Wednesday, 30 October 2013

New Grub Street by George Gissing

"As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning."

I wanted to like New Grub Street more than I actually did.  Gissing obviously wanted to show the struggle which writers faced where they were required to produce a product that would "sell" rather than write something they considered art.

Jasper Milvain is presented as a middle-class man who is rather lazy but has a talent for finding his place in the literary business because of his aptitude for targeting publishers with a product that the public wants.  He has no real standards and no true feeling and his only aim is to know the right people, make an advantageous marriage and grow richer.

Edwin Reardon is a writer who has had mild success with a novel and is attempting to write another, however his marriage to Amy Yule, a woman slightly higher in social status, puts pressure on him to perform and he suffers from writer's block.  We experience his slow spiral into poverty, culminating in his death.

Other characters populate the novel, such as Marian Yule, who falls in love with Jasper, only to learn through his disloyalty, that he is a money-grasping swine.  Jasper's two sisters play important roles and the lesser characters of Alfred Yule, Marian's father, and the writers Whelpdale and Biffen (who sticks to writing for art) add depth to the story.

On one hand, the story was excellent but I had issues with Gissing's handling of the characters.  Often I found they acted in ways particularly to get a point of Gissing's across and not because they would naturally act in that manner.  This took away from the plot and diminished the issues the story was meant to bring to light.  In fact it bothered me so much, I really lost focus during a few points in the novel.  Overall it was a good read but I felt that the characters struggled to maintain integrity and plausibility.  I would give it 3.5 stars.


Day 30 - Your Favourite Book of All Time

Can I cry "unfair"?!  How can one, after decades of reading, choose just one book as their favourite?  Impossible.  So, therefore I will choose a few:

All of C.S. Lewis' books, basically because they inspire such deep thoughts and he writes as if you and he were having a conversation.  He is also very respectful, yet can be sharply direct and humorously witty.  I read at least one of his books every year.

I don't really think I have to even explain my choice with this one.  Austen makes all the characters so engaging and each play their parts with an unmatched brilliance.  I have read it a number of times.

I love how Bronte made Jane meek, yet with an unquenchable spirit, and Rochester is certainly not your perfect male hero however his character is complementary to hers.  The balance between them is precarious, yet perfect.  Excellent!

As for children's books, I will choose The Phantom Tollbooth.  A brilliant book for its play on puns and idioms, it is a fun read for all ages.


Day 29 - A Book You Liked But Everyone Else Hated

I was so looking forward to reading this book with my online reading group.  I had read it once already and, in spite of its "streams of consciousness" style, I was able to just let myself go and flow along with the character's thoughts, almost as if you were lying in a stream and letting the water rush over you.  Well, as it turned out, most readers were put off by Woolf's manner of writing and found the book to be confusing and not particularly cohesive.  

While I was surprised by the reactions, I could understand them.  Some novels speak to certain people and not to others and this was obviously one of them.  I gave it five stars, but I suspect I was the only one.


Day 28 - Favourite Title For a Book

Jerome K. Jerome is a favourite of mine, especially for his more well-known work, Three Men in a Boat.  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow is written in the same style but is a series of humorous essays on different topics.  Some quotes from this book:

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

Swearing relieves the feelings--that is what swearing does. I explained this to my aunt on one occasion, but it didn't answer with her. She said I had no business to have such feelings.

That is just the way with Memory; nothing that she brings to us is complete. She is a willful child; all her toys are broken. I remember tumbling into a huge dust-hole when a very small boy, but I have not the faintest recollection of ever getting out again; and if memory were all we had to trust to, I should be compelled to believe I was there still.

There are various methods by which you may achieve ignominy and shame. By murdering a large and respected family in cold blood and afterward depositing their bodies in the water companies' reservoir, you will gain much unpopularity in the neighborhood of your crime, and even robbing a church will get you cordially disliked, especially by the vicar. But if you desire to drain to the dregs the fullest cup of scorn and hatred that a fellow human creature can pour out for you, let a young mother hear you call dear baby 'it.'


Day 27 - Most Surprising Plot Twist or Ending

This book kept me riveted.  There were so many plot twists, suspenseful happenings and unexpected situations that, as a reader, I could barely breath.  However, the unexpected twists were so numerous that finally one came to expect the unexpected and, really, Wilkie overdid it a little.  


Day 26 - A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

This book really opened my eyes with regard to world politics ...... how governments of industrialized nations proclaim they have people's best interests at heart, but in actuality are driven by power, greed and monetary gain.  While millions of people are being slaughtered in Rwanda, Belgian forces pull out of a school where they are protecting Tutsi people and the people are then massacred; U.S. forces remain stationary at the airport because they do not have orders to leave; and French forces let hundreds of Hutu murders pass through the borders into the Congo .......  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but one wonders how there was so little action taken to stop this atrocity.  An incredibly sad read.


Day 25 - A Character That You Relate to Most

Not only is Anne of Green Gables one of my favourite books, but Anne is one of my favourite characters.  I just loved Anne's approach to life, her imagination and her loyalty to those dear to her.  After her experience as an orphan, her life at Green Gables was really idyllic for a child, a perfect place to grow character, develop a sense of community and a joyful spirit.  If I could be any character, I would choose to be Anne!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Day 24 - A Book You Wish More People Would Have Read

A fascinating look into not only present day education, but the history of compulsory schooling.  Gatto digs deep to point out not only the flaws in the system but how if affects our social order and even our individual souls.

I don't always agree with him but he is passionate about his beliefs and brings so many issues to light that would otherwise be left unexamined.  While slightly haphazard in its organization, the book is riveting.  I try to read it at least once per year.


Day 23 - A Book That You've Wanted to Read But Haven't

Written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, it is a medieval allegory presented as a frame story.  One hundred tales are told by ten young people, seven young women and three young men, after they flee to a deserted villa to escape the plague ravaging Florence.  The stories are various tales of different forms of love interspersed with tales of wit and moral lessons.  

This book is a tome but I think it would be fascinating to get a look in at 14th century Italy.  


Day 22 - A Book That Makes You Cry

This book was soooooo sad!  As a child reading this book, I cried and cried when Old Yeller died.  I've always wanted to re-read it to see if I would find it as heart-wrenching as an adult, but just the thought of experiencing the emotions I did as a child, has made me hesitant.  Does that mean I was traumatized the first time? ;-)

Monday, 21 October 2013


Day 21 - First Novel You Remember Reading

This book is so obscure that I can't even find a cover photo for it.  Flip: the Story of An Otter.

It wasn't a classic, and obviously it is not now well-known, but from it I developed a complete love of otters.  The story was so cute in some places, yet starkly realistic in others, that it drew me right into their world.  I still have the book on my shelf and from the library due date card in it, I took it out of library at least once every two weeks. It is still one of my most treasured books!


Day 20 - Favourite Romance Novel

Okay, I admit that I don't read romance novels very much anymore.  So I'm going to change the challenge to "favourite romances in books".  Now for an eclectic mix ....

The romance of Dante and Beatrice!  He first saw her when she was eight years old and loved her until her death at 24, even though their lives did not intersect.  She was his muse and guides souls to heaven in The Divine Comedy.

Another Beatrice and her love Benedick feature in the Shakespearian drama, Much Ado About Nothing.  It is said that the course of true love never did run smooth and that is a perfect description of the relationship between these two characters.  A fun romance to read about!

A beautiful story of a boy and his dog.  It made my cry!

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Day 19 - Favourite Book Turned Into A Movie

Without a doubt, the movie version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is my favourite book turned movie.  The producers stuck so closely to the plot and all the lines so closely mirror the dialogue in the book that it is a true production of the original. 

Other versions try to alter the story or the actors aren't able to portray the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy accurately, making them poor comparisons.  

And, just to be obscure, another adaptation that I have actual enjoyed more than the book is Doctor Finlay by A.J. Cronin, a story of a doctor in a small town in post-WWII Scotland.

David Rintoul's performance is excellent and I find the medical procedures of the time fascinating.

An interesting tidbit:  Rintoul played Mr. Darcy in a 1980 version of Pride and Prejudice.  

Friday, 18 October 2013


Day 18 - A Book That Was a Disappointment

I love Tove Jansson's Moomin series!!  So what better book to grab for a summer read on an island, than her The Summer Book.  I was so looking forward to it but, overall the book was a sad disappointment.  I thought it would be a nostalgic, earthy, summer-y story about a grandmother and her granddaughter on an island in the Gulf of Finland.  However I found it started rather abruptly and the relationship between the two of them was almost antagonistic.  At times the granddaughter was outright rude, seemingly for very little reason, and the father was often "absent", even though he was there.  It did pick up, with more description and a few funny stories but that wonderful enjoyment of a summer read was woefully lacking.  

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

"The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm."

What better time to read this book than during the days leading up to Halloween.  I expected a terrifying, nail-biting, ride of horror but to my surprise, the story left me completely flat.

A carnival comes to a small town and two boys, Will & Jim, are anticipating its amusements; what they experience instead is an evil that almost defies their abilities to comprehend and their efforts to contain.  Finally, Will's father, stumbles on a way to defeat the devious ghouls and all is saved .......... for now ........

After reading up on Bradbury's making of the novel, it was initially conceived as a screenplay.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why the book felt so awkward to me.  A visual conception full of lyrical language, darkness and evil, in a setting with conventional characters in a commonplace town .......... hmmmm ........  Bradbury does not really explore any of the characters other than Jim, Will and his father.  Even the Illustrated Man, the leader of this nefarious group, is not developed past a description of him and a few instances where he is able to evoke fear.  And as for the language, the florid, and at times, awkward description was distracting from the plot.  Not that it couldn't be used to an advantage, perhaps like a symphony or as even a Greek chorus, but Bradbury wielded it in a stumbling manner, interspersing it through both the characters and narrative alike.  An example:

"It was indeed a time between, one second their thoughts all brambled airedale, the next all silken slumbering cat."

Well, okay, that's a nice image but the reader has to pause and think how to apply it to the narrative.  It appears he is setting up the following sentences in the paragraph, which are a list of contrasts, but how does it really fit into the story?

And this one:

"Since now learn otherwise.  Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin.  There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light.  The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he's covering up.  He's had his fun and he's guilty.  And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells.  Times come when troughs, not tables, suit our appetites.  Hear a man too loudly praising others, and look to wonder if he didn't just get up from the sty.  On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt and sin, why, often that's your good man with a capital G, Will.  For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it and sometimes break in two.  I've know a few.  You work twice as hard to be a farmer as to be his hog.  I suppose it's thinking about trying to be good makes the crack run up the wall one night.  A man with high standards, too, the least hair falls on him sometimes wilts his spine.  He can't let himself alone, won't lift himself off the hook, if he falls just a breath from grace ............. Oh, it would be lovely if you could just be fine, act fine, not think of it all the time.  But it's hard, right?  with the last piece of lemon cake waiting in the icebox, middle of the night, not yours, but you lie awake in a hot sweat for it, eh?  do I need tell you?  Or, a hot spring day, noon, and there you are chained to your school desk and away off there goes the river, cool and fresh over the rock-fall.  Boys can hear clear water like that miles away.  So, minute by minute, hour by hour, a lifetime, it never ends, never stops, you got the choice this second, now this next, and the next after that, be good, be bad, that's what the clock ticks, that's what it says in the ticks......."

A great piece of philosophy but it kind of dribbles off and falls into nothing.  Did Will learn anything from it?  The reader will never know because it is not addressed again.  Did Will's behaviour change between before his father imparted this wisdom to him and after?  Not really.  Will was basically good throughout the book, Jim was a boy who liked to live on the edge and the father was a scholar cum philosopher who liked to contemplate the world around him.  No -- character -- development.

All in all, I didn't hate the book but I found it distracting, disjointed, and poorly developed.  If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't have missed it.

Rating:  C


Day 17 - Favourite Quote From Your Favourite Book

Whew!  This was a tough one!  Surprisingly so, because I love quotes.  Yet nothing is coming directly to mind so I'm going to randomly go with:

"Thou speak'st aright.  
I am that merry wanderer of the night.  
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal.
And sometimes lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt telling the saddest tale
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me.
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she.
And "Tailor!" cries, and falls into a cough,
And the the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there."
                          Act II, Scene I


"Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover's fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
                         Act III, Scene II

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Planning Ahead - 2014

I thought I would get a jump start on the year by listing some of my planned reads for 2014.  Since I'm so easily influenced when it comes to books, it will be interesting to compare my planned reads to my actual reads at the end of 2014.  My suspicion is that they won't look particularly similar.

Here is the pick and choose list:

2014 Around the World Challenge (dead authors)

  1.  The Saga of the Volsungs
  2.  Fear and Trembling - Soren Kierkegaard
  3.  Les Lettres Du Mon Moulin - Alphonse Daudet
  4.  The Maias - Eça de Queirós
  5.  (book undecided) - Isaac Bashevis Singer
  6.  The Arabian Nights: Tales from One Thousand and One Nights
  7.  The Epic of Gilgamesh
  8.  The Cairo Trilogy - Naguib Mahfouz
  9.  Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
10.  The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11.  The Story of Stone - Cao Xueqin
12.  The Far Pavillons - M.M. Kaye
13.  Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
14.  The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas - Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

2014 Biography Challenge

  1.  The Lives of the Artists - Giorgio Vasari
  2.  Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin
  3.  Jack: A Biography - George Sayer
  4.  Unbroken - Lauren Hillenbrand
  5.  Bonhoeffer - Eric Metaxas


  1.  A Distant Mirror - Barbara Tuchman
  2.  The History of the Ancient World - Susan Wise Bauer (ongoing)
  3.  The History of the Middle Ages - Susan Wise Bauer (begin)
  4.  Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs - Barbara Mertz
  5.  Red Land, Black Land - Barbara Mertz

2014 C.S. Lewis Challenge

  1.  The Chronicles of Narnia
  2.  Mere Christianity
  3.  The Screwtape Letters
  4.  The Great Divorce
  5.  Surprised by Joy
  6.  A Grief Observed
  7.  Out of the Silent Planet
  8.  Perelandra
  9.  That Hideous Strength
10.  God In The Dock

2014 TBR List Challenge

  1.  The Epic of Gilgamesh
  2.  The Rule of St. Benedict - Saint Benedict
  3.  The Cloud of Unknowing
  4.  Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature - Saint Basil
  5.  (the next Rougon book) - Émile Zola
  6.  The Cloister and the Hearth - Charles Reade
  7.  Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  8.  Hard Times - Charles Dickens
  9.  The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton
10.  Defense Speeches - Cicero (finish)

That's it for now.  There are a few more children's books I'd like to add, I was thinking of throwing in a few Shakespearian plays and possibly a Trollope series, but we'll see ..........

No, I do not think I will finish all of these books but if they are in a post, staring me in the face, at least it will help me from getting distracted ..............  I think ............


Day 16 - Favourite Female Character

Jane Eyre is a wonderful female character.  She somehow remains childlike in her spirit; curious, intelligent, sympathetic and honest, yet she is also a strong woman who will not compromise her principles.  Her loyalty is unwavering and I was happy that she was rewarded for her perseverance at the end of the novel.  Even so, Charlotte Bronte did not wrap everything up in a perfect bundle.  Edward Rochester would not have been the easier man to live with but Jane knew his faults and how to moderate them.  It was a good match.

Able Seaman, Titty, from Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, is my next choice.  Oh, to have her imagination!  She is full of spunk and adventurous ideas; Captain Flint (Uncle Jim) would still be missing his "treasure" if it hadn't been for her ingenuity.  A first class female heroine!

She is one of the main character's in Dante's The Divine Comedy.  Beatrice ......... what better reputation than being famous for guiding souls to Heaven!  Even though Dante only saw her twice in his lifetime, she became his muse and he called her, "la gloriosa donna della mia mente" which translates to "the glorious lady of my mind".

A slightly less than enthusiastic vote goes to Penelope, wife of Odyseuss in The Odyssey.

There could be no better tribute to love than to wait for your husband for 20 years, ten while he was fighting in the Trojan War and ten while he was attempting to make his way home again.  However, I still think there must have been some way to get rid of all those pesky suitors!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Day 15 - Favourite Male Character

Hector, a prince of Troy and brother to Paris, (who stole Helen) in The Iliad.  Courageous and brave, a man who comes "like some fierce tempest that swoops down upon the sea", he is also a man loyal to his wife and small son.  Duty is all to Hector and in it he never wavers, even when he knows that death is a certainty.  A true hero.

I also like Sarpedon, in The Iliad. King of Lycia, he was an important ally of the Trojans.  His forces were the first to enter the Greek encampment which allowed Hector to break through the Greek wall.  He fell in battle, killed by Patroclus, friend of Achilles.

Also high on my list is Aristides, an Athenian statesman, who was called "The Just".  It is rumoured that he acquired that appellation in this manner:  Themistocles and he had quarrelled once too often and the people were voting on which one to exile.  An illiterate farmer, who did not recognize Aristides, asked him to write "Aristides" on the ballot.  Aristides inquired if this "man" had wronged him and the farmer replied, no, he didn't even know him, but he was annoyed at always hearing him called "The Just".  Aristides was so honest that he did as the man requested.  Now that is my idea of a hero.  He was exiled, but was recalled to defend Athens and gave his loyal support to Themistocles who was eventually exiled himself.

And to complete the hero roster, Leonidas I, King of Sparta.

During the Battle of Thermopylaea, he marched with 6,300 soldiers to defend the pass against a Persian force that Herodotus numbered in the millions.  Leonidas held the pass against the army of Xerxes I but when a Greek shepherd betrayed his kinsman by showing the Persians a secret way around from behind, Leonidas and all his army were slain.  

None of these men were "characters" so to speak, but how much more interesting to draw heroes from real life!

Monday, 14 October 2013


Day 14 - Book Turned Into A Movie and Completely Desecrated 

Beowulf, the epic poem, a story of a courageous hero who battles two evil, ferocious demons who are wreaking havoc on the Danes, and shows his power by the consideration with which he treats others.

Beowulf and Grendel, the movie, where Grendel is not an evil monster, but a poor, misunderstood one, who hates the Danes for killing his father.  Throw in a witch (huh?), a story of a rape, and Beowulf and the witch getting it on, and you just have to smack your head and say, WHAT?!!!

This movie is a disgrace to the poem, a cheap attempt twist the original plot and themes to make a social statement and to add themes for gratuitous, infantile pleasure.

I can't make enough bad remarks about this one.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Day 13 - Favourite author

This was an easy one for me.  C.S. Lewis.  I've read most of his books, I've watched documentaries about him and his life, I've read snippets of his biographies and letters, and I've taken a university course based on some of his works.  So perhaps he is my favourite author because I know, by far, more about him than any other author.

Lewis was the grandson of a Anglican priest but he abandoned his Christian faith as a teenager.   He hated school and when he was sixteen, his father finally agreed to hire a private tutor.  This tutor, whom Lewis called, The Great Knock, was "a hard, satirical atheist who taught me how to think."  He was a great influence on Lewis' journey into atheism but, surprisingly Lewis credits his tutor for teaching him how to reason, which therefore allowed him to be argued into Christianity.  Lewis called himself "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England."

I dislike Christian books that attempt to manipulate the reader into a belief in God.  I perhaps have even more of an aversion to secular books which attack Christianity without an understanding of it.  What I love about Lewis is both his rational, direct opinions, yet his warmth and generosity towards the people with whom he disagrees.  With him, I never feel like I'm having some idea or precept forced down my throat.  He merely presents his beliefs in a very logical, matter-of-fact, reasonable way, but they are presented as his beliefs and the reader is only asked to consider them, almost as if you are joining him in conversation.

One of my favourite quotes of Lewis:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

I have a great amount of respect for C.S. Lewis.  A year doesn't go by without a read of at least one of his books.

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Day 12 - A Book You Love But Hate At The Same Time

I hated this book when I first started to read it.  Most of the characters in it were depraved, their behaviour a dark spiralling into vice and evil.  But about two-thirds of the way through the book I began to view it in a different light.  In spite of the depressing undertones, I felt Wilde was trying to communicate the dangers of allowing oneself to sink into what appears to be the easy habits of one's friends or peers, while not recognizing the pitfalls toward which one is heading.  I then began to enjoy it for its lessons and it ended up being one of my top reads for the year.

I still feel uncomfortable reading many of the situations in the book but now can appreciate its greater overall value.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola

"On quitting Plassans by the Rome Gate, on the southern side of the town, you will find, on the right side of the road to Nice, and a little way past the first suburban houses, a plot of land locally known as the Aire Saint-Mittre."

The first book in Zola's 20 volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, The Fortune of the Rougons introduces us to the half-brothers, Pierre Rougon and Antoine Marquart, their uneasy familial relationship and their two different paths of life, Rougon choosing to be a respectable oil merchant and Macquart, an unemployed, shiftless, irresponsible  man who takes after his father.

As Napoleon III prepares an uprising to return the Republic of France to an Empire, Plassans in the south and home of Pierre & Antoine, becomes an unsettled roiling of uprising and intrigue.  Silvere, their nephew, leaves with his love Miette to join the insurgents in favour of the Republic, Pierre canvases for Napoleon while scheming to improve his place in society, planning to make his fortune and rid himself of his troublesome half-brother.  Antoine longs only to get revenge on Pierre for stealing his inheritance and to satisfy his longing for money to feed his laziness.

After the dust settles, Pierre has won himself an important position in the town. Antoine is in exile for his ill-judged actions, but the reader cannot help but suspect that he will return for more money and perhaps sweet revenge.

Zola's theories of heredity were meant to play out in these novels and we see the beginnings of their effect in the lives of his characters yet in a very unobtrusive manner. Tel père, tel fils!

I'm looking forward to the next novel!

(translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly)

Other Novels in the Rougon-Macquart Series (Zola's recommended order):


Day 11 - A Book You Hated

I was looking so forward to reading this book.  What a disappointment!  The main character, who was the narrator, not only lacked a name, she appeared to lack a brain as well.  Unbelievably naive, her actions did not run to logical conclusions and I kept finding myself ready to tear my hair out as she acted as a door mat for her older husband.  He finally reveals to her that he murdered his first wife and the only emotion she appears to experience is joy, as that means he loves her and not Rebecca.  Good grief!

I did not find Mrs. Danvers scary at all.

Here is a taste of the main character's amazing, stimulating conversation:

"Yes?" I said.

"Yes," I said.

"Yes," I said.

and another somewhat more lively conversation

"Not so very well," I said.

"No." I said.

"Very pretty," I said.

"I'm so glad," I said.

"No, I'm afraid I don't," I said.

"How nice," I said.

"Yes," I said.

"Really?" I said. 

How any publisher decided to print such drivel, I've yet to understand.

I've read that du Maurier struggled with writing this book and I believe it shows.  The plot felt so heavily manipulated that it resembled a lump of pock-marked clay ......... uninteresting and unappealing.

I will say, however, that she wrote some beautiful descriptions, especially in the beginning of the book.  It's the one redeeming feature.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Day 10 - A Book That Reminds You of Home

I have basically lived in one place all of my life.  Perhaps this is why I like reading books which have vastly different settings compared to my hometown.  So, wracking my brains, I could only come up with The Backwoods of Canada by Catherine Parr Traill

Set in the bush near Peterborough, Ontario, it is the story of a woman pioneer in early Canada.  The stories that she relates of her adventures and struggles, as she and her husband attempt to build a life in the backwoods of their new country, are truly fascinating.  Her positive attitude and ability to tackle troubles head on, made me admire her fortitude!

This book doesn't exactly remind me of where I live but it gave me a connection to my country's past, which is valuable in itself.


"It was a warm, golden-cloudy, loveable afternoon."

I have been determinedly making my reading-way through the Anne of Green Gables series and finally finished the last book, Rilla of Ingleside.

Overall I enjoyed most of the books of the series, yet had to get past the realization that after about half way through, the books are no longer about Anne; they follow her children, and eventually the pastor's children, the Merediths, enter the mix.

Rilla is Anne's youngest; gay, immature and irresponsible, until the darkness of the First World War shatters their lives and she must struggle to find herself among circumstances that are difficult, painful and, at times, unmerciful.

This book offered a truly fascinating look in at a village and families affected by WWI and how they dealt with the stress and tragedy of being at war.  Honestly it was my favourite of the series, even over Anne of Green Gables.  Unlike some of the other books, the characters were well-developed, the subject matter relevant, the plot riveting and poignant ......... overall an excellent book!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Book Plethora

I have a problem.  Books, you say?  Well, that's fairly obvious.  But my actual, continual, perpetual problem is reading too many books at one time.

I never used to have this problem, but somewhere I discovered that if I read a small portion of a book, the information stayed with me easier, and it was nice to have the time to ruminate upon what I had read, luxuries that aren't an option if I read only one book at a time and zip through it.  And, of course, the benefit of reading smaller portions of a book more slowly is that one can ......... read even more books!!

Some of the books that I am currently reading:

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (just finished)
Rilla of Ingleside - L.M. Montgomery
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
New Grub Street - George Gissing
The Fortune of the Rougons - Émile Zola
The History of Napoleon Buonaparte - John Gibson Lockhart
Tales of Men and Ghosts - Edith Wharton
Count Magnus and other Ghost Stories - M.R. James
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
The History of the Ancient World - Susan Wise Bauer
Metamorphoses - Ovid
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Just looking at the list gives me hives.  I had limited myself to a total of 5 at a time.  What happened?


Day 9 - A Book You Thought You Would Hate and Ended up Loving

I had been planning to read this Greek classic for years but was completely intimidated.  While I had a very basic overview of ancient Greece, what did I truly know about the people, their lives, their beliefs, their motivations?  Yes, I could certainly read the book, but I didn't feel I had the background information to truly understand it.

What I considered the theme of the Iliad was also off-putting.  War, war and more war.  What lessons were there to learn from it?  What point was there in reading about the power-struggles of men and the capriciousness of the gods?  It was going to be a terrible slog through, it was going to take forever to finish, and I was sure I would regret the time I wasted on it.

When I saw one of the groups on Goodreads preparing to read The Iliad, despite my reservations, I decided to jump in and what a surprise when it exceeded my furthest expectations!!  Fortunately, some well-read intellectuals in the group were able to impart background information that made the work and the times come alive and I became on intimate footing with Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, King Priam and many of the warriors and women within the poem.  

The read and the group brought Ancient Greece to life and at the end it was difficult to leave this world in which I had become so invested.

One day when I have more time, I'd like to make it a yearly read but, for now, I can only say, if you haven't read it, DO!  Homer is truly a master of epic verse!  


"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a singe man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

And with those familiar opening lines, so begins Jane Austen's popular and beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice.

In Austen's England, a husband is chosen based on pedigree and wealth, but Elizabeth Bennet has other ideas.  She wants a husband she can love and respect, however, upon meeting Mr. Darcy, she is convinced he is the most prideful and smug man in the country, a man she could never marry.  Darcy's pride stings Elizabeth's quick temper, but through a number of circumstances she begins to realize that pride is a device he uses as befits his station, yet his true character is much more complex and meritorious than she had first realized.  After a number of enlightening meetings and finally, when he rescues the reputation of her youngest sister, Elizabeth realizes that love has blossomed among these circumstances and that she has found someone truly her equal in both understanding and temper.

The contrast between the unwise/unhappy marriages of the Bennets, the Collins and the Wickhams are contrasted with the happy marriages of the Darcys and the Bingleys, where mutual respect flourishes.  Marriage is the main theme and Austen appears to be saying that while prestige and money are beneficial (Darcy has both of these in abundance), the character of a potential spouse is infinitely more important!

I have read this book a number of times and love it even more each read.  A true classic!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Day 8 - A Book That is Over-rated

Again I'm going to allow myself a two-book choice for this challenge, covering both classic and modern periods.

For the most over-rated modern book, my vote goes to The Hunger Games.

An uninventive, at times awkward plot, a reasonably flat main character and a unimaginative story add up to a very average book.  

I thought the premise for the Hunger Games was interesting, but I think Collins missed a great opportunity.  The book revolves around these games which have children trying to kill each other, most of them quite happy to do it without any inward moral struggle.  Wouldn't it have made the plot more interesting if Katniss went against what everyone else was doing and refused to kill?  How would she have gotten away with it?  What ramifications would her actions have had?  How many people could she have affected in a positive way? 

It's not so much that I have a problem with violence in novels per-se.  I've read a number of excellent books where violence is the theme.  Like it or not, it's part of the world in which we live and it's important to face that.  My issue with this book (and many modern novels targeted at children) is HOW they portray the violence and the actions and characteristics of the protagonists.  Katniss puts survival (ie. self) before anything else (except her sister) and is presented as the hero that the reader should look up to.  IMO, there are many better roll models to admire.  

My second "classic" choice goes to The Catcher in the Rye.

A whiny main character who goes through the whole book finding fault with the rest of the world, one who never develops or changes throughout the entire story.  I could never see the appeal, except perhaps for the shock value of the times, but otherwise, a complete disappointment.

Monday, 7 October 2013


Day 7 - A Book That Makes You Laugh

Okay, it's time to unveil a really obscure book for this challenge day!  

Cyrano by Geraldine McCaughrean is a retelling of the play based on the life of the well-known historical figure, Cyrano de Bergerac.  

Cyrano, a swashbuckling soldier who is a master of words, meets and falls in love with the beautiful Roxanne.  Unfortunately Roxanne has given her heart to another man and, to his dismay, Cyrano ends up helping his rival write romantic love letters to his sweetheart.  Cyrano yearns to win Roxanne's love but his enormous nose gets in the way.

While this book is sweet, poignant and, at times, sad, there were parts where I laughed my head off and overall, I couldn't put it down.

This book was shortlisted for the Carnegie Award in 2007.