Historical Fiction

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

IMG_8579As you all probably know, 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. There are lots of books and articles being published about the book and its author (when I have time I want to read this one from The New Yorker) in this commemorative year.

One of the most intriguing of these tributes is Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge. It was brought to my attention by a coworker who was pondering where it should go in our collection at the library. It is an illustrated volume that tells the story of Shelley’s childhood and young adulthood in the form of first-person free verse poems from her own point of view. Can you see our dilemma? Should it go in the biography section, the fiction section or the graphic novel section?

Whatever section it is in it is a fascinating and beautiful book. The illustrations are dark and gothic (you can see some of the images here) and perfectly convey the feelings Mary has as she mourns the lack of a mother, suffers a rocky relationship with her father and stepmother, the joy yet hardship of running away with Percy Bysshe Shelley as a teen, jealousy, grief, creative intensity – Judge covers it all. The poems are laden with intensity and emotion and tell Mary’s story in a forthright and sympathetic way. I really loved it and hope it will find an audience at my library – at every library.

If you are interested in Mary Shelley and in Frankenstein I think this is one of the books about her published this year that you need to seek out.

Are you planning to read anything about Mary Shelley this year?

(How did we end up cataloging this book? As Young Adult Fiction).

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1920's Fiction · Classic Novels · Novels set in Italy

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Enchanted April

It feels so strange to be writing this post as I haven’t blogged in a year now – how did that happen? I can only say that 2017 was a year of readjustment for me. After having been diagnosed with cancer in December 2016 and receiving treatment at the beginning of 2017 it’s been a bit of an emotional and thoughtful year for me. Reading was not my top priority for a few months, however, I did get back into the swing of things and managed to read 60 books last year. But – I didn’t feel like writing about them except for small snippets on my Instagram page. Though I still feel somewhat shell-shocked by my ordeal (the emotional side effects are strange and powerful) I feel that I am ready to return to blogging in 2018.

My previous blog, Gudrun’s Tights, has permanently gone away and, sadly, I didn’t save any photos that I had posted over the years so all the photos that I transferred here are now gone as well. At first I was kicking myself for not backing up my work, but now I feel that it is somehow fitting. The past is the past – and I’m leaving it there! But I’m sorry if this blog looks a little bland – I’ll soon remedy that.

So, on to my first post of 2018 and it is about a book that I’ve tried to read several times over the years without success. Despite loving the film, I’ve always had such a hard time with The Enchanted April. I’ve found it sluggish and confusing. As a fan of Elizabeth Von Arnim I can only think that the reason I couldn’t finish it on my previous attempts was because it was known that I’d need the book now.

Most of you probably know the story – four women, previously unknown to each other, rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. They all suffer from various emotional struggles whether it’s boredom, unhappiness in marriage, too much male attention or loneliness. Almost immediately after they arrive at San Salvatore one of the women, Lotty, senses the healing powers of the location, of its flowers and plants and in being near the sea and from just being away from dreary, rainy London. And she blossoms. She really becomes a happier, more content, incredibly loving person, able to read the moods of her fellow travelers and help them to also let San Salvatore heal their wounds.

I think the book is funny and warm and lovely. In this equally dreary month of January I found it to be the balm I needed to relieve winter melancholy. I loved the characters and their desire to “find themselves” but I also loved that Von Arnim didn’t have them ditch their husbands or their old lives. It’s very much a fairy tale about rekindling the romance in a marriage and finding that one true love or the kindred friends who understand and support you.

The end of the book sees everyone off with their needs met and their hearts cheerful, but I did wonder – will their transformation survive when they get back to London? I truly hope so and I like to believe that they carry on loving and caring long after the book ends.

Have you read The Enchanted April?

Now, I’m on to Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain and I’ve also got Winter by Ali Smith on the TBR. What are you reading?

Challenges · Goals · Reading · Uncategorized

Operation Read Persephone

 

While pondering my 2017 reading goals the other evening I happened to look up at my bookcase to see the lovely row of dove grey Persephones and the colorful spines of the Persephone Classics that I have shelved together. I’ve been collecting Persephone titles for about 7 or 8 years now and, as happens to the best of us, the collecting has far exceeded the reading of these wonderful books. I recall Nicola Beauman saying in an interview I read (I can’t find the quote) that she hoped that people weren’t just collecting the books but reading them too. In this Guardian interview she says, “That’s all I care about, really, you see: the text, the text, the text.”, when asked about the design she chose for the novels she republishes. And I realized that maybe I have been collecting them just to have them – just out of a sense of pride in owning them, because I haven’t read nearly enough of them to justify their expense!
So – I came to the obvious conclusion that reading the Persephones I currently own should be my goal for 2017. I went to the Persephone website and found the master list of all the titles they’ve published, made a list of all the ones I own and haven’t read and stuck it up at the top of the page (under Operation Read Persephone) to serve as a constant reminder of this goal. Shockingly, I own 26 of the grey darlings that I have not read! The shame! But I will try to remedy that this year.
I decided that I will start with A Very Great Profession by Ms. Beauman herself as it describes her interest in and love for the books she’s chosen to republish. I’m looking forward to not just looking at and enjoying the beauty of these books but to actually honoring their authors by reading what is between the iconic covers.
Do you have a favorite Persephone? What are your reading goals for 2017?
Best Books · Classic Novels · Contemporary Novels · Reading · Uncategorized

My Top Eleven Books of 2016

 

Last year was the best reading year, numbers wise, that I’ve had in quite a while. I read 66 books (6 over my goal) and am pretty content with the mix of contemporary novels and classic novels that I completed. A lot of my reading was generated by the two “book buzz” presentations that I gave at my library, one in the summer and one in the fall, where I presented 10 buzzy books of those seasons. I’ve not chosen very many of those books, however, as favorites for the year. Most of them were really good and very enjoyable, but not memorable. Classics and books by favorite contemporary authors (like Hilary Mantel) will still always be my favorites.  I was originally only going to have 10 books on my list, but I finished Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham at the end of December and had to add it to my favorites – it is a little gem. Also, I intended to publish this post around the end of the year, but I had some pesky health issues going on and everything (reading included) fell by the wayside so I am only now sharing my favorites.

Here are my Top Eleven Books of the Year:

Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman – I really enjoyed this well-written, novelistic biography of the quietly passionate author. It is very detailed about her writing life and about the life of the entire Bronte family – definitely a must-read for Bronte fans.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I listened to Cranford on my phone and I think it is the perfect classic to enjoy on audio – episodic, funny and heart-warming. It is one of the favorite books that we read in my book club this year.

The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff – This beautiful novel about a family’s vacation to Bognor Regis was a highlight of my summer. It’s a book that’s not really dramatic or plot-driven – it quietly describes the relationships between parents and their children and the traditions of their yearly trip. Simple and lovely.

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel – Mantel’s childhood is opaquely recounted in this dazzling memoir. I always find Mantel’s writing to say as much in what she doesn’t say then in her devastating observations. The combination is so chillingly good. I hope 2017 is the year her third Thomas Cromwell book is published!

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – LaRose is a marvelous book about redemption and justice set on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. Full of wonderful characters and really sensitive writing it moved me to tears several times and made me think so much about forgiveness. I just loved it.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard – This is the first novel in the Cazalet Chronicles, the most perfect family saga series. I devoured this book and am now almost finished with the second in the series, Marking Time. I’m sure I will read the entire chronicles this year.

My Antonia by Willa Cather – My Antonia is another book club book and one that I’ve read before. I also listened to this on my phone and appreciated how beautiful Cather’s writing sounds spoken aloud. I find her books, especially this one, to be achingly nostalgic and gorgeous.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles – This short, adventurous novel is what I would call a “literary Western”. It has lovely writing, suspense, great dialogue, a journey, and a heart-warming relationship. I really enjoyed this and recommend it if you are looking for something gripping yet well written to break you out of a reading slump.

The Past by Tessa Hadley – I read this way back at the beginning of 2016 but it has stayed with me throughout the year. I find Hadley’s writing to be so lyrical and the story of a family deciding whether to sell their grandparents’ home or not is riveting. I hope to read more from Tessa Hadley.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith – Reading Swing Time was my first experience reading anything by Zadie Smith and I was stunned by her writing. It’s so vigorous, intelligent and perceptive. And also very moving. I loved this story of two friends and the different paths they take from their childhood on a housing estate in North London.

Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham – As I mentioned above, I think this is a gem. It is very funny, fascinating and really engrossing. I want to read more about girls’ boarding schools so I’d love if Maxtone Graham next wrote a book about finishing schools (as she mentions she might). I would be first in line for that book!

I hope you’re all having a great start to the new year!

Cover Collection · Novels Set in England · Uncategorized · Victorian Fiction

Cover Collection: Lady Audley’s Secret

untitled-design

Tuesday was one of the most disappointing days of my life – not to mention heartbreaking, maddening and sickening. But after a couple of days of mourning I finally feel somewhat fine thanks to chats with sympathetic friends, intelligent and realistically wary articles (like this one) and just knowing that I am not alone – that millions of people feel the very same way that I do and that we’re not going to be appeased.

And I suppose life goes on, including reading. One of the books I want to read soon is Lady Audley’s Secret. It is currently up for election as one of my book club’s 2017 books for discussion. Voting ends Tuesday so I will know next week if it is selected for us to read or not. If so, I will wait and read it with the group, but if it isn’t selected I want to read it this month. November is my only free month to read what I want before I have to start reading for the next set of presentations I am doing for work, one in March and one in April.

When I do read this novel I will be reading a copy just like that on the top left but I don’t think it’s my favorite from this collection. I really love the drama of the top middle, not to mention the colors – so striking.

Have you read Lady Audley’s Secret? Which cover do you prefer?

 

Contemporary Novels · Mystery Fiction · Novels Set in England · Suspense Fiction · Uncategorized

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

missing

Well, hello there! It has been much too long since I’ve posted here. I didn’t mean to go so long without writing anything but, you know,…life. Not that I’ve had a lot of stress or craziness – it just seems that when I’m in the day to day stream of living blogging seems to come last. But I’d really love to make it a priority for the rest of the year. So, here’s to a new start!

Last weekend I was in the mood to read something engrossing, fast-paced with great characters, preferably set in England. While searching my shelves I remembered that I had checked Missing, Presumed out from the library and it was sitting in my library stack – it was meant to be. I opened it, began to read, and almost didn’t stop until I finished it on Monday evening.

Set in Cambridge and centered on DS Manon Bradshaw and her colleagues, Missing, Presumed starts off with a report of a missing Cambridge student, Edith Hind. The door to Edith’s house is ajar and there is blood on her kitchen floor which immediately elevates the case to a high priority status. As Manon and the rest of her team, including her supervisor Harriet and her affable friend Davy, rush to find clues frustration takes over as they find nothing to really lead them to locating Edith. As weeks go by their desperation grows until Edith’s surprising link to an ex inmate rushes them toward the startling resolution.

At the same time as we’re following the investigation we’re also learning about Manon’s messy love life and Davy’s dissatisfaction with his jealous girlfriend. Though the novel is told from multiple view points (Manon, Davy, the victim’s mother) I feel Manon is most definitely the main and most interesting character and the one I think the series will follow on to the next book. The character development in this novel is its strong suit as the actual mystery layer is not as well developed as in some of the best mysteries, but I’m hoping that the author will focus more on that aspect of her series in the next volume. So though this is not the most fantastic mystery I’ve read it is a solid start to a new series and I will probably read the next one when it’s released in summer 2017.

Have you read any good mysteries lately?