Monthly Archives: April 2012

Juggling – Barbara Trapido

I grabbed this book off the return shelves at the library. I was drawn to the cover and I am glad because I really enjoyed it and I have gone on to buy Brother of the more Famous Jack.

Here is the blurb …

 Christina and Pam are sisters less than a year apart in age. Pam is tall and black-haired, while Christina is small and fair. Brought up in New York, they are sent to an English boarding school where they meet two boys, Peter and Jago. As the years pass, the four meet and part.

This novel is full of clever witty people – it reminded me a bit of A S Byatt’s series (although not as dense and literary). It also seemed to me to be very 60s, 70s second wave feminist in style although it wasn’t published until 1994 – it’s got that clever women in control of their destiny feel to it. Trapido had a light touch on some harrowing events, which could have bogged down a lesser writer. The novel is about relationships; all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings and lovers and how things change over time. Trapido has great sympathy for her characters – we like them and  we want them to be happy, despite their foibles and contradictions. If anything this novel is about finding your own path and trusting that everything will eventually be OK.

I shall be recommending this book to all my friends…

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Rilla of Ingleside – L M Montgomery


My girls’ school had their Anzac service on the last day of term, which made me think about Rilla of Ingleside. This novel is the last in the Anne of Green Gables series (although now that The Blythes Are Quoted  is published I should say second last) and it is set during World War 1. It is a war novel, but from the perspective of the women left behind. It is fascinating (and heart breaking)  because it was written right after the war (published in 1921) when the thought of another world war was inconceivable. There are many references to battles (Vimy Ridge, Courcelette) and also to things happening on the home front (day light savings, conscription, replacing the lawn with potatoes) and lots of sock knitting.

Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia (it does contain spoilers) …

 Set almost a decade after Rainbow Valley, Europe is on the brink of the First World War, and Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla is an irrepressible almost-15-year-old, excited about her first adult party and blissfully unaware of the chaos that the Western world is about to enter. Her parents worry because Rilla seems not to have any ambition, is not interested in attending college, and is more concerned with having fun. (In an aside, it is revealed that Marilla has died; her date of death is not specified but Rilla states it was before she was old enough to know her very well.)

Once the Continent descends into war, Jem Blythe and Jerry Meredith promptly enlist, upsetting Anne, Nan, and Faith Meredith (who Rilla suspects is engaged to Jem). Rilla’s brother Walter, who is of age, does not enlist, ostensibly due to a recent bout with typhoid but truly because he fears the ugliness of war and death. He confides in Rilla that he feels he is a coward.

The enlisted boys report to Kingsport for training. Jem’s dog, Dog Monday, takes up a vigil at the Glen train station waiting for Jem to come back. Rilla’s siblings Nan, Di, and Walter return to Redmond College, and Shirley returns to Queen’s Academy, leaving Rilla anxiously alone at home with her parents, their spinster housekeeper Susan Baker, and Gertrude Oliver, a teacher who is boarding with the Blythes while her fiance reports to the front.

As the war drags on, Rilla matures, organizing the Junior Red Cross in her village. While collecting donations for the war effort, she comes across a house where a young mother has just died with her husband away at war, leaving no one to care for her two-week-old son. Rilla takes the sickly little boy back to Ingleside in a soup tureen, naming him “James Kitchener Anderson” after his father and Herbert Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War. Rilla’s father Gilbert challenges her to raise the war orphan, and although she doesn’t like babies at all, she rises to the occasion, eventually coming to love “Jims” as her own.

Rilla and her family pay anxious attention to all the war news as the conflict spreads and thousands die. Rilla grows much closer to Walter, who some townsfolk and fellow students have branded a slacker, an insult he feels deeply. Rilla feels that Walter finally regards her as a chum, not just as his little sister. Walter eventually does enlist, as does Rilla’s newfound love interest, Kenneth Ford (the son of Owen and Leslie Ford, who met in Anne’s House of Dreams), who asks her to promise she will not kiss anyone else until he returns.

As the war continues, Walter is killed in action at Courcelette. His death had been foreshadowed in the earlier book Anne of Ingleside (written years after this one). In Walter’s last letter to Rilla, written the day before his death, he tells her that he is no longer afraid, and believes it may be better for him to die than to go on living with his memories of war forever spoiling life’s beauty. Rilla gives the letter to Una Meredith, who Rilla suspects had been in love with Walter, though she had never spoken of it to either of them.

Anne’s youngest son, Shirley, comes of age and immediately joins the flying corps. Jerry Meredith is wounded at Vimy Ridge, and in early May 1918, Jem is reported wounded and missing following a trench raid. The Blythes spend nearly five months not knowing Jem’s fate until they finally receive a telegram from him: he had been taken prisoner in Germany, but eventually escaped to Holland and is now proceeding to England for medical treatment.

When the war finally ends, the rest of the boys from Glen St. Mary return home. Mary Vance and Miller Douglas announce plans to marry, with Miller deciding to pursue a career in Mr. Flagg’s store after losing a leg in the war. Jem returns on the afternoon train and is met by a joyful Dog Monday. Jims’ father returns with a young English bride, and takes Jims to live with them nearby; Rilla is glad she can still remain part of Jims’ life.

Life after war resumes. Jem plans to return to college, since he and Faith cannot be married until he finishes studying medicine. Faith, Nan, and Diana plan to teach school, while Jerry, Carl, and Shirley will return to Redmond, along with Una, who plans to take a Household Science course.

Finally, Kenneth returns home and proposes to Rilla with the question “Is it Rilla-my-Rilla?” — to which Rilla lisps, “Yeth.”

This is now considered to be a children’s book, but Montgomery wrote it for an adult audience and although it is not gritty or violent there is death, despair and grief. Having said that, there are lighter moments as well. In my opinion this is one of Montgomery’s best and it is worth reading  for the social history alone. There are several references to god and god being on the side of the allies, which I found quite interesting because I know Montgomery (from reading her journals)  had lost her faith and yet she wrote so convincingly. Another thing, which just makes me sad, is how the characters talk about creating a new world where wars can never happen again and yet I know that World War Two is going to happen and Rilla might have to send her sons to war.

I just want to mention I read this on my Kindle (this version)

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Recipe for Love – Katie Fforde

Another Katie Fforde offering. Here is the blurb…

 Take one aspiring cook, one judge, and a spoonful of romance…

When Zoe Harper wins a coveted place in a televised cookery competition she’s thrilled. It’s a chance to cook her way to fame and fortune and the little delicatessen she’s set her heart on. The first task has hardly begun when she finds herself with rather too much on her plate. Not only has she got to contend with the fiercely competitive and downright devious Cher, but she’s fast developing an inconvenient crush on one of the judges – the truly delicious Gideon Irving. All too soon there’s more than canapés, cupcakes and cordon bleu at stake. Will Zoe win the competition or is Gideon one temptation too far? And is Zoe really prepared to risk it all for love?

I read this novel in one sitting – this isn’t an attempt at bragging about how quickly I read I just want you to get the idea of how easy it is to read. It is a fun, lighted-hearted read. Pure escapism – we know there is going to be a happy ending. I’ve read all of Ms Fforde’s novels and I have enjoyed most of them – she has found a winning formula and stuck to it – and I like to read them because I know exactly what to expect. I think my favourite is still the first one I read – “The Rose Revived‘. Read this if you enjoy romance novels with only minor complications.

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The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

I had never heard of this book until it was selected for book club – quite a pleasant surprise.

Here’s the blurb …

 Vida Winter, a bestselling yet reclusive novelist, has created many outlandish life histories for herself, all of them invention. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to biographer Margaret Lea – a woman with secrets of her own – is a summons. Vida’s tale is one of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family: the beautiful and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling, but as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction and she doesn’t trust Vida’s account. As she begins her researches, two parallel stories unfold. Join Margaret as she begins her journey to the truth – hers, as well as Vida’s.

I really enjoyed this book. It was gothic and atmospheric. The story unfolds in fits and starts and there are a few things mentioned in passing that turn out to be quite significant (keep your eyes open!). I couldn’t work out the period in which the novel is set (and it doens’t really matter), there were lots of letters being written (rather than phone calls) and Margaret’s camera had film (how quaint!). I found the ending to be very ambiguous – exactly who died in the fire (and that is all I’m going to say on that).

This is Ms Setterfield’s first novel and I do hope she is busy writing another novel.

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The Warden – Anthony Trollope

I love Trollope’s writing and luckily for me he was a prolific author (I think he wrote 47 novels).

Here is the synopsis from Wikipedia…

 The Warden concerns Mr Septimus Harding, the meek, elderly warden of Hiram’s Hospital and precentor of Barchester Cathedral, at the fictional location of Barsetshire.
Hiram’s Hospital is an almshouse supported by a medieval charitable bequest to the Diocese of Barchester. The income maintains the alms house itself, supports its twelve bedesmen, and, in addition, provides a comfortable abode and living for its warden. Mr Harding has been appointed to this position through the patronage of his old friend the Bishop of Barchester, who is also the father of Archdeacon Grantly to whom Harding’s older daughter, Susan, is married. The warden, who lives with his remaining child, an unmarried younger daughter Eleanor, performs his duties conscientiously.
The story concerns the impact upon Harding and his circle when a zealous young reformer, John Bold, launches a campaign to expose the disparity in the apportionment of the charity’s income between its object, the bedesmen, and its officer, Mr Harding. John Bold embarks on this campaign out of a spirit of public duty despite his romantic involvement with Eleanor and previously cordial relations with Mr Harding. Bold discharges a lawsuit through a lawyer and Mr Harding is advised by the indomitable Dr Grantly, his son-in-law, to stand his ground.
Bold attempts to enlist the support of the press and engages the interest of The Jupiter (a newspaper representing The Times) whose editor, Tom Towers, pens editorials supporting reform of the charity, and presenting a portrait of Mr Harding as being selfish and derelict in his conduct of his office. This image is taken up by commentators Dr Pessimist Anticant, and Mr Popular Sentiment, who have been seen as caricatures of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens respectively.[2]
Ultimately, despite much browbeating by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon, and the legal opinion solicited from the barrister, Sir Abraham Haphazard, Mr Harding concludes that he cannot in good conscience continue to accept such generous remuneration and resigns the office. John Bold, who has appealed in vain to Tom Towers to redress the injury to Mr Harding, returns to Barchester where he marries Eleanor after halting legal proceedings.
Those of the bedesmen of the hospital who have allowed their appetite for greater income to estrange them from the warden are reproved by their senior member, Bunce, who has been constantly loyal to Harding whose good care and understanding heart are now lost to them. At the end of the novel the bishop decides that the wardenship of Hiram’s hospital be left vacant, and none of the bedesmen are offered the extra money despite vacancy of the post. Mr Harding, on the other hand, becomes Rector of St. Cuthbert’s, a small parish in the Cathedral Close, drawing a much lesser income than before.

 I loved everything about this novel, the writing, characters, plot. I did, however, agree with Dr Bold. I’m not sure the money should have been paid to the Warden. Yes, he deserves remuneration for his work, but how much did he actually do? Also, just because he is a kind, gentle man doesn’t entitle him to a life of luxury. However, should the money gone directly to the bedesman? I don’t think so – imagine the corruption in finding 12 frail old wool carders – maybe more people could be helped with the money? Trollope seems to imply we should leave well enough alone.

Anyway, this is a great novel for people who enjoy 19th Century Literature – you know the type with a beginning, a middle and an end?

I’m looking forward to watching the adaptation.

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