Six Months Later...

...and I'm still not sure what I'm doing. I'm not yet able to go back to writing a post on every book I read, but I do hope to get to the point of having enough energy to write the occasional post at least. For now, I'll just use this blog to keep a record for myself of what I'm reading.

In the meantime I wish you all a Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving. :) 

Taking a break from blogging...

Hello, faithful readers. I know you are only a few but you have stuck around through thick and thin for several years now and I appreciate every one of you.

I feel it's time, now, for me to take a break from blogging due to certain life situations that I'm sure would bore you were I to talk about them here. I don't know how long the break will be, but I expect at least for the summer. Right now the stress of knowing I have to write a post on every book is taking all the joy out of reading, the one thing I have always relied on for relaxation and escape. It has become just one more pressure, one more chore. I want to get back to where reading was a help and not a hindrance. 

I will leave the blog up in hopes that things will change in a few weeks or months and I can come back to it. If, after a time, it seems I won't be able to get back to it at all then I guess I'll take it down and that will be the end of my blogging career. In the meantime I'll continue to add titles to my lists as I finish books but I won't be writing posts about them. 

Thank you all so much for spending time here and for your kindness and comments.

Here's to reading just for fun for awhile... 

Ordinary Reader

"The Bishop's Man"

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre

On the first page of this novel I decided I like the way Linden MacIntyre writes. On the second page I decided I like Father Duncan MacAskill, the priest who tells his story with appealing humility and candor. Add to that the maritime location, and by the third page, I was hooked.

Father MacAskill is the priest the bishop calls on when there are uncomfortable confrontations to be made. He cleans up the mess made when a priest allows his baser urges to overpower his ideals. The bishop makes the decisions, but Father MacAskill does the dirty work, letting the guilty party know his activities have been discovered, in some cases accusations have been made, and where he's being banished to in consequence. He becomes known as the "Exorcist", a man most people are not happy to see on their doorsteps.

When his own name is mentioned in relation to a past scandal, the bishop decides to get him "out of the way" and sends him off to a small parish in Cape Breton near where MacAskill grew up. In the solitude of his empty nights, his own troubled family life comes to the forefront once again. Pushed to the brink by his loneliness and unanswered questions, both about his own family and those of his parishioners, he takes solace in drink and the friendship of a local woman.

The growing child molestation scandals in the church and his own apparent ineffectiveness in ministry cause him to question the very foundations of the beliefs he has built his life upon. Through his dark night of the soul he comes to understand that secrets never brought to light will never allow him to live in peace.  

As someone who is getting tired of books and movies that bash the people we most look up to, I was reluctant to read this. Fortunately the author is a good writer, the kind who exercises restraint and does not depend on sensationalism to tell his story. It is disturbing, but not disgusting. There's a subtlety to his storytelling that I very much appreciate and makes me want to find out what else he's written. This one is definitely worth the read.

"Blind Love" and "The Fairacre Festival"

Blind Love by Wilkie Collins and Sir Walter Besant

Wilkie Collins died during the writing of this novel but left instructions on how it was to be finished, the details of which Walter Besant was faithful to follow. The novel is set in the late 1880s and follows the story of Iris Henley, who is disinherited by her father when she marries bad boy Lord Harry Norland. I love the language of that age, but I'm finding many of the the stories I read quite similar in plot line. Unfortunately, I was reading Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady at the same time and I found myself getting the characters mixed up, what with both leading ladies marrying the wrong man and slowly coming to their senses later. It didn't help that one was Isabel and one was Iris but I probably shouldn't have been reading them at the same time anyway. I liked The Woman in White better than this one, but still, it wasn't bad.

The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

This is the seventh in the Fairacre books, which I've been kind of hoarding so I won't get to the end of them. I think I'm done doing that. If I wait too long I end up forgetting the details of the previous book and I hate that.

In this book a dramatic wind storm hits Fairacre village and blows over the top of the church that has been standing there for hundreds of years and which has long been the center of village life. The estimate for repairs is well beyond what is available or can be raised by a thrift sale or concert, so plans are made to hold a week long festival in the summer. They plan entertainments and sales of all kinds and the entire village will take part, as long as the weather and other circumstances go their way.

I love everything about these books: the village, the people, the way they all annoy one another but have each other's backs when it counts. And it's in rural England - how can you not love that? This is comfort reading at it's very best.  

"O Pioneers!"

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

In this, as in several other Cather novels, the desolate mid-western prairie land is the main character. It's a character so formidable that it seems to have a will and power well beyond that of the men and women who try to subdue it. Only time and perseverance can tame it, and even then only the hardiest of pioneers will thrive.

The story is set in Nebraska in the late 1800s. Alexandra Bergson's father is dying and he tells her brothers Oscar and Lou that their sister will inherit the farm he's been establishing since his emigration from Sweden. He has good reason to leave it in her hands - she's smarter, wiser, braver and stronger than either of her brothers. When drought has most of her neighbours selling and moving on, she buys more land and experiments with new farming methods because she believes the land will eventually begin to give back.

The story skips ahead 16 or so years to a point where Oscar and Lou are both married and living on their own farms. The youngest brother, Emil, who was a very young child when the story began, is away attending college, the first of the family to ever have that privilege. When he comes home he falls in love with a married woman and decides to flee the temptation by going to Mexico. A neighbour, Carl, who was Alexandra's best friend, returns after a long absence to renew their relationship.

Lou and Oscar become concerned that Alexandra might marry Carl, thus putting their children's inheritance of her farm in question, so they drive him away. Emil returns from Mexico to find he's still in love with Maria. Her husband, Frank, finds them together in the orchard, shooting and killing them both. Frank is sentenced to 10 years in a penitentiary.

In Cather's series of prairie novels human relationships seldom prosper. Alexandra finds a sort of contentment but it's her relationship with the land that is primary. She is kind and not a hard person, but there's little emotion in her character. Even her best relationships are lived out with a sort of resignation that suggests she expects little if anything from human beings; she is more stirred by the land and what it can offer her.

Willa Cather draws you straight into the heart of the land and compels you to accept it as a living, breathing, entity. When you turn the last page, you feel as if you've been there and experienced all the beauty and desolation, all the joy and the sorrow the land confers upon its settlers. You've breathed it, smelled it, loved it and feared it. It's almost addictive. It certainly keeps me coming back, which I will do until I come to the end of her books.

"The Portrait of a Lady"

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This is only my third Henry James, the two previous ones being Washington Square and The Turn of the Screw. I enjoyed both of those novels but had seen a number of reviews saying this one was long and boring. Well, it is long, and at times it got boring, but I have to admit I loved it.

To begin with, it has a wonderful opening. I collect first lines - a hobby odd even to me - and this one is lovely: "Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." It almost sounds like Jane Austen, but once you get a bit farther along it becomes painfully apparent that Mr. James is not a happily-ever-after kind of guy.

James does go on and on at times, but I like the language he goes on and on in, so I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience. I didn't get much invested in the characters until about half way through. At that point I began to care what happened to them and though I know it's at that point that many throw this book across the room, you couldn't have ripped it from my hands.

If you need action in a book, you'll have to look elsewhere. This is more of a psychological book, one where you spend a lot of time in people's heads. Once or twice I found myself thinking please, please get on with it, but only once or twice. Most of the time I liked knowing what the characters were thinking and following them through their decision-making processes.

The story, as most of you will already know, is about a young American woman called Isabel Archer. She is taken to England by her aunt where she meets a number of men who fall in love with her. One is her consumptive cousin, Ralph, who hides his feelings because he knows he is dying. Another is Lord Warburton, who is more or less perfect. Isabel is bored by perfection so she marries Gilbert Osmond instead, convinced he is brighter, nobler and more beautiful in every way than any man she has met before. We, of course, know she is badly mistaken but no amount of shouting "No, Isabel!" on the reader's part will make her change her mind. She marries him and the outcome is, inevitably, disastrous.

I knew something of this story before I read the book - I had deliberately avoided the movie till I could get the book read - but I didn't know how it ended. It was not happy and neither was I. I don't really need happy endings; I don't find them terribly realistic most of the time, but this was far worse than just un-happy. This one was so realistic it was horrifying. I realize more women than can be counted live like this, but still it chilled me to the bone. There was a choice to be made and it was made based on what were supposed to be Isabel's principles but I don't know if I'd call it a principled decision. I think it was a tragic mistake made on the appearance of principle but ignoring reality. And the most horrifying part is that I think Isabel made the decision fully aware of how awful it was, and would henceforth be. There's a morbid saying that goes "There are things worse than being dead, and one of them is living with the wish that you were." This is the first time the ending of a book has ever left me wondering if that might, in fact, be true.

"The Skin Map" "A Doll's House" "The Path of Celtic Prayer"

 The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

This book is the first of a series, a fact I didn't discover till after I'd started reading. I don't really like series as a rule and I usually check but I was so interested in the plot line that I missed it.

It started off great, with interesting characters and a compelling story, but as I got farther into it I came across weak spots in both the story and the writing. Some coincidences were a bit too much to swallow and there is one character who adapted to extreme circumstances far more easily than would seem realistic. The review I read that caught my attention said it was a science fiction story for those who like a little more science in their fiction. I looked forward to the science and was actually disappointed that there wasn't more of it.

Having said that, it is a decent story, but I don't think I'll read the rest of the series.

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

This is the first time I've ever listened to an audio book. I couldn't quite imagine it but I have to say it was very enjoyable. I found it a good deal faster than reading, and quite mesmerizing; I couldn't stop listening even when I really should have.

The story centers around a woman who lives - what at first appears to be - a frivolous life with her husband and children. She seems fairly lightweight until we discover that she's been working behind the scenes to ensure her husband's success and their prosperity. He has no idea what she's been up to and he treats her like she's his personal toy, a doll, hence the title. As she prepares for a Christmas party, flirts with a family friend, and dodges a bill collector she begins to realize the futility of her life and is faced with making a life-changing decision.

I'm wondering if I found it so intriguing because it's a play. It was a recording of an actual performance, so each character was played by a different individual and had a different voice. If it was a novel read by one voice I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much.

It's worth saying that though I listened to the entire play, I still don't feel as if I've read the book. I know the story and the characters, but I feel more as if I've watched a movie than read a book. When I do watch a movie, I don't let myself cross that title off my reading list, so should I with this? Maybe it's not the same because what I listened to was word for word what is in the book. I'm still not sure how I feel about "reading" this way but I will continue the adventure until I make up my mind.

The Path of Celtic Prayer by Calvin Miller

There's some interesting history in this book and I found several prayers I want to use in my devotions, but I didn't find it to be the inspiration I think it was meant to be. Miller's "The Singer Trilogy" made it onto my favourite books list but this one didn't come close to captivating me the way they did. He was an excellent writer though.

"The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street"

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff

I'd been intending to read this for months but didn't get around to buying a copy, then a friend at book club handed me one with both Duchess and it's predecessor 84, Charing Cross Road in it. 84 is one of my all time favourite books. It's epistolary, which I find romantic and endearing probably because I never receive a letter from one year to the next - why are we letting technology rob us of this simple pleasure?

I love these books because they are beautifully, perfectly written. The author has a light touch with sufficient wit to pull it off, and writes with such clarity and descriptive ability that you are transported to the time and place of writing. 84 is a series of letters between the author and the London bookshop where she orders her reading material; Duchess is a journal of her long-awaited trip to London to meet her correspondents and promote her first book.

I hear the word "delightful" used a lot in book reviews but, being a person whose reading material tends to be a bit more on the serious (others might call it morbid, but what do they know?) side, it didn't really mean much to me until I read 84, Charing Cross Road. That was 90 pages of sheer happiness, which led me to seriously question if any sequel could be as wonderful. I'm happy to say The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is. The writing, the setting and the author's personality all add up to 120 pages of even more happiness. I feel very much as if I'd spent a month in London with Miss Hanff myself. She positively jumps off every page.

I'm told there is one more book in this series; now I have to make the difficult decision of when to read it. Once I do, I'll be done and there will be no more. I haven't felt this indecisive since I finished The Two Towers and sat staring at The Return of the King wondering how long I could hold out. I gave in within the hour and probably won't do any better with this one. Some things are just too wonderful to wait for.

"Lady Audley's Secret"

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This has to be one of the more sensational of the sensation novels, or maybe I just haven't read enough of them yet to get used to the Gasp! Drama! It's full of drama/angst all of which went on much longer than I wanted it to. I didn't realize quite how long the novel was when I started it, but I guess I'd have read it anyway since it's on a lot of  those "must read" lists you find all over the internet. I did consider not finishing it, but by that point in the story I really wanted to see the villain get her comeuppance.

Said villain is Lady Audley, aka Lucy Graham, aka Helen Talboys. As Lucy Graham she marries the rich Lord Michael Audley without bothering to tell him about George Talboys, the husband she already has. George left his wife and child in England to seek his fortune and returns unexpectedly causing a big problem for Lady Audley. He meets up with her, confronts her with her lies and is - cue the creepy music - never heard from again.

George's friend, Robert - also coincidentally an Audley, and even more coincidentally the nephew of the same Lord Michael Audley - decides he won't stop till he learns the truth about what happened to his friend. He starts by talking to George's father and sister and poking around in the area where his missing friend disappeared. He has his suspicions about Lady Audley but he needs proof before confronting her. Motivated considerably in his quest by his attraction to George's sister, he talks to servants and assorted other people until he finally can't hold back anymore and he demands Lady Audley confess to killing her first husband.

The investigating went on and on with various stories and histories being drawn out at great length to inform the reader how the characters and their doings are all connected. I found it a bit tedious, but I won't go so far as to say I didn't like it. I enjoy the old-fashioned writing, if not so much all the drama, and it was a pretty good story. I think more editing would have helped but all in all, it wasn't too bad.    

"The Hobbit"

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

It's been many years since I read this for the first time and what struck me is that I had completely forgotten it was written for children. Tolkien addresses the young reader directly several times, reminding them of something he's told them in an earlier chapter and that sort of thing. He never forgets the child reading the book. There are trolls and massive spiders and other scary creatures but they aren't dwelt upon and they are always quickly defeated. It's very much a child's story in which bad things happen but good wins in the end. The films are a different thing completely.

I love the Peter Jackson Hobbit movies, though even I think it was a stretch making three of them out of one little book. In true movie fashion, the scary parts are scarier, the spiders bigger and uglier and the trolls more disgusting. The battle of the five armies took about 20 minutes to read in the book and three hours to watch on screen. The movies exaggerate everything, (what else would one expect?) bringing in characters that Tolkien didn't put in the story and even adding a romance. It seems every film must have a romance.

Fili and Kili are made more of in the movies than the book, and along with their uncle Thorin are turned into handsome Hollywood swashbucklers, which Tolkien probably never intended. (That's not a complaint - I appreciated Thorin Oakenshield's majestic swagger as much as anyone.) The book overall has a light touch appropriate for children that the movies discarded completely. There is lots of comic relief in the films, but they are weighty stories dealt with in a much more serious tone than that taken by the book. I have read that Tolkien's family dislikes the movies because they stray too far from the intent of the books. I can understand their point of view, but whether it's even true or not, who knows?

All I can say is I love the book for certain reasons and I love the movies for other reasons. I can't choose which I like better because I really don't see them as things that can be compared. They are different stories in many ways, different characters and types of characters, different tones and different target audiences. Both are wonderful and I love them all.

"The Prophet's Camel Bell"

The Prophet's Camel Bell by Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence and her then husband Jack lived in Africa from 1950 to 1952 where Jack was working as a civil engineer. The first two of those years, in Somalia, are the subject of this book.

I haven't read much of Laurence's work, just one novel, The Stone Angel, which I liked very much. This book is as different as fiction can be from memoir and yet much the same tone of writing. She's a serious writer, not lacking a sense of humour, but not indulging it very often either. There's a satisfying solidity to her writing that makes you feel you're reading something of significance. I'll have to try another of her novels to see if that carries through. I'm thinking about The Diviners - any other suggestions?

Laurence does a good job of describing life in the African desert with all it's challenges. And such challenges there were. Drought, dangerous wildlife, tribal conflict, monsoons and the ongoing shortages of what we'd call necessities were all a part of her daily life. She didn't like the way the British and other foreigners treated the Somalis and she tried to walk a fine line between the two very different groups of people, never really fitting into either one but always trying to make the best of a frequently uncomfortable situation.

What I was more impressed with, though, was her insight into human nature and her acceptance of the African people as people and not just Somalis, as some saw them. She seems to have been very open to learning about a culture vastly different than her own and adjusting her behaviour accordingly. She made mistakes and sometimes it took a long time to realize them but she wasn't afraid to admit them and make things right. I loved her honesty in those situations, and I respect the way she tried to fit into Somali culture rather than trying to force them into hers.

I probably wouldn't have picked this up if our book club hadn't decided to read it, but I'm glad now that they did. It was interesting as a memoir and also very good as travel literature. A good travel book will make you feel like you've been there; by that standard, this one is a success.  


"The Mayor of Casterbridge"

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

What can I say about this book? It's quintessentially Hardy, with characters not being what or who they are thought to be and hoped-for meetings just missed because someone has arrived a week, or a day or an hour too late. Hardy is nothing if not predictable, but still, I love his books.

The Mayor is a man called Henchard, who in a state of temporary drunkenness and rage sells his wife, Lucy, and child to a sailor called Newson. The next day in a fit of regret, he is unable to find them and he swears an oath to not touch alcohol for 21 years, the age he was when he did the despicable deed. Eighteen years later, the child has died, Newson has died and Lucy and her daughter Elizabeth have returned to seek out Henchard, who has risen in circumstances and is now mayor of the town. Henchard thinks Elizabeth is his daughter, but she thinks Newson is her father so Henchard, in order to keep her from ever knowing that he had, as he believes, sold his own daughter, agrees with Lucy to pretend they're just getting to know one another now and that they'll marry after the appropriate amount of time has passed. Henchard grows fond of Elizabeth as does Henchard's foreman, a young Scot named Donald Farfrae.

Spoiler alert - I will be talking about the book's ending, not that it's much of a surprise as it was written in 1886. However, if you'd rather not know, it's best not to read any further.

Now things begin to get complicated. Henchard isn't really Elizabeth's father, Newson is. Newson isn't really dead, and he comes looking for his family. Henchard's old girlfriend, who has been waiting all these years for Lucy to die so she could become Mrs. Henchard, ends up through a series of oh-so-Hardian circumstances becoming Mrs. Farfrae - for a time. Farfrae surpasses Henchard in just about every area of life, robbing him (in Henchard's mind) of his woman, his home and even his position as mayor. He doesn't care about Elizabeth anymore once he learns she's not his daughter. Henchard, bitter, mean and disappointed in the human race, leaves the town and all its bad memories behind him.

Things do eventually sort themselves out, everybody finds out who they are and who they love, and Farfrae ends up with Elizabeth. They go looking for Henchard, ready to forgive and love him again, but of course they are, inevitably, too late. Henchard has died, alone and unloved, leaving this one request - that he be forgotten.

Everything about this book and the rest of Hardy's books can be easily found online. They've been reviewed and analyzed countless times, but reading about the book is not the same as reading the book. Yes, his books are sad and, in my opinion, closer to real life than some other authors ever take you, but his writing is what keeps me coming back. I love the way he tells a story. The guy knows disappointment and pain, and he isn't shy about writing what he knows into his stories. His characters are lonely, hurt, angry and real, and I appreciate that they suffer without slobbering all over you. Sure there is some Victorian drama, but generally the sufferers contain it within themselves rather than pouring it out all over the other characters and the reader. I still like the strong, silent type, out of date or not.  

I downloaded The Woodlanders onto my Kobo the other day so that will be my next Hardy, though not my next book. I have Margaret Laurence's The Prophet's Camel Bell to read for book club, and I'm part way through The Hobbit and Lady Audley's Secret, both of which I'm thoroughly enjoying. After that I'm dying to get to The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead, a book that was recommended to me on another book blog, the name of which escapes me at the moment, but whose recommendations have led me to other books I might never have chosen on my own.

"The Clothes They Stood Up In"

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

Readable in an evening or so, this little book is a smart, darkly funny story of an indifferently married couple who are robbed of every single item in their apartment, even the casserole in the oven. How the Ransomes - and you have to love that name - deal with their losses and each other in the following weeks is an insightful, and somewhat sad, study of human nature and marriage in particular.

What I find so fascinating in this story is how ordinary everything is. The people and situations feel so true-to-life that you just know Alan Bennett has looked into our weird little lives and seen all the things - the dumb things, the unsavoury things - we try to hide from the world. Maybe it should be disconcerting, but in fact it's reassuring to read about other people who also live lives that aren't picture perfect. Bennett doesn't shy away from reality, but he does face it with compassion. You get the feeling that no matter how peculiar you are, Mr. Bennett would accept you and like you, and you'd like him.

I enjoyed this story, but my favourite book by Bennett is still The Uncommon Reader. If you haven't read that one, you really are missing out on a very entertaining reading experience. Actually, read anything of Bennett's you can get your hands on. They are always a pleasure and they often leave you pondering the meanings of things you may not have considered before.  

Tea at Four

Tea at Four

Tea at Four, a perfect time
To sit and think on thoughts of mine,
To ponder as the water heats,
To look out at the quiet streets,
Then ease the bag into the brew
And steep it to a flavour true.
Pour the cup that warms the hands,
And breathe the steam of other lands;
I do so love my tea at four,
Just, please, not a.m. anymore.

"The Lady In The Van"

The Lady In The Van by Alan Bennett

The film made from this short story/novella/essay, starring Maggie Smith, was nominated for something on the last Golden Globes broadcast so I figured now would be a good time to read it. It's not fiction; this woman actually lived in her van in the author's driveway for 15 years. I don't quite know what that looked like and wish I could find a picture. I'll have to see the film. If we parked an old, garbage filled, vehicle in our own driveway here for 15 years, the town would have something to say about it and the neighbours would be up in arms. If someone actually lived in it people would be having fits. Maybe a driveway in North America isn't quite the same thing as a driveway in England? Hopefully the movie will give me a clearer picture.

In any event, the story is just wonderful. I've been a great admirer of Alan Bennett's writing since reading "The Uncommon Reader" a couple of years ago. There's a humility, an honesty, about his writing that is very appealing. He has a light touch, yet deals with the less savoury parts of real life without shrinking. We learn a lot about Alan Bennett, the human being, in the this book. Really, how many people would do what he did? How many would put up with it as he did and lean into the situation instead of fighting it tooth and nail? I suspect there are very few indeed.

I don't think anyone could have told this story any better, not just because the situation happened to him, but because of Bennett's truly wonderful ability to bring a story to life. It seems almost serendipitous that this lady settled in that particular driveway at that particular point in time, though that's just my opinion as a reader and it's quite possible Mr. Bennett holds an entirely different view.

"Mirthful Haven"

"Mirthful Haven" by Booth Tarkington

This is my first Tarkington book. I've been looking for a copy of The Magnificent Ambersons, a title I found on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners (1918), but haven't yet located one. I found this at a sale for a couple of dollars and couldn't pass up the chance to try out a new (to me) author.

It's the story of a young girl, Edna Pelter, growing up in a seaside town with a father who is suspected of making a living under less than legal circumstances. The family is considered a nuisance by the town's well-to-do summer cottagers who would like to see them and their rundown habitation gone from their lovely little vacation town. Edna is getting a bad reputation hanging around with the wrong boys so her aunt steps in and takes her off to live with her.

Edna is known by her aunt's name, Shellpool, in her new life, where she becomes acquainted with some of the same people who spend summers in her hometown. As Edna Shellpool she is invited into their social circles, attending their dinners and parties, and being accepted by people who would have nothing to do with her if they knew her real identity.

Then her aunt dies and she moves back home to live with her father. When her new friends arrive for the summer she tries to clandestinely live both lives and stay friends with everyone, but that, of course, gets more and more complicated until it inevitably all blows up.

It's an interesting story, one that draws you in and keeps you interested, with believable characters and well described settings. It's the kind of book you can enjoy reading without feeling driven to get to the end to find out what happens. I didn't mind putting it down when I had to, but I was always glad to pick it up again, too. I'm looking forward to finding The Magnificent Ambersons and to checking out his backlist which I think has over thirty other titles.    

"The House I Loved"

The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay

Ah, this is a great story. Having read Sarah's Key, I expected a good read and saved it for a time when I'd be able to enjoy a leisurely few days getting lost in a solid story, but once I began I couldn't even come up for air. I went through it too fast, and now it's over. I want more so I have to read it again.

The book is set in Paris in the 1860's, a period of colossal upheaval caused by the Emperor Napoleon's renovations to the city. Houses and businesses are being torn down and streets ripped up to make way for broader boulevards and more modern buildings. Neighbourhoods are wiped out and people are forced to relocate without regard for their family livings or histories.

One woman, Madame Rose Bazelet, is determined to stand her ground and not leave the home in which she'd lived her entire married life, and in which her husband and his father before him had been born and died. She is meant to move in with her daughter's family, but after she has all of her belongings shipped  and stored, she stays in the house. Aided by a rather inscrutable friend who provides heat and food, she waits, hidden in a corner of the basement as the demolition crews get closer. She passes the hours reminiscing about her past and writing letters to her deceased husband, Armand, telling him all that has happened in her life and the lives of their neighbours in the ten years he's been gone. Eventually she brings herself to confess the awful secret she's carried for years and never shared with anyone, not even her beloved Armand.

Everything about this book appealed to me: the period, the location, and especially the characters. I've always been interested in Paris, but I had no idea about this part of the city's history. I was simply mesmerized by the grand plans Napoleon not only made, but actually carried out, wiping out generations of history in the name of modernization. All the time I was reading I kept thinking it couldn't be real and wondering what kind of crazy person would do this. Well, apparently Napoleon is that crazy person. I felt heartsick right along with Madame Rose.

Almost from the outset the author makes you aware of how this is going to end, but there is one twist that will take you by surprise - a nice surprise. I loved the beginning, the ending and everything in between. I usually take more time to consider the things I like and don't like about the actual writing, but honestly I got so lost in this story that I didn't even notice. Not noticing the writing is almost always a good thing, so I'll leave it at that and just recommend that you Read. This. Book.  


"Heartbreak Hotel"

Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

I came to this book in a round-about way. I was looking for something with a Christmas theme to read in December and came across one called Twin Beds - Christmas at the Heartbreak Hotel. The review said it was a sequel to this one but,  not sure I wanted to commit to two of them, I did a bit more checking to see if they were worth the time/cash investment. What I discovered is that Deborah Moggach also wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! I haven't read that book but the movie made from it is one of my favourites, mainly because of it's wonderful mix of unique and unforgettable characters. I figured I couldn't go too far wrong with such an author so I took the plunge. I have yet to read the Christmas one, but Heartbreak Hotel was worth it.

It's about a retired actor who inherits an aging B&B and decides to keep it, beginning a new career as inn-keeper in these later years of his life. Between his large family of ex-wives and children, and the guests who come either to escape their real lives or to take advantage of the various courses he offers, there is quite a lengthy list of characters that I managed to keep sorted by writing their names and relationships on an index card.

I loved the setting, a quiet little town in Wales described so becomingly by the author that you'll want to move there immediately you've finished the book. But it's the characters that bring life to this book. They are all so very real with flaws and quirks that make them lovable and irritating and completely believable. The story line is a bit similar to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but only in that both are about run down hotels full of interesting people. The differences are vast and never let you to feel as if you've read this story before.

The language is a bit grittier than I like but it was only now and then, so not too terribly bad. I liked it and am quite looking forward to the Christmas one, which I will try not to read till the end of the year.

"Favourite Poems of England" and "The Ten Offenses"

Favourite Poems of England edited by Jane McMorland Hunter

This is a pretty little book, but I didn't enjoy the poems as much as I'd hoped. I had recognized a number of the author's names so was looking forward to what might be offered, but most of the selections simply didn't appeal to me. There's no explaining my relationship with poetry. The ones I love mean the world to me but there is so much of it that I don't like at all. Who knows why?

I did have one good laugh somewhere in the middle of the book. It had all been fairly serious up till that point, then I came across A Hand In The Bird, by Roald Dahl. I can't reprint it for you here because of copyright law, but do find a copy if you can. It cracked me up.

Some of the poets whose works are included are Thomas Hardy, William Blake, A. E. Houseman, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Percy Byshe Shelley, Christina Rossetti and William Shakespeare. Quite an elite group, isn't it?  I feel rather ashamed of myself that I couldn't find anything to love.

The Ten Offenses by Pat Robertson

This one had some very good points but for me the presentation was a bit preachy. It was also somewhat dated and had a strong American emphasis.The style of writing didn't appeal to me and is not the kind that stays with me when I've finished the book.

The title is a play on the ten commandments, which the author suggests have become so unpopular in today's society that they would be more aptly called the ten offenses now. I didn't enjoy the writing, or the author really, though as I said I do think he made some valid arguments.

"The Sound and The Fury"

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Not easy to read, this was nevertheless a very good story. It's written in "stream of consciousness" style, a literary form I gave up on when I read Ulysses by James Joyce. I actually read only half of Ulysses but that was enough to last me a lifetime, or so I thought.

In Ulysses, it wasn't the style I disliked so much as the meaningless made up words and long, run-on sentences that in the end told the reader nothing. That book felt empty; this one is full - brim full and overflowing -  with life and feeling. You may not like all the feelings coming your way or the path the story is taking but that's beside the point. The great thing about this book is that right away you get pulled into the pages and never have to wonder what the point is.

There are four chapters, each with a different narrator. The first is told by Benjy, a 33 year old severely intellectually challenged man who has no sense of time other than now. He experiences memories and current situations all as happening now so the chapter feels a bit jumbled, but when you read it you do get a strong sense of what he's feeling and you know it will all come clear eventually.

The second chapter is from the point of view of Benjy's brother, Quentin, and is set ten years prior to the first chapter. There is another Quentin mentioned in the first chapter - it had me rather confused at times because sometimes Quentin was "he" and other times "she"- but it refers to the young girl who is the niece of Benjy, Quentin and their brother, Jason. The girl is the illegitimate daughter of the family's only daughter, Caddy, and Caddy's promiscuous behaviour is the reason for the overwhelming angst the elder Quentin experiences in this chapter.

Fast forward ten years again and the third chapter is narrated by Jason, the mean, selfish, self-pitying brother the family now depends on financially. This part of the book is a little easier to read as far as words and sentences go, but it was hard to swallow all the rage and hostility.

The final chapter is written from a third person point of view so it felt more organized and it clarified some of the questions I still had from the previous chapters. By the end of the book, you know clearly what happened to each character and how it affected the rest of the family.

That gives you an idea of the writing style, but not the plot. It's about the Compson family, a name well-established and well-respected in the area, but now the family is in decline. Benjy's condition, Caddie's behaviour, Quentin's tragedy and the father's alcoholism-related, untimely death reduce the mother, Caroline Compson, to a whimpering shadow of a woman, incapable of dealing with, or being of help to, anyone. It would seem that Jason has control now, but there is a servant, Dilsey, who has more sense than the rest of them combined, and she isn't about to give up on them.

It's a powerful, agonizingly realistic story. I felt the effects of its emotional force for days after I put the book away. If I'd known the style of writing, I probably would never have attempted it, but once I started I couldn't let go, or it wouldn't let go of me. If you read it you may want to look online first for a summary or outline so you have some idea where it's going. But, if a bit of  confusion at the beginning doesn't bother you, just dive in because it all becomes quite clear as you go on. It is definitely worth the effort.