Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M Delafield

I bought this book because of the cover.

It’s hilarious – very between the wars. For modern readers it’s a bit like Bridget Jones’ s Diary. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Helen Fielding was inspired by this (and Pride and Prejudice of course).

Here’s the blurb …

Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there’s her husband Robert, who, when he’s not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling reluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky servants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our provincial lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with.

Definitely recommend reading this. It is an extremely easy read with laugh out loud funny moments.

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The Lace Reader – Brunonia Barry

I won this book at a Quiz night. It’s an uncorrected proof so I have no idea where it came from or who donated it. It has been sitting on my ‘To Be Read’ shelve for quite a while, but I finally decided to give it a go.

I liked it.

Here is the stuff on the back …

A cross between The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter and The Sixth Sense, this mesmerising first novel takes the reader into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies and half-truths, culminating in an extraordinary twist.

‘My name is Towner Whitney. No, that’s not exactly true. Me real first name is Sophya. Never believe me, I lie all of the time’.

Towner Whitney comes from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace, and who have a guarded history of secrets going back for generations. Exiled in California, she receives a phone call telling her that her beloved Great Aunt Eva has disappeared and Towner must return to her home for an absence of 17 years …

A literary page-turner with depth, narrative power and a story that novels like The Thirteenth Tale can only dream of, The Lace Reader is bewitching and tightly plotted read.

The characters in this novel are beautifully written – crazy and damaged, but very real. The plot is intricate – like a piece of lace – with Towner as the still point at the centre.

This novel has a bit of everything; romance, mystery, crime and is an ambitious (and successful) first novel. I look forward to reading subsequent novels by Ms Barry.

This book reminds me of Kate Akinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum same kind of family mystery – that feeling that everyone else knows something.

Here are some links

http://www.lacereader.com/

If you want to buy the book …

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Twilight – Stephanie Meyer

I bought this book for my Dad for Christmas – imagine my surprise when he had already read it! I decided to keep it and read it myself.

I liked it. I thought the quality of the writing was a bit poor, but it was definitely a compelling page turning read (more like a screenplay than a novel). I liked the premise between Bella and Edward – I love you, but I also want to drink your blood and kill you. I was disappointed with the ending though – a bit like a bad Buffy episode.

This is a very easy read, so read it if you want to know what all of the hype is about.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight_(novel)

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Plum Spooky – Janet Evanovich

This was my ‘beach’ read. It’s racy and pacy. Read it because it’s hilarious (and it will only take a few hours – really!).

Here’s a link

http://www.evanovich.com/plum_spookyjacket.html

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If You Were Mine – Carol Lefevre

I got this book out of the library – very unusual, but I mean to do it more often.

It’s a story about loss and grief, mothers and daughters and when the hole left by the dead can’t be filled by the living.

Here’s the back …

On the fourteenth of February 1962, in the outback settlement of Sugarbag, Esther Hayes looked out of the schoolhouse window and saw three children struck by lightning. The boys were playing cricket on a strip of stubble field that did for the school yard; minutes earlier she had heard them laughing as they hammered in the wicket with a stone.

Numbed by the tragedy, Esther retreats into silence, while her young daughter Aurora, is left to fend for herself. Aurora’s childhood is played out against the backdrop of her father’s absence and her mother’s neglect, and she is forced to take comfort wherever she can. The fierce attachments she forms never seem to last – until she abandons South Australia for Dublin’s Temple Bar and the lush countryside of her father’s native Tipperary.

I haven’t made up my mind about this book. I read it quickly, but now I wonder what it was all about. Aurora is a child of neglect – her mother Esther neglects her (and drinks way too much) and William, her father, travels for work. The author seemed to judge Esther much more harshly for this than William, but really couldn’t he have found a job closer to home – I think he was escaping just as much as Esther was when she reached for a bottle of home brew beer.

There is an abandoned homestead near their house that is Aurora’s refuge. In it she finds and old cookery book (written in both french and english) she copies recipes (she leaves the book at the homestead as she wants it to remain unchanged) – meanwhile at home she is cooking for herself and her mother toast and baked beans.

Aurora has two significant relationships as a child – one with her teacher Kilkie Bleecker and one with a fellow student Iris Kenny, both end suddenly and in confusion.

Eventually Aurora escapes Sugarbag – she wins a music scholarship and finally she leaves South Australia for Ireland. In Ireland she leases a house in which a music teacher use to live. The terms of her lease are that nothing should be changed and that Aurora should teach the music students. Here she meets Rose, a young pregnant girl who is running away from home.

I think the best thing about this novel is the characters – they live beyond the page. The story I’m not so sure about…

I recommend this with some reservations.

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Home – Marilynne Robinson

Having read and loved Gilead I put Home on my Christmas list – I wasn’t disappointed.

Here is the description from the publisher …

Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend.

Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack—the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty years—comes home too, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with tormenting trouble and pain.

Jack is one of the great characters in recent literature. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold a job, he is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. Brilliant, lovable, and wayward, Jack forges an intense bond with Glory and engages painfully with Ames, his godfather and namesake.

Home is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith. It is Robinson’s greatest work, an unforgettable embodiment of the deepest and most universal emotions.

This novel is about family (the ties that bind), spirituality (in particular Presbyterianism) and parenting. Jack returns home after an absence, and silence, of twenty years. He is an alcoholic who has spend time in prison. His is a lonely soul who hasn’t been able to make a connection with his family – at most family gatherings (even as a child) he was absent. His father appears to love his ‘lost sheep’ more than his other seven children.

This is a beautifully crafted story – every word seems chosen with care. It seems such a simple tale; ne’er do well son returns home, tries to reconcile or at least understand (and possibly believe) his father’s faith and tries to  develop a relationship with  Amos his father’s best friend. However, I find myself thinking about the characters; what will happen to Jack and Glory, will he stay sober? Will he find grace? The characters are beautifully realised; the gentlemanly Robert who has spent his life pondering the great religious questions, Glory a pious, vulnerable woman who has returned home and can see her life stretching out forever in the old house (never able to change anything) and finally Jack searching for something, always disappointing someone.

The Boughton’s are religious – Robert was a Presbyterian minister –  and there seems to have been much discussion about grace, judgement and punishment. Jack and Robert spend a lot of time thinking about god’s purpose  and Jack in particular wonders whether some people are just born  doomed (predestination). Ewen MacDonald (Lucy Maud Montgomery’s husband) seemed to think he was eternally doomed as well (according to The Gift of Wings).

I think this book is fabulous, but I wonder if people unfamiliar with harsh judgemental Anglican religions will understand.

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How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

I got this book out of the library – from the young adult section, but I think it transcends that definition. The blurb …

“EVERY WAR HAS turning points and every person too.” Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

Daisy is sent to England to be out of the way of her step mother Davina. It is a tense time, her Aunt Penn, is busy working on ways to avoid war – she leaves England  only a day or two after Daisy arrives to attend a conference in Oslo. War  is imminent. Daisy and Edmund (her cousin) fall in love – bombs go off and England is occupied. Most of the English military are fighting in conflicts overseas, so it is easy to occupy the country. At first the war has no impact on the children – they continue having a lovely summer holiday, but eventually the house is  requisitioned and the girls (Daisy and Piper) are sent to one farm and the boys (Edmund and Isaac) to another. Edmund and Daisy have a special relationship – she can hear him in her thoughts and he seems to be able to hear her thoughts, answering questions before she has asked them etc.

Daisy’s plan is to find the boys. They take on a few farming jobs and she stores away information about the biys location – east of here. Then all hell breaks lose and the girls are on their own in the English countryside. They continue to try to find the boys – horrific things happen, but not to them and evenutally they end up back at their house and Daisy is forcebly returned to the US. She eventually returns to England and we hear the rest of the story.

Ms Rosoff’s version of a 21st century war is scary in it’s believability – no one even knows why there is a war, there are suicide bombers, poison in the water, no electricity and snipers. And the world really falls apart when there is no electricity – how do you milk the cows? keep the milk cold? etc.

I recommend this book – it starts of as a story of teenage angst and romance (is she anorexic), but ends up being an interesting story about survival and the break down of civilization.

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