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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Splendour Falls by Susannah Kearsley

(Photo by Material Scientist from Wikipedia)

Susannah Kearsley proves herself a worthy successor to Mary Stewart with this lovely, relaxing book. It provided me with many hours of enjoyment in a time of great stress and hurt.

Set in a beautiful part of France near the Castle of Chinon, the story involves a young woman who finds herself drawn into a world of intrigues and murders. She is joining her cousin who is researching a historical mystery, but when she arrives, he isn't there. What has happened to him? Emily must find out if there is anyone she can trust amongst the diverse group of people she meets at the hotel.

She also has to work out her feelings for the enigmatic Neil and lonely Armand.



Monday, January 27, 2014

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

When Rebecca Mead first read Middlemarch as a bright young 17 year old, she identified strongly with the charming heroine Dorothea.  Mead grew up in a provincial town in England without a theatre and sadly lacking in culture and intellectual life.  Like the passionate Dorothea, she longed for something more, and she wondered what she would do with her life, and struggled to find meaning in her life.

She often read Middlemarch again throughout her life, and she later identified with the author as well, especially when she fell in love with a man with three sons like Eliot did.  This led her to analyse what the book meant to her over the years, and to study George Eliot's life.

This is not only the story of why the characters and the book meant so much to Mead; it is also a biography of Eliot and a quest for the meaning of Eliot's life.  Mead goes in search of Eliot and attempts to understand more about her and why she was such a great writer and why she didn't conform to what was expected of women in Victorian times.

Unfortunately, I remember reading Middlemarch at university almost thirty years ago very well, and I never want to read it again.  I like most classics, but Middlemarch drove me mad, although I liked Dorothea.  Luckily, the BBC series brought it to life for me, and I actually liked the series much more.  I tried not to let my feelings about the book affect my enjoyment of this book, however, and I found Mead's writing quite profound.  This is highly recommended, especially if you like Middlemarch!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

This is the best kind of old-fashioned epic love story. Nancy Horan combines brilliant characterisation with great story-telling and wonderful description.

Independent Frances Osbourne can't help falling for smooth-talking Robert Louis Stevenson even though he's much younger. Their love affair develops quickly and Frances is swept away by the ambitious writer. However, what she really needs is stability. The novelist and Frances come alive in this book.

Horgan also evokes the atmosphere of mystical Scotland and Bohemian France beautifully.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

I loved reading this moving, warm-hearted novel about the power of hope, love and forgiveness. I didn't want it to end.

The novel's engaging heroine Sam is a former foster-child who has been offered a place at Journalism school on condition that she writes to her sponsor Mr Knightley. Sam has to go through the ringer at her new college. Her lecturer chides her for her lack of passion in her writing; she has trouble mentoring Kyle, another former foster child; her friend's mother doesn't think that Sam has any 'preceding or style', and she has many other problems.

Sam's journey towards a successful career and finding true love kept me riveted, although I felt that the book was a bit too miserable at times. I also enjoyed all the literary allusions.

This was a wonderful mixture of Daddy Long Legs and Jane Austen with some Jane Eyre!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wall Street West by Cristina Guarneri

This was a strange mixture of fiction and non-fiction about a former high-flyer on Wall Street who wants to be a good Mayor and stamp out corruption.  I agreed with this ambition, of course, but I didn't finish the book.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Two Mrs Abbotts by D E Stevenson

This is another 'light, bright and sparkling' novel by DE Stevenson! I don't know how she managed to write three of these books.

It's again full of charming, eccentric characters, such as a frustrated romantic writer who discovers that her books are no good, and a disappointed young man in love with a rather common young woman.  Barbara doesn't play much of a role, unfortunately, but she does catch up with Sarah, the doctor's wife.  It's also good to see that she now has two children.

Jerry's husband has gone off to war, so she has to cope alone, but she has clever Markie, her former teacher to help her.  She indulges in a bit of match-making where her personable brother is concerned, so that she can keep occupied.

The first novel about Barbara was the best, but this one is a lovely and relaxing book to read.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What Our Minds Do When We Read Novels by Orhan Pahmuk

We enter into second lives when we read novels, according to Pahmuk.  In this intriguing extract from his book, he writes about how we enter into a novel as if it is a landscape painting, and we live vicariously through the characters. He explains why we get annoyed if this isn't possible.

Pahmuk also separates the naive novelist from the reflective one. The naive novelist writes spontaneously while the reflective one thinks about the process of writing. Pahmuk writes more about this in his book.

The true reason why we read novels, however, is because we are searching for the meaning of life. All novels have secret centres, i.e. a secret meaning. These help us discover our own purpose and the meaning of our own lives.

I will certainly read Pahmuk's book now.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

I enjoyed the television series of this novel so much that I bought it.  The superb stars, including Felicity Kendall, really bought the book's fascinating characters to life.  There is the promiscuous Calypso, dishy Oliver, the 'old soul' Sarah, and frustrated Helena.  The war setting and the atmosphere were also extremely well-done.

However,  I couldn't get into the book.  The style of writing was just too staccato, and there were just too many characters.  Unusually, I much preferred the series to the book.