years from now. Everything about "The Book Of Negroes" convinces me it will become a classic.

I was very fortunate to receive the Hard Cover Illustrated Edition for Christmas and I have to say - it is stunning. There are maps, paintings, photographs and copies of many of the historical documents discussed in the book, all of which added depth and reality to the story.

I can't recommend this one highly enough. At some point, someone in your world is going to  refer to it, so if you need an excuse for buying another new book, tell yourself you'll need to be able to talk about it. If I was a wealthy person I would buy a copy for every member of my family and friends. Instead, I'll just start loaning out the copy I have. I could buy a paperback to pass around, but I don't want anyone to miss out on the added dimension of the photos and illustrations.

This book is special in so many ways, one of which is that when you finish the last page and close the cover, you feel like you want to be a better person. You want to try harder to make other lives easier. You want to be as strong, as noble as Aminata. She is a heroine for the ages.

Do yourself a great favor and read it. I'm sure you'll be glad you did; stories like this just don't come along that often.

Library Thing/Good Reads

I am enjoying reading "Nella Last's War". It's the diary of a housewife in England during the Second World War. It's fascinating because it's this woman's actual life, not fiction. I don't think I've seen it mentioned on other blogs and I'm wondering why it isn't more widely read. That, however, is for another post, not this one.

I've noticed lately that many of the blogs I'm reading have Library Thing and Good Reads buttons on their sidebars. I don't know much about either one so I'm hoping some of you will be willing to fill me in. If you have a few minutes to spare I'd like to hear what you think. Do you find them useful? What are the benefits? Would you recommend one over the other? Is there any point in joining both?

I appreciate your input!

"The House At Riverton"

The House At Riverton by Kate Morton

I read this book last week and stupidly put off posting about it. Now I'm reading "The Book Of Negroes" and it has so completely taken over my thinking that I couldn't even remember what I had read previously without looking it up. From now on I'm going to write as soon as I'm done reading because I hate this trying to remember and knowing I'm not doing justice to the book. Never again. Ever. I hope.

Ok. The House At Riverton. This was a good read, but then I am a sucker for books about houses. And look at that cover! A family homestead is a character to me every bit as real as the people who live in it. Any title with the word "House" in it can usually make me buy it. "House" and "Island". I can't get past either one. A house on an island would be my idea of perfection.

This is the story of Grace, a young girl who goes into service with the Hartford family at Riverton, the same family her mother had served before her. It is told from the viewpoint of the now elderly Grace who is living in a nursing home. She has been approached by a film company who wants to tell the story of one particular summer at Riverton, the summer a young man died at a party there. Memories of those years come rushing back and Grace begins her story, alternating between the younger Grace in the past and the older Grace in the present. 

There is a good plot line in this story, with mystery and suspense that will keep you turning pages, though I have to say it was rather a weak mystery. I am not one who needs a strong plot in books because I'm quite content with good writing and interesting characters, so the mystery was a sort of bonus for me. If I'm going to be completely honest, I'm not sure I wouldn't have liked the book better without it. I've never been a fan of mysteries, but I often like the setting in which they take place and that will get me reading them. Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters are both authors I enjoy, but it is the people, the places and the era, not the mystery, that appeals to me. I love words and for me they trump the story every time. I do like a good story, it just isn't as important to me as the words. Is that odd or are there others of you that feel the same way?

There is some good writing to be found here. For example:

"He was handsome. But who amongst the young is not? With him it was something more, the beauty of stillness. Alone in the room, his dark eyes grave beneath a line of dark brows, he gave the impression of sorrow past, deeply felt and poorly mended."   How very well said.

Spoiler Alert:   The House At Riverton doesn't have a happy-ever-after-for-everybody ending. Fortunately, that's another thing I don't require. Unfortunate things happen in life, and they happen in this book, making it all much more realistic than some. There is certainly a place for books with happy endings, but I don't need one in every book I read. End Spoiler

I liked this book for it's title, the era it is set in (beginning in 1914), the house itself, the writing and the understanding I gained about life "below stairs" on a great estate. I was less taken with the characters and the storyline. I will certainly recommend it though if you're just looking for something to lose yourself in for a couple of days.

I'm going to try another Kate Morton book soon. I have "The Forgotten Garden" on my shelf now so it'll be interesting to see if I like it any better than this one. Not that I didn't like it. I did. Just not as much as I'd hoped to.