Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - Faithful Place

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

I loved In the Woods by Tana French, so I can't wait for her new book, Faithful Place.
Release Date: 13 July 2010

From Amazon:
Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin's inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.

But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn't show. Frank took it for granted that she'd dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again.

Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie's suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he's a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he's willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Book Revisited: The Luck of the Bodkins


Last week, I had my first post of A Book Revisited. I'm so glad that many of you responded and I do hope to see some of your book choices soon. If you'd like to join the meme, just grab the image above and post about a book you've read in the past that (as far as you know) has had zero or little mention in the book blogosphere. It must be a book you enjoyed and recommend. I understand that it's sometimes not possible to remember everything about a book you've read years ago so just write a brief summary or review and leave a link in the comment section below.

I love, love P.G. Wodehouse. He is my comfort read and yes he has been mentioned before in other blogs but I haven't seen this particular book mentioned anywhere, The Luck of the Bodkins. It's one of my favourite Wodehouse novels. P.G. Wodehouse was a prolific English writer who's regarded as the greatest comic writer of the twentieth century. He wrote more than 100 books. He was created a Knight of the British Empire in 1975. His characters which include Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, are much loved by fans everywhere and have even been played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry on British television. Wodehouse novels get  a lot of mileage in my family as my husband and my father are also big fans. My copy of The Luck of the Bodkins is already well-worn as I've lent it around and I think I've read it twice. He's a writer I can turn to when I'm down and need a bit of cheering up. His books never fail to make me laugh out loud or at least bring a smile to my face. Even his character names are hilarious!


If you have yet to try Wodehouse, I think The Luck of the Bodkins is a good place to start. The book is set on a ship crossing the Atlantic from Europe to America. Monty Bodkin is in love with Gertrude who thinks he likes the actress Lotus Blossom. But Lotus definitely loves Ambrose who thinks she's in love with his brother Reggie who adores Mabel Spence, the sister-in-law of movie mogul Ikey Llewellyn, Ambrose's prospective employer. Are you confused yet? Well, a ship is the perfect setting for a screwball and slapstick romantic comedy full of misunderstandings. Trust me this is really fun stuff! 

If you're not convinced yet, just check out the first sentences of the book below. Monty Bodkin is sitting at a hotel terrace in Cannes just before he boards ship.

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French. One of the things which Gertrude Butterwick had impressed upon Monty Bodkin when he left for this holiday on the Riviera was that he must be sure to practise his French and Gertrude's word was law. So now, though he knew that it was going to make his nose tickle, he said..."

Ok, so you'll just have to pick up the book to find out more. Happy reading and I hope I've convinced some of you to finally try some Wodehouse.

The Lost Booker Shortlist

Just a quick post to say that the Lost Booker shortlist has just been announced. I'm excited to see that the book I'm voting for has made it to the list, The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark. You can see my review here.

Here's the shortlist:


The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden
Troubles by J.G. Farrell
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard
Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
The Vivisector by Patrick White

I'm off to the bookstore to find some of the books above. If you'd like to vote for the prize, go here. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brooklyn


I just finished Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and I loved it. What a wonderful read...so elegantly and beautifully written.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey a bright twenty-something girl in Ireland in the1950s. Eilis has a part-time job at a local shop. Her family dreams of a better life for her so together with an Irish Catholic priest, they arrange for her to live and work in the United States. Eilis feels indifferent about it and thus is almost powerless to stop her mother and sister from plotting her move. Before she knows it she's on a ship bound for New York. After a bout of homesickness she slowly adjusts to her new life in Brooklyn, working at a department store during the day and attending bookkeeping classes in the evenings. She lives in a boarding house with various other Irish women and attends parish dance parties with them every Friday night. Before long she meets Tony, a charming Italian American young man who quickly falls in love with her. Just when everything is going so well, Eilis receives shocking news from home.

I just couldn't put this book down. From page one, I was riveted by Eilis' quite ordinary life and her everyday trials and tribulations. I loved Toibin's writing...so clean, crisp yet also compelling. Not a sentence wasted. It takes a brilliant writer to turn a simple story of a young immigrant where nothing much happens into a suspenseful read.

I thought Toibin's depiction of homesickness was so true as was his description of returning home and just settling in again to the old life. Anyone who's been an expatriate can thoroughly identify with Eilis' feelings. I loved his descriptions of small town life in Ireland and bustling New York in the fifties. He described everything so vividly that I felt I was actually there. The ending was definitely conflicting. After I finished it, I wasn't sure if I would have done what Eilis did in the end. However, as I write this review, three days after finishing the book, I'm now convinced she did the right thing. Brooklyn is achingly and quietly beautiful. A book that lingers in your thoughts long after you've finished it.

Have you read Brooklyn? What did you think of it? Did you agree with the choice Eilis made?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Book Revisited: The Far Pavilions


I really need to catch up on my reading. There's been a lot of stuff going on that I've hardly had time to read. The other day at My Random Acts of Reading I read a post about the author M.M. Kaye. I'd forgotten about her and before this, I haven't seen any mention of her or her books on any book blogs. Since I'm having a book reviewing slump, I thought I'd take the time to revisit a book I read in the past that's very good and has had little or no mention in the blogosphere. I might even make this a weekly weekend meme. What do you think? It's a perfect way to bring attention to certain books. I know we were reading way before we had book blogs but we usually only write about the books we've recently read. This is a good way to think of some of the books we read in the past that have left an impression on us but for some reason have yet to be mentioned in book blogs.

I hope I can entice some of you to pick this book up, The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, one of the best historical novels I've ever read.


One of my favourite settings for a novel is the British Raj. I just love it and I'll pick up just about any book if it's set in that era.  M.M. Kaye really knows her stuff as she was born and raised in India. Her grandfather, father, brother and husband all served in the British Raj.  The Far Pavilions was a worldwide best-seller when it was released in 1978 when M.M. Kaye was seventy years old. It was even made into a mini-series starring Ben Cross and Amy Irving.

The Far Pavilions is the story of Ashton, an English boy brought up by an Indian woman. He speaks the language fluently and has enough of their colouring to pass for a northern Indian. As a young boy, he meets Anjuli, a Russian/Indian princess who becomes his closest friend. Ashton later learns that he is English and he's sent back to England to be brought up properly. He returns years later as a military man but he soon finds that he's actually more Indian than English. He is soon reunited with Anjuli but their love is a forbidden one. This is an enormous book at almost 1,000 pages but it's well worth it. Filled with adventure, romance and war, The Far Pavilions is a long, rich and hugely satisfying read. I highly recommend it if you're up for an epic novel.

If you'd like to join the meme, grab the image above and post about a book you've read in the past that (as far as you know) has had zero or little mention in the book blogosphere. It must be a book you enjoyed and highly recommend. Write a brief summary or review and leave a link in the comment section below. I look forward to reading all your suggestions!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Latest Grievance


After reading the sad novel The Easter Parade by Richard Yates, I felt I really needed a break from serious novels so I turned to an Elinor Lipman book. I recently reviewed her novel, The Inn at Lake Devine and I also managed to wriggle an interview from her (see here). Her books are light and fun yet still very intelligent and well-written. My Latest Grievance... (I just love that title don't you?) is another one of her books with a screwball comedic plot, snappy dialogue and unique characters.

It's 1976 and fifteen-year-old Frederica Hatch has spent all her life living with her academic parents at a dorm at a small New England college. Her liberal upbringing has made her an outspoken and articulate teenager. David and Aviva have always been frank with their daughter to the point of even anatomically correcting her Barbie dolls. The sudden arrival of a new dorm mother in the person of Laura Lee French, David's ex-wife, leads Frederica into rebellion as she befriends the fascinating Laura Lee who causes her own series of chaos on campus.

Though I  preferred The Inn at Lake Devine, My Latest Grievance is also a fun read with another excellent young teenager in the character of Frederica. I do agree with Miss Lipman. I wish I had been more like her teenage characters when I was their age. I love their spunk, bravery and cheekiness. This is the book to check out if you're looking for something light for a holiday or a quick fix in between your more serious reads.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - Pillars of the Earth (the mini-series)



Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

I'm waiting for one of the biggest television events of the year, Pillars of the Earth, the eight-hour mini-series, based on the book by Ken Follett. This will probably be out in the spring in the United States and the rest of the world will soon follow. Can't wait! I remember being riveted by this book back when I read it in 1996.

The series cost an estimated US$40 million and was filmed in Hungary and Austria. It has an all-star cast including Donald Sutherland, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell and Mathew Macfadyen. For more information and pictures, check out the official website: http://www.the-pillars-of-the-earth.tv/

 (author Ken Follett on location for Pillars of the Earth)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Making of a Marchioness

 

The Making of a Marchioness is another light and delightful Persephone book. Emily Fox-Seton is a 34-year-old impoverished well-bred woman who makes her living assisting the wealthy in their daily lives. Need a fashion consultant? Looking for that extra special accessory to make you a success at the next ball? Require an assistant to organise your next garden fete? Then Emily is the person to call. She does things with an element of style and she has such a pleasant personality that everyone loves her. One day she's invited to a country estate to help Lady Maria host a party for several upper-class people. She attracts the eye of an eligible Marquis and what follows is a delightful little story in the tradition of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Well that's the first part. The second part of the book deals more with Emily's unromantic Victorian marriage to the Marquis and a couple of greedy relatives who will stop at nothing to make their unborn child the heir to the Marquis' title and fortune.

Some reviewers have criticized the racist elements in the story with regards to the Indian ayah but it didn't really bother me. This book is 101 years old after all and one should read it in that context. It's a wonderful glimpse into another era. Emily has also annoyed some readers for being too naive but I actually adored her 'Pollyana' attitude. We can actually learn a few things from Emily. She can't quite see the evil in anybody and is such a trusting soul that she's immediately endearing.

Frances Hodgson Burnett is more famous for her children's books such as The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy. It's only recently that her adult novels are being rediscovered with two of them published by Persephone books. This book is so different from The Shuttle which had a much more unique and complicated plot. Though The Making of a Marchioness is predictable, it's still a joy to read because of it's Cinderella-like story. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - The Brontes Went to Woolworths



Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading .

Quote two sentences from the book you're currently reading:

I came across these wonderful sentences on the first page of The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson. I think it sums up exactly what I feel about books and reading.

A woman at one of mother's parties once said to me, 'Do you like reading?' which smote us all to silence, for how could one tell her that books are like having a bath or sleeping, or eating bread - absolute necessities which one never thinks of in terms of appreciation.  

(The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson, page 1)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Little Boy Lost


An e-friend sent me Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski earlier this year. As you can see she placed a yellow post-it note on the cover with just one word scribbled on it - 'wonderful.' And indeed it is rather wonderful. Little Boy Lost is a masterpiece. It's a beautiful and poignant novel.

Little Boy Lost is the story of Hilary Wainright who lost his wife during the war. His baby son, whom he saw only once was whisked away by an unknown person. Years later, a friend of his late wife contacts him because a five-year-old boy at a French orphanage may or may not be his child. This is the story of one man's search for his son in a devastated and post-war torn France but  it's also the story of one man's search for himself. The little boy in the title is Hilary who has lost so much during the war that he's afraid to love again because to love means opening yourself up not just for happiness but for pain.

It's such a travesty that this book isn't more readily available and  it's wonderful that Persephone books has brought it back for a new generation of readers to enjoy. I think it's a must read not just because of its beautiful and touching story but because it encapsulates a time in the history of Europe, after world war two. The story of the people who lost so much during the war. The story of the war orphans left behind. This was written in 1949 so Laski  who also spent time in France, lived through this period and she accurately describes the devastation of France and the lost illusion and guilt of its countrymen. Somehow this can never be captured in a novel written today about the same era. A writer today who writes about that period is only working from history books and second hand accounts of people who lived then. Laski was there.

Laski perfectly describes Hilary's emotional turmoil. Is this his son or isn't it? Does he even want the child to be his son? Hilary has spent the last few years getting used to a life without love, without emotion. Can he truly open himself up again? The suspense builds up towards the end when it's time for Hilary to make a decision. As usual, I don't want to give away too much but it will be a hard-hearted reader who isn't swept away by this emotional and wonderful novel.

If you read only one Persephone Book, then please let it be this one. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Milkweed

 

It's Jewish Book Week   so it seems the right time to review Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli. Milkweed is a young adult book set in Poland during the second world war. The book is written from the point of view of a loveable, kind and yet very naive nameless orphan running wild around the streets of Warsaw. He's not quite aware of what's going on in Europe or in his country. He doesn't know if he's a Jew or not. When he sees Jews running on the streets, he thinks it's a race. He's attracted to the beautiful uniforms of the 'Jackboots' or Nazis, not quite suspecting that they're the enemy. When the Jews are rounded up to go to the ghetto, he believes it's a magical place and he wants to go with them. He's befriended by Uri an older boy who gives him the name of Misha Pilsudski and invents a Gypsy past for him to protect him from the knowledge that he's a Jew.

Jerry Spinelli is an award winning author and he writes Milkweed in a concise, simple and sparse style. He succeeds on many levels to produce a work that's at once touching but also harrowing. Milkweed is a unique story about innocence and survival.
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