Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Reading

August was a slow reading month for me.  There were several birthdays, including mine and Jack's.  None required much effort on my part, but they were interruptions in the usual routine.  I've had a few things on my mind to distract me from reading.  I gave myself a vacation from worry until after Labor Day, but they obviously don't know when Labor Day is.

Scent of Evil  -  Archer Mayor  -  I like the Joe Gunther series Mayor writes.  It takes place in Vermont, a place I know a bit about, having lived in New England for more than thirty-five years.  There's always enough action to keep things moving and enough detecting to keep me interested.  I also enjoy Joe and his girlfriend.  This book was about a local man found murdered, strapped to a chair, killed in an unusual way.  One of Gunther's officers is implicated  -  and later found dead.  Suicide or murder?  And was he the killer?

The Patience of the Spider  -  Andrea Camilleri  -  From Vermont, I went to Sicily to spend some time drooling over Inspector Montalbano's meals.  And watching him solve a kidnapping.  A lovely young girl is kidnapped, but it doesn't seem like an ordinary kidnapping.  Something's off.  When Montalbano discovers what really happened, he considers that justice has been done and that nothing more is required of him.

The Art of Travel  -  Alain de Botton  -  This book was reviewed by Belle at Belle, Book, and Candle and caught my interest.  Belle often recommends books I like.  If you were anywhere in my vicinity recently, I bored you to tears relating all my favorite parts.  I couldn't stop talking about it.  I gave my copy of the book to one of my nephews-in-law this past weekend.  The author relates his own experiences while travelling, his expectations and his disappointments with the reality of travel, and takes us into the past with literary travellers and artists.  There are Edward Hopper's paintings of motel rooms, trains and train stations, and highways, Van Gogh's colorful interpretation of Provence, John Ruskin's firm belief that everyone should draw, not to become artists but to become more observant.  None of that 'been there, got the T-shirt' stuff for Ruskin.  It's a wonderful small book that excited me.

Memoirs of a Book Snake  -  David Meyer  -   This is another small book, a birthday present from my sister.  I've never heard of the author, but he shares our love of books, especially old books.  He's been a book scout and has worked in bookstores.  He keeps a lot of the books he finds, and he bemoans, as many of us do, the decrease in interesting, nicely bound older books.  He likes oddball books, as I used to.  I still have a very slim volume on Odin, old travel book, but I rue getting rid of one called Fighting the Devil's Triple Demons, which I recall was about rum and white slavery, but I forget what the third demon was.

Miss Mapp  -  E. F. Benson  -  I normally adore Lucia and Mapp books, but I found myself slogging through this one.  Maybe because I read it on my Kindle, or because I've had all those things on my mind.  If the stories weren't exciting enough, my mind would drift off to those worrisome things.  I'd love to strangle Miss Mapp.  Haven't we all known people like her?  Delighting in making her enemies look foolish while exaggerating her importance, delighting even in having enemies.  There are numerous tempests in teacups:  she steals an idea from Diva for decorating old dresses, then they both have their dresses dyed the same color, with disastrous social results.  There's the scandal about what Major Flint and Captain Puffin do together late at night (get your mind out of the gutter!).  Mapp hilariously disgraces herself in front of royalty and 'friends'.  She would be mortified to know how many people laugh at her rather than admire her.

A Cruise to Die For  -  Charlotte & Aaron Elkins  -  This is a mystery I got at a deep discount for my Kindle.  I'm a sucker for those, but I've scaled back to only authors I've heard of.  I read an Alix London book before and enjoyed it, so I plunked down my $1.99 or $2.99 and read on.  In this one, Alix, whose father is a convicted art forger, recently out of prison, is asked to go on a cruise with a multi-millionaire and a group of rich people who have invested in fractional ownership shares of masterpiece art works.  They're not in it for the love of art, only as investments.  Alix has a talent for telling if a painting is real or not.  She sniffs out a Manet immediately  -  and gets conked on the head when she can't keep her mouth shut.  There's a fake Manet and a fake Monet  -  and a real Manet and real Monet.  I was surprised when I found out who stole the real ones, and Alix was, too.

The King's Grave  -  Philippa Langley & Michael Jones  -  We all heard the news a year or two ago about finding the bones of King Richard III in a car park in Leicester.  Archeology has always interested me, I even thought about studying to becoming one at one point in the 1960s.  That or a parapsychologist.  But I didn't end up as either.  There have been several books about the find, this one written by the woman who instigated the dig, her intuition telling her that Richard was there.  The King's Grave was reviewed at I Prefer Reading, which is where I first read about it.  It's written by the authors in alternating chapters:  one about the dig itself and the science involved, and then one about the history of Richard III and that time period.  I will be the first to admit that British royalty gives me a severe headache.  Richard, Duke of this or that later becomes King Richard III, Edwin Prince of something then becomes king of this or that.  And everyone is named Richard, Edward, Edmund, or Henry.  Everyone.  I have so much trouble keeping all straight.  But I enjoyed the book and, despite myself, I learned a bit about the history of the time and the people involved.  It helped  that I'd watched The White Queen on TV last year and that I just finished a free online course at FutureLearn about England in the Time of Richard III.

That's all for this month.  I know I won't finish any of the books I'm currently reading before the end of the day, so I think I'm safe posting this now.

For those of you in the US, Happy Labor Day!  For those not in the US, I hope you're having a relaxing or exciting weekend doing whatever makes you happy.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Jamaica Inn

Earlier this summer, my friend Katrina, at Pining for the West (, and I were having a chat about Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, which we'd both just read.  We've edited our chat a bit, leaving out the parts about what we were each making for dinner that evening, Katrina's new summerhouse, the demolition happening around my house, the weather, gardening (which she does and I don't anymore), and a raft of other things.  We humbly submit our erudite discussion:

Joan Kyler:  
I thought the moors and the weather on the moors were major characters.

Katrina Stephen:  
Yes I know that du Maurier was a big fan of the Brontes and I suppose this is her version of Wuthering Heights, Bodmin Moor being used as a substitute for the Yorkshire Moors.

I didn't know that. I thought the characters and the outcome were predictable. I knew who the good guys and who the bad guys were from the start. And who Mary'd fall for and what she'd do about it. Not much suspense there. But it was a fun read.  I read it back in the 1960s and have my index card from then. I said I didn't think it was one of her best books.

I would agree with that although I did enjoy it, it is predictable. I first read it around 1970 I think and again in the mid 80s probably, sadly I didn't take any notes but thinking back I thought it was darker and scarier than it actually is.  There was more sexual threat in it than I remembered, but maybe I just didn't pick up on that as a 12 year old.  Uncle Joss saying - I could have had you anytime if I wanted you a few times in the book.

I don't remember if any of that got past me or not. I was into reading modern Gothics then, they're usually fairly sexually charged.  I just checked my file. Although they don't have dates either, I have cards on Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek that, from the handwriting, look like I read them about the same time. I know I've read My Cousin Rachel, but I don't have a card on it.  Mary annoyed me for seeing things so black and white, but she was young, so maybe she could be excused.

On the other hand she is a stronger female character than her aunt who is I suppose worn down by years of domestic abuse.  Also compared with the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca Mary seems like a really strong young woman.

That's true. I don't think Mary understood how hard it sometimes is to leave that sort of relationship, as we often wonder why women stay in them. She does seem strong and independent. I understand why she found Jem so attractive.  I wasn't sure she'd leave with him at the end, but I wasn't surprised when she did.

Yes but maybe it would have been more sensible for her not to go with Jem. It's that dark and dangerous male - I read years ago that it was books like this and Wuthering Heights which were bad for young women, making them think that men who were going to turn out to be bad for them were exciting and so worth the risk. I think it was a 1970s burn your bras feminist who came up with that one.

But I can understand. I wonder what happened to them in the next ten years. He didn't seem to be the type who would stay and she seemed like she might decide to go back to that farm by herself. In the meantime, they probably had some fun.

Yes I don't see it lasting that long but in those days she would probably have had a few kids in tow by the time it all fell apart, she would have been forced to put the kids first.

I think I'd like to read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel sometime before the end of the year. I've seen the movie Rebecca so often, I think I get it confused with reading the book!

Rebecca is one of my comfort books so I'll definitely join you in that. Obviously that's her version of Jane Eyre, I love both of the books.  As you say though it's du Maurier's writing of the place which is such a large part of the book and after reading this one I always wanted to go to Cornwall and loved books with a Cornish setting.  It's quite unusual for an English writer to have the setting basically as important as any of the actual characters.  It's a Scottish/Celtic trait in writing I think.

Is it? I have to get on board with more Scottish books. I loved the wildness of the weather and the moors. I don't think we made it quite that far when we were travelling in England. I looked at a map to see if I recognized any towns. We were in Swindon (sp?) and Cheltenham, but don't think they're considered Cornwall, especially Cheltenham.  I was such a little Anglofile in the 1960s, all that British invasion stuff, but I used to go out in storms and thought I was very oddly British doing it!

You probably were, we often have no option and have to go out in hellish weather otherwise we would be housebound, in the winter anyway.  You would have to have travelled quite a bit further south west to get to Cornwall. Strangely Cornwall feels and looks very much like parts of Scotland, even the old buildings look similar, I suppose it's the stone but also the design of the houses.  It must be a Celtic thing, the Cornish don't regard themselves as English.

That's interesting. England's such a small country to have divides like that.

I think it is because when the Romans invaded the Celts were pushed out to the fringes of the island. The Romans didn't like Celts, I think they were afraid of them.

How about Rebecca what's your opinion of Max de Winter - from memory . Do you see him as 'that murderer' or 'sex on legs' or what?

You know, I don't really remember. I don't think I liked him very much, but I don't remember much more than that.

Well that'll be interesting then, I've always been on the 'sex on legs' side but it is a while since I re-read it, you never know, I might have changed my mind in my old age.

I don't think I've read it since the 60s, at least I don't have a card on it. I started to get fairly compulsive about recording my reading after the late 1970s.

I so wish that I had thought of taking notes on all the books which I've read over they years. Shall we plan to do a Rebecca readalong sometime before the end of the year then?

Friday, August 1, 2014

July Reading

It's August and time for my July reading recap of the ten books I finished this past month.

My big coup was finishing, at last, finally, after months of reading, and switching from my Kindle to a nice floppy paperback, where I could move my bookmark farther and farther instead of watching my Kindle's percentage marker move glacially forward.

The Count of Monte Cristo  -  Alexandre Dumas  -  I loved this book, but it was SO long.  There was excitement and intrigue on every page, but there were also a lot of characters.  Those characters often changed names throughout the book, so I found it difficult to remember who was who at times.  Because it was so long, I often left it for a few weeks while I went off to read shorter, more quickly read books.  Edmund Dante is unfairly imprisoned without a trial by because he's envied by some of this 'friends' and because the magistrate he's taken in front of discovers that Edmund innocently knows something that could sink his political / legal career.  But Edmund has revenge in the end.

Rounding the Mark  -  Andrea Camilleri  -  I was slow to become addicted to this series of Inspector Montalbano books, but now I'm hooked.  I've read all but the last four and I'm trying to decide if I should pace myself or have an orgy.  It's summer, so it feels like orgy time!  Montalbano goes for a swim in the ocean and a body floats into him.  There's a mystery about how long the body's been in the water and who the disfigured body once was.  No fear, Montalbano gets to the bottom of it.  As he eats his way through many delicious meals.  Even though, as a vegan, I would not eat a lot of the dishes he does, his enjoyment is infectious.

Love, Life and Elephants  -  Dame Daphne Sheldrick  -  Now it's off to Africa.  Dame Daphne Sheldrick was born in Kenya in 1934 and lives there still.  She lived through the uprisings and turmoil of Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, when her grandparents were beaten almost to death by militants.  She and her husband and daughter lived in a remote location, where Daphne learned to nurse orphaned animals.  It was heart-breaking trial and error for the most part.  She especially loved elephants, but there was no suitable formula for the elephant babies at that time and she lost most of them.  She finally hit on one that worked and the rest, as they say, is history.  This is a love story, too.  Daphne fell in love with a friend of her husband's and he with her.  When both are divorced, they marry and have a daughter.  Dame Sheldrick, a long time widow, is still very much in love with her late husband.  Here's a link, if you are interested in learning more about the work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (  Elephants and other wild animals, African or not, need our help.

Being George Devine's Daughter  -  Harriet Devine  -  This one was interesting not only for the behind the scenes stories about actor, teacher, and director George Devine, and stories of the stage and screen in England during the swinging 60s and earlier, but because it was written by a fellow blogger, Harriet Devine (  Reading Harriet's blog, I never imagined she'd had such an interesting and adventurous life!  You never know!  Her parents had an unusual relationship, apparently not so unusual if you were in the theatre, but difficult, especially for her mother.  Her mother, Sophie Harris, and aunt were well-known as set and costume designers.

Glass on the Stairs  -  Margaret Scherf  -  I had a bit of trouble staying interested in this one.  It's a comedic mystery, of which I'm not a fan.  It takes place in New York in the 1940s or 1950s, I'd say.  A woman walks into a gun shop / antiques store and, while the proprietor is out of the room, shoots herself.  Or did she?  Interior decorators (how's that for odd detectives), the Bryces, a husband and wife team much like George Burns and Gracie Allen, if you're old enough to remember them, solve the mystery.

Gone Away  -  Hazel Holt  -  I'd say this is an English cozy.  Widow Mrs. Sheila Malory's good friend Charles is planning to marry the beautiful but cold Lee Montgomery, estate agent.  Charles works in the US, so when Lee disappears, he asks Mrs. Malory to find her.  She's dead, murdered at a remote farm she was selling.  Lee is not who she's represented herself to be.  She has quite a history and that history has come back to haunt her.  This is a series and I've read one other in it.

Mr. Popper's Penguins  -  Richard and Florence Atwater  -  Now for a change of pace.  More and more, I find myself wanting to be about 8 years old again and trying to relive some of those days.  Must be the headlines on the news.  Seems like the world's coming to an end.  I want my Mommy and Daddy!  Anyway,  Mr. Popper is a responsible painter and decorator who comes home to his family every evening and wants nothing more than to read about the North and South Poles.  He's seen all the documentaries and read all the books.  He dreams of one day visiting one or the other.  He writes to an Antarctic explorer who sends him a penguin.  The family refits the refrigerator to provide a chilly home for the bird.  When their penguin seems to be dying of loneliness, a zoo sends them a female penguin who's also languishing.  Eventually, they have a LOT of penguins and are having trouble keeping up with expenses.  They train the birds and set out on the road.  In the end, they decide the birds need to be where there's snow and ice, and the explorer who sent them takes Mr. Popper with him to the North Pole, where they hope to establish penguins to amuse North Pole explorers. 

Natural Causes  -  James Oswald  -  This is going to disappoint some people, but this book made me angry.  It's quite a good mystery, involving an old ritual killing of a young girl.  Today, elderly men are being savagely murdered.  There seems to be a connection.  The pacing is good, it was hard to put down, the characters were interesting, but the ending!  I think it violated the Mystery Rules of Fairness!  I did not see it coming and I don't think there were clues to steer the reader in that direction.  Unfair!

Diary of a Provincial Lady  -  E. M. Delafield  -  This will also make some of you angry, but I did not find this as charming and as addictive as many do.  The unnamed diarist tries unsuccessfully to control her two unruly children and please her uncommunicative and stick-in-the-mud husband.  She also strives to maintain some sort of independence for herself and to follow the rural rules of society.  It just didn't do anything for me.  Do I slog through the other three Provincial Lady books?  I can't blame my disinterest on mood because I read this quite a few years ago and my notes say that I wasn't enthralled then either.

Cranford  -  Elizabeth Gaskell  -  To me, this book achieves all that Provincial Lady attempts to.  Cranford is a rural town whose social set is populated almost exclusively by older ladies.  Men are frowned upon.  The narrator is a younger woman who has moved away with her father but who visits often. The book tells the stories of the old ladies and their adventures.  The ladies comply with the very strict social rules, most of which they seem to have made up themselves.  Visiting is only to be done between noon and three.  They must all go home by 9:00 in the evening.  There's a scare, when one lady is sure there are burglars about.  The antics of the ladies to protect themselves  -  hysterical!  But when one sweet lady loses most of her money, some of the other decide to secretly share some of their income with her.  It's touching and very funny in places.

That's it for this month.  Back to the books!  I hope you're all having a good summer, with lots of time to read.