Friday, July 31, 2009

Finished: Numbers Challenge

The goal for the Numbers Challenge was to read 5 books that had numbers in the title. It was fun picking out and finding books for this challenge.
Here are the books I read:
-One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
-The Five Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes
-84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Haff
-The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson
-Two People by AA Milne

That is a pretty good list of books. I enjoyed them all especially One Fine Day and The Two Mrs. Abbotts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At Home with Beatrix Potter

Title: At Home with Beatrix Potter
Author: Susan Denyer
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Published: 2000
Date Finished: 18 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Non-Fiction 5

Any fan of Beatrix Potter's work should read this book. The author, Susan Denyer, worked for the National Trust and was involved in the restoration of the interior of Potter's Hill Top Farm house. She also set up the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. Denyer knew what she was writing about when she put this book about Beatrix Potter's beloved Hill Top Farm together. And what a lovely book it is.
Filled with gorgeous photographs and artwork this book takes the reader on a very detailed tour of Hill Top Farm and surrounding areas. In addition to the very intimate look at the interior of the home the reader is also taken on a tour of the gardens and learns about some of the many other properties that Potter purchased in the Lake District. Beatrix Potter spent years of her life working to preserve and protect the landscape of the Lake District. Throughout the book you also see and learn about many of the farms, buildings and rooms that were the inspiration for many of Beatrix Potter's drawings and stories.
Just a beautiful and interesting book. Makes me eager for the day I will be able to visit Hill Top Farm and the Lake District myself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two People

Title: Two People
Author: AA Milne
Genre: Fiction
Date Finished: 30 June 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Numbers

The tag line for Capuchin Classics is "Books to Keep Alive." Their purpose, according to their website, is "reviving great works of fiction which have been unjustly forgotten or neglected. This founding ethos - restoring a richness to the canon in an era of relative blandness - is coupled by a sprinkling of well known favourites to form a series which holds wide appeal."
I've enjoyed reading books from Persephone Books and several other older, out of print or out of popularity books this past year so was interested in trying a few books from Capuchin. I spent some time looking through their catalog of titles and settled on Two People by AA Milne as my first to try. I thought the book sounded interesting and being the uneducated American that I am I had not realized that Milne had written books for adults. I've long loved the Winnie the Pooh series and knew he was a playwright but had never come across any of the novels that he had written.
However, I have been putting off writing about this book because my feelings are so split about it. On many levels I really enjoyed the book but on some levels I really didn't enjoy it all that much.
The book is clever and witty and there was a lot of humor and laughs. Reginald Wellard has written a book and his foray in the publishing and literary world produces some very funny situations as does his encounters with his neighbors and his trips to London to see if anyone is buying or talking about his book. Much of the novel had a very appealing feel and tone and just seemed very British to me. (Makes sense that it would considering Milne was British.)
However, the book is purported to be a study of marriage and in particular how two people with little in common can make a relationship work. I feel calling this novel an accurate portrayal of marriage to be a statement painted with a pretty broad stroke. There was much about Reginald Wellard and his attitude towards his wife that I found difficult to stomach. I felt the little feminist voice inside me wanting to rise up and give the man a talking to a number of times. (And that voice is really very small because I am not really much of a feminist.) It seemed to me that all Reginald cared about was how beautiful his wife was but than got frustrated when she was not intellectually stimulating enough for him. I think he gave Sylvia the short end of the stick. I don't think she was as dim witted as he perceived and if he would have taken the time to actually talk to her instead of muse so much about how beautiful she was than he might have noticed.
There was one incident in particular when they were at a dinner party where the host related a tale of lost love that I think illustrates my point. Reginald, through the reactions and body language of another guest at the party realized immediately that she was the lost love his host spoke of. Guess who was the only other person in attendance at that party who was able to come to the same conclusion? Reginald's wife Sylvia. I believe there was more behind her beauty than Reginald was willing to see and I believe many of their friends and acquaintances saw more to her as well but for some reason Reginald remained unseeing.
But then on the other hand Sylvia never really did much to encourage her husband to see beyond the surface.
So yes, there were many aspects of the novel that bothered me and I did find Reginald to be rather pompous at times but there was still plenty to enjoy. The book was a humorous look at how the simple lives the Wellards were living in the country was upset by Reginald's success as an author. As any one who knows me or my reading tastes knows, I like wit, charm and humor and this book had plenty of all three.
If for no other reason it was worth reading just to get a different look at Milne and his writing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Five Bells and Bladebone

Title: The Five Bells and the Bladebone
Author: Martha Grimes
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Published: 1987
Date Finished: 22 July 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Numbers

It has been more than a year since I last had a visit with one of my favorite detectives, Richard Jury. The 9th book in Martha Grimes mystery series has Jury heading off for a little R&R in Long Piddleton with friend and sidekick Melrose Plant. Of course, his vacation quickly comes to an end when a body is found inside a desk just acquired by a local antiques dealer.
All of the regular characters are back in this book, with perhaps just a little less of Sergeant Wiggens than I would have liked but that is just my personal preference for his character. :-)
This installment was a little slow and I felt a little detached from the story throughout most of the book. Martha Grimes does manage to keep things interesting but this was not my favorite in the series.
It is difficult for me to write much about mysteries because I don't want to give anything away and since I am 9 books into the series, I've pretty much already covered my thoughts on the characters and Grimes writing.
If you enjoy mysteries or would like to give the genre a try go and find The Man with a Load of Mischief, the first book in the series.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chunkster Challenge: Completed!

The blog for the Chunkster Challenge has not been updated since January so I am not sure if it is still officially open but I signed up for it and I met my goal so I am posting about it and counting it as a completed challenge.

I've read 3 books of 450 pages or more.

1. Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Stacy Cordrey (590 pages)
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (884 pages)
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (493 pages)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Green Bay Tree

Title: The Green Bay Tree
Author: Louis Bromfield
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 390
Published: 1924
Date Finished: 15 July 2009
My Rating: 2
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library

The publication of Louis Bromfield's first book in 1924 turned him into a literary celebrity. The book, The Green Bay Tree, was an instant critical and popular success. Bromfield made enough money off that first book to move his family to Paris where he wrote full time and ran in the same circles as other famous Lost Generation writers.
The Green Bay Tree focuses on the lives of 3 women in the Shane family. Widowed matriarch Julia Shane becomes more and more of a recluse the older she gets, never leaving her stately home surrounded by the mills of a booming city.
Her daughter Lily does not want to live the conventional life that society dictates she should and since she has money and independent means sees no reason why she should. She leaves home and establishes a life for herself in Paris.
Younger daughter Irene is devoted to religion and wants nothing more than to become a nun and live a life of seclusion. When her mother forbids her to become a nun she instead devotes her life to helping the poor foreign mill workers in her town.

After visiting Bromfield's home at Malabar Farm in Richland County Ohio and learning all about this once popular author turned farmer who was friends and contemporaries with the likes of Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was more than willing to read some of his books.
Unfortunately, as I told my husband while reading this book, I can see why Bromfield has fallen into obscurity. The Green Bay Tree bored me into a near reading coma.
Bromfield's writing style did not engage me at all and I never managed to care one bit for any of the characters.
I did enjoy this paragraph, which I think sums up fairly well the theme Bromfield was going for.
"Life is hard for our children. It isn't as simple as it was for us. Their grandfathers were pioneers and the same blood runs in their veins, only they haven't a frontier any longer. They stand...these children our ours...with their backs toward this rough-hewn middle west and their faces toward Europe and the East and they belong to neither. They are lost somewhere between."
I think at its heart The Green Bay Tree was a story about the growth of industrialism and it's effects on agriculture and people but it was tied up in the strange narrative of the Shane women. The Shanes home had once been surrounded by meadows and field that had been conquered by John Shane and other pioneers. Now the home was surrounded by a different sort of progress, mills and factories. Old Mrs. Shane is the last hold out, refusing to sell her home to developers.
This book just turned out to be much more of a chore than I thought it would be to read.

There are 3 other books that are interrelated with the Green Bay Tree and for one of them, Early Autumn, Bromfield was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I guess I am a bit of a glutton for punishment because I will probably at least read Early Autumn one of these days.

On a somewhat ironic note, I am reading the journal of a young Jewish girl living in Paris and attending the Sorbonne during WWII. In the first few pages of her journal she mentions she is reading and very captivated by one of Bromfield's books. He was popular in his day, that is for sure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Case of the Missing Marquess

Title: The Case of the Missing Marquess
Author: Nancy Springer
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Pages: 216
Published: 2006
Date Finished: 13 Jul 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars

Challenges: Young Adult, New Author, Library, 100+

I have to admit that the cover and the name of the heroine are what led me to pick up this book. Just look at it. How could any discerning reader pass that cover up? And Enola Holmes. Great name, especially when you realize that Enola spelled backwards is alone.
It helped that the premise of the book sounded pretty good too.
Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and has not seen either her brother Sherlock or Mycroft since she was 4 years old, at their father's funeral. On her fourteenth birthday Enola's mother disappears and after her famous brothers are unable to find her, Enola realizes that it is up to her to track down their mother. Using ciphers and money that her mother secretly left behind Enola disguises herself as a widow and sets off for London on what she believes will be a fairly easy and straightforward task. Only things do not go at all as Enola plans and she finds herself mixed up in the kidnapping of a young marquess, while trying to outwit and outrun her detective brother.
Another confession. I am not a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I've read a few of the books over the years but have never been really enthralled with what I read. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this creation of Sherlock Holmes younger sister.
Things started out a little slow and even Enola herself was a little slow at figuring things out at first. (Hello Enola! Your mother gave you a book of ciphers the day she disappeared. Maybe have a crack at them.) But Enola turned out to be pretty smart and resourceful. Yes, she managed to get herself tangled up in a few sticky situations, but she was also brave and resourceful enough to figure a way out.
A fun mystery and a great heroine. I am on to the 2nd book in the series soon.
Oh, and I enjoyed the ciphers. There is even one on the cover, another reason I loved the cover so much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Vicarage Family

Title: A Vicarage Family
Author: Noel Streatfeild
Pages: 246
Genre: Autobiography
Published: 1963
Date Finished: 11 July 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: Decades, Library, 100+

A Vicarage Family is the somewhat fictionalized account of Noel Streatfeild's life growing up in a vicarage during the years leading up to WWI.
In this novelization of her early years Noel becomes Victoria, the rebellious daughter who found life growing up in a vicarage to be very restricting. The middle of 3 sisters, and one brother, Victoria was often misunderstood or overlooked. Her older sister Isobel was artistic, meek and gentle. Louise, the younger sister was considered the beauty of the family and Vicky? She was the odd one out, plain with seemingly little talent.
Fortunately as the story progressed Vicky started to find her footing and began to realize that she might not be so plain or talentless. (And as we know she went on to become a talented actress and popular author.) While her mischievous streak left her family frustrated and concerned, I found Vicky to be a highly misunderstood, caring, fun and smart girl.
For me Victoria's story was a little different but also similar to the experiences of others in the years leading up to WWI. Like most young people of the era Vicky was really unaware of all that was brewing in the world around her, specifically the events that would lead to war. However, I think living a sheltered life in a vicarage perhaps made Vicky and her family even more naive than some of her contemporaries.
I really enjoyed this book and found all the characters to be very distinct and interesting in their own way. I often found myself wondering what her family members thought of the story and her not always necessarily glowing descriptions of them. Streatfeild addressed this dilemma herself:
"How does the autobiographer handle a brother and sisters? A father and mother? How they looked, how they appeared to me as persons- yes. But what they were like inside?
It is because of my awareness that my portraits of the rest of my family are probably faulty that I have used no real names. The thin shield of anonymity helped me feel unselfconscious in drawing them, and in approaching the facts of my own life."
Her mother, in particular, I found to be rather beastly at times. But Streatfeild made it clear that in later years the two become much closer than they were when she was a child.
In the end I was left wanting to know more about this family and in particular what becomes of the 3 sisters. There are two more autobiographical novels that Streatfeild wrote but unfortunately I am having a difficult time tracking down copies. If I find them, I will read them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Posters For The People: Art Of The WPA

Title: Posters for the People: Art of the WPA
Author: Ennis Carter
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 216
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 25 June 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library, Non-Fiction 5, Art History

The largest agency that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created as part of his New Deal program was the Works Progress Administration. The WPA employed millions of Americans in a wide variety of civic projects across the nation. One arm of the WPA was the Federal Art Project which employed artists and writers to create and perform in various entertainments.
The Poster division of the FAP was charged with producing posters to raise awareness and promote programs, basically on many levels it was government propaganda.
The posters highlighted in this collection range from posters about health and safety, preservation and conservation, community events, war and defense and the theater to name just a few.
This book gave me an interesting introduction to an art form that I'd never really thought much about, poster making. And of course, I loved the historical aspect of these posters that were created in the 1930s and 40s. Some of them made me laugh and I must admit there were a few that confused me.
The book listed a website that was supposed to have an online database with all the posters but when I went to look at it, there were no posters. I did find the Library of Congress American Memory web site that highlights their collection of WPA posters. It is worth a little browse if your would like more information about the project or to see some of the posters.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Read Your Own Books Wrap-Up

With this challenge I made a goal to read 15 books that I own. I made a list at the beginning of the year of the 15 books on my shelf that I wanted to read. Of the 15 books I listed, I read 2. 8 of the 15 books I read were purchased since the start of the challenge. So while I did meet my goal of reading 15 books I own, I did not really get too far in scaling down the number of books I own that I have not read.
Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm is only reading books that she owns this year. She is not buying new books or checking books out from the library. I think that is a brilliant idea, only I don't know if I could do it! I'm sure I have enough unread books on my shelf to fill a year of reading but it would be really difficult and my list of books to purchase/check out would be huge by the end of the year. Maybe I will pick a few random months in the year and spend a month at a time reading only books I already own. I will have to ponder on that some more.

Here is my list of books read from my shelves (so far) this year.
1. Mountain Home
2. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
4. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff
5. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
6. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
7. Saplings by Noel Streatfield
8. Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
11. Because You Died by Vera Brittain
12. Remembrance by Theresa Breslin
13. The Rain Catchers by Jean Thesman
14. Up a Country Lane by Evelyn Birkby
15. In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

The RYOB challenge was hosted by MizB. Thanks!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fred Astaire

Title: Fred Astaire
Author: Joseph Epstein
Genre: Biography
Pages: 198
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 21 June 2009
My Rating: 2 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library, Non-Fiction 5

Silly me. I picked up this book titled Fred Astaire thinking it would be about, well, Fred Astaire. But you see, it is really more about Joseph Epstein than Fred Astaire. I'll be honest, I'd never heard of Joseph Epstein before I picked up this book but now I know more about him than I could possibly care to know. Even how tall he is and how big his ears are. I don't know about you but when I pick up a biography I expect to learn about the subject of the biography and not so much about the author. In fact, I don't want to know anything about the author.
The tone of this book just made me want to stop reading from almost the first paragraph. Too many of the author's personal opinions and feelings (and too many little aside comments set in brackets that I can only assume were meant to be funny but were just generally annoying.)
The book was set up as a collection of essays about Jos, I mean, Fred Astaire covering such topics as his looks, his clothes, his dancing partners and singing. All of which could have and should have been interesting if only there was less of the author left in the mix.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Two Mrs. Abbotts

Title: The Two Mrs. Abbotts
Author: D.E. Stevenson
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 282
Published: 1943
Date Finished: 5 July 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, Numbers

What can I say? I simply adore Barbara Buncle/Abbott. My only complaint about this book would be that there was not enough of Barbara featured in the novel. Thankfully the other characters were just as fun and charming to read about as Barbara herself.
From the opening page I found myself smiling and laughing and enjoying this book's lighthearted tone, charm and humor as much as I did in the first Miss Buncle book.

This 3rd and final book in the Miss Buncle series finds Barbara in the midst of World War II raising two children. Even with the war raging and duties of motherhood Barbara is able to find time to try her hand at matchmaking or undoing matches, as the case may be. All done in her innocent way of course.
Much of the book actually focuses on the second Mrs. Abbott, whom we met in Miss Buncle Married. Jerry Abbott's home is being taken over by a military regiment and war refugees and she has her hands full keeping up the home and like the other Mrs. Abbott, trying to play matchmaker. I felt that Jerry lacked some of the charm and subtlety that Barabra possessed but the other characters who make up her home are almost all delightfully fun to read about.
This book saw the return of many characters from the previous novel and even one from Miss Buncle's book. There were also new characters and plenty of matchmaking and hidden identities to create a very humorous and gentle look at life in this small English village during World War II.
I'm a little sad to have reached the end of the Miss Buncle books. Luckily for me D.E. Stevenson was a rather prolific writer and my library has a good selection of them on the shelf still. I think I will start in on the Mrs. Tim Christie series next.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Finished: In Their Shoes

This was an interesting challenge. There is only one book on the list of books I read that I had planned to read for this challenge and I still have several bios or memoirs on my TBR list that I am hoping to read this year.
The books I read:
1. Lincoln: A Photobiography
2. Alice Roosevelt Longworth
3. The Lincolns
4. The Other Half
5. Up a Country Lane

I found The Other Half to be immensely interesting and eye-opening and Up a Country Lane was just great. The others were interesting as well but those two are my favorites from this list.

Visit the In Their Shoes Challenge blog to see what other readers have been reading this year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Miss Buncle Married

Title: Miss Buncle Married
Author: D.E. Stevenson
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 323
Published: 1936
Date Finished: 25 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, Seconds

Miss Buncle Married is the sequel to the delightfully charming Miss Buncle's Book. I found Miss Buncle Married to be almost as delightful as the first.
Miss Buncle is now Mrs. Abbott but marriage has done little to stop her from finding herself mixed up in little humorous scraps and trying to, innocently, sort out other people's lives.
I think Barbara's husband, Arthur Abbott, does the best job of summing up Barbara. "The strangest thing about Barbara, Arthur reflected, the strangest thing about this strange woman who was now his lawful wedded wife was that although she understood practically nothing, she yet understood everything....she certainly had an extraordinary power of getting underneath people's skins. Without being conscious of it herself she was able to sum up a person or situation in a few minutes. People's very bones were bare to her-and she had no idea of it. "
In this second installment of the Miss Buncle books Barbara and Arthur are setting up a home in a new town and are surrounded by a whole new cast of quirky and interesting neighbors whom Barbara is struggling not to pick up pen and write about as she is rather happy and does not want to have to move again.
I enjoyed this book a great deal but do feel it lacked some of the charm of the first book. Some of the secondary characters just lacked the humor and interest I felt for the characters in the previous book.
I did enjoy the little twist at the end, just when you thought things were going to play out a certain way, Barbara and the reader are thrown for a fun little loop.
I am not done with Miss Buncle or D.E. Stevenson. They are great books for a relaxing, enjoyable read.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Shanghai Girls

Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 23 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Pub

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, living in the Shanghai of the 1930s, the Paris of Asia. The sisters live a modern and carefree life as models until a series of events begin to unfold that will transform their lives. After being sold as wives to two young Chinese Americans, Pearl and May are forced to leave their beloved Shanghai for America.
The novel, which is told from Pearl's perspective, chronicles the close but sometimes volatile relationship between the sisters as well as their struggles to escape worn torn China, the struggles they face in America at the Angel Island detention center and their new lives with a new family in America.
I found both Pearl and May to be fascinating characters who each in their own way adapted to the upheavals in their lives, even if they did not understand each others choices and motivations leading to more tension and misunderstanding.
Shanghai Girls is a very intriguing historical fiction novel that that gives the reader a look at life and culture in pre-WWII China and the life and culture of Chinese people living in the United States in the 1940s and 50s.
I loved the lead up to the end, very tense and climatic but I am just not sure how I feel about the actual ending...

There were a number of traumatic events that Pearl and May experienced, which while not necessarily graphic in nature, were not easy for me to read. I never thought of myself as overly sensitive but there were times I had to set the book aside and take a break from reading. Reading accounts like this one, based on actual events, just leaves me feeling a little depressed about the horrid ways people can treat others.

Finished: Classics Challenge

Last year I made a list with about 10 classics that I wanted to read that year. I did not read a single one. So I just took the list, scratched out the year 2008 and wrote 2009. I still have not read a single one of those books. It is not that I am not reading any classic books, it is just that I am not good at sticking to lists especially when there are just so many books that sound so interesting to me out there.

So, here is the list of books that I did read for the classics challenge this year:
-Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
-Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
-Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

The publication dates on these books range from 1872, Under the Greenwood Tree, to 1943, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The settings are as diverse as England in the Middle Ages to Victorian England and America around the turn of the 20th century. A pretty good mix of interesting books.
I really enjoyed almost all the books I read. The only one that I really did not care for was Black Beauty. My favorite was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Thanks to Trish for hosting The Classics Challenge.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

Hope you are able to fit some reading in amongst all the BBQ, fireworks and fun.
I don't know how much reading I'll get done. We have plans for a day of geocaching and then fireworks tonight.
Happy 4th!

For my readers else where in the world, well, I hope you all have a great Saturday and that you too find some time to read.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Everything Austen

Well, I've buckled. I love the idea of this challenge and don't want to miss out on the fun. I just don't know how challenging it will be, because as any one who knows me probably knows, I am just a bit of a devoted Jane Austen fan.
Stephanie from Stephanie's Written Word has put together this really fun Everything Austen Challenge (with prizes). All you have to do is pick 6 Austen-themed things you want to finish before the end of the year. That includes movie adaptations, sequels and fan fiction, works about Austen and of course Jane's work itself.
I am leaving my list open for now because I am such an on the whim reader. I do have some new (to me) bios I want to read and I've only done one Austen read this year (1! I usually try to read all 6 every year and I've only done one this year. Such a slacker). I am sure I won't have too much trouble coming up with six things to read or watch!

1. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

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