Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Domestic Manners of Americans – Fanny Trollope

Domestic Manners of the Americans - Fanny Trollope

Domestic Manners of the Americans – Fanny Trollope

We read this for my Victorian study group. I knew it was going to be a slog and I made myself read 2% a day – although in the last week I had to read 5% a day (I must have slacked off at some stage).

Here is a description …

Frances Trollope, mother of the great Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, wrote more than 40 books in her lifetime, including landmark novels dealing with important social issues. She is best known today, however, for this witty, entertaining, and controversial account of American life and culture. Published in 1832, this book presents a lively portrait of early nineteenth-century America as observed by a woman of rare intelligence and keen perception. The author left no stone unturned, commenting on American dress, food, speech, politics, manners, customs, the landscape, architecture, and more.

Mrs Trollope didn’t find much to admire in America – the manners were bad, too much spitting, too much drinking, strange religious practice, no culture, poorly educated populace and possibly their worst fault was a prejudice against the English. The scenery, however, was occasionally breath-taking particularly Niagara Falls. She tried to be an impartial observer, but it just felt cold and distant (and very judgemental). I would have preferred a more personal account. The descriptions of various places in America was interesting – particularly with the passage of time. I often got the atlas out to trace her journey.

At my group discussion it became clear that some biographical information and knowledge about the circumstances of the American trip would have enhanced the reading of this book.

I can’t say that I will be adding any Fanny Trollope’s to me to be read pile.

Here is a review I found…

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/book-of-a-lifetime-domestic-manners-of-the-americans-by-fanny-trollope-1828445.html

 

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The Collected Works of A J Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

The Collected Works of A J Fikry - Gabrielle Levin

The Collected Works of A J Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

I don’t know where I first heard of this novel – maybe here, but when I first started looking for it it was hard to find. Unlike now there were piles of it in my local Dymocks.

This novel was a joy to read – quirky and charming – a book for readers.

Here is the blurb …

A.J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. His wife has just died, in tragic circumstances. His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. His life is in ruins.Maya is the baby who is left on the floor of the children’s section in A.J.’s bookshop, with nothing but a note.  What happens in the small bookshop changes the lives of these extraordinary characters.   As surprising as it is moving, this is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

At the start of every chapter is a brief note from AJ to his daughter describing a favourite book and why he thinks she should read it. The particular book also has meaning for the chapter ahead. This is a book about books and reading – all of the characters talk about books and what particular books mean to them. It is funny and occasionally sad, but always charming.

It is short and easy to read and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who is a reader. It makes me want to read AJ’s favourites that I haven’t read yet . Currently this my favourite 2014 book (closely followed by The Good Luck of Right Now)

More reviews …

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/the-storied-life-of-aj-fikry-a-moving-little-book-that-bucks-all-the-adoption-cliches/article18586637/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/book-review-indie-bookstore-owner-inhabits-gabrielle-zevins-storied-life-of-aj-fikry/2014/03/31/a30f71c8-b6b8-11e3-8cc3-d4bf596577eb_story.html

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Nine Days – Toni Jordan

Nine Days - Toni Jordan

Nine Days – Toni Jordan

I read Addition and loved it, so was keen to read another of Ms Jordan’s novels.

Here is the blurb …

One family. Nine momentous days. An unforgettable novel of love and folly and heartbreak.
It is 1939 and Australia is about to go to war. Deep in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Richmond it is business—your own and everyone else’s—as usual. And young Kip Westaway, failed scholar and stablehand, is living the most important day of his life.
Over the next seventy years the nine members of the Westaway clan will each experience their own momentous, transformative day. For Kip, for his adored sister Connie and for all the people they love, these nine days will show them exactly who they are.

This novel has a very Australian feel – quite nice to read something that feels familiar. Each chapter represents one day in the life of a particular family member and the story moves forwards and backwards in time. It is an interesting narrative structure and it works well. I am surprised that nine days over seventy years can give such a comprehensive picture of a family.

The Westaway’s are struggling. The father has died (fell off a tram while drunk), Kip has left school and is working as a stable hand, Mrs Westaway has taken a job and Connie too has given up Art school and they have taken in a border. They hope that Frank (Kip’s twin) who is still at school will win a scholarship to university and eventually rescue the family – however, as we discover from Frank’s day he is not the most selfless of people. When the border leaves in a huff, Connie gets a job at the newspaper where her father once worked and then there is hope that she might marry the widowed editor. However, she is in love with the young man across the road who has just been called up to active service (the photo on the cover is meant to be Connie and Jack and was taken by Kip). We also have a day in the life of Stanzi and Charlotte (Kip’s twin daughters), Annabel (Kip’s wife), Jean (Kip’s mother) and Alec (Kip’s grandson). Events in each chapter sometimes overlap providing a more complex understanding of the events.

This is a novel about families, sacrifice, keeping up appearances and love. It is an easy and quick read and well worth the effort.

More reviews …

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/emotional-postcards-of-a-family-drama-20120825-24sov.html

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/toni-jordans-third-novel-explores-a-day-in-the-life/story-fn9n8gph-1226451844012#

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Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding

Mad About the Boy - Helen Fielding

Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding

I was a Bridget Jones fan before the movies, so I had to read this new one.

Here is the blurb …

Bridget Jones is back!
Great comic writers are as rare as hen’s teeth. And Helen is one of a very select band who have created a character of whom the very thought makes you smile. Bridget Jones’ Diary, charting the life of a 30-something singleton in London in the 1990s was a huge international bestseller, published in 40 countries and selling over 15 million copies worldwide. Its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, published soon after was also a major international bestseller. Both were made into films starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.
Set in the present, the new novel will explore a different phase in Bridget’s life with an entirely new scenario. As Helen Fielding has said: “If people laugh as much reading it as I am while writing it then we’ll all be very happy.”

The original Bridget Jones created a new genre – romantic comedy in fiction. That is quite a task to repeat and I have to say that, although there are some laugh out loud moments, it was a bit disappointing. A bumbling, incompetent heroine in her 30s doesn’t seem sad whereas a bumbling, incompetent heroine in her 50s is very sad. One of Ms Fielding’s great strengths is capturing a particular lifestyle at a particular point in time – singles in the 90s – and her take on the school mums was hilarious! I can definitely see a few Nicolette’s on my school run.

This is a light, funny and easy to read novel.

More reviews …

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/10358920/Bridget-Jones-Mad-About-the-Boy-review-A-Clunking-disappointment.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/12/bridget-jones-mad-boy-review

 

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Becoming Jane Eyre – Shelia Kohler

Becoming Jane Eyre - Sheilia Kohler

Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheilia Kohler

I saw this at a pop up book store and thought I really had to buy it. It sat in my pile for quite some time, but as I am determined to reduce the pile this year, I decided to read it while between books.

Here is the blurb …

The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent.

So unfolds the story of the Brontë sisters. At its center are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre. Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction’s most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler’s Becoming Jane Eyre will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.

I would describe this is a fictionalised biography. It starts with Patrick Bronte’s eye surgery and ends well at the end. The focus is Charlotte and how she uses the events in her life (her trips to Belgium, her unrequited love) in her writing. The parsonage is vividly described – the stern, selfish Patrick, spoilt and ultimately self-destructive Branwell, odd passionate Emily and the lovely frail Anne.

I think this novel is a good starting point for anyone interested in the Brontes and Charlotte in particular. Keep in mind it is fiction, but Ms Kohler has researched the Brontes and everything fits with what I have read in various biographies.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/books/review/Benfey-t.html?_r=0

http://bronteblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/becoming-jane-eyre-review.html

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