Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books Read in 2012

Cumulative Reading List for 2012.

I'm setting a reading goal of 50 books for 2012. That was my goal for 2011 too, but I failed dismally. Only made it to 42, and several of those were children's books. Hoping to do much better in 2012. This will be my page for keeping track of the books as I read them.

1. Spiderweb. Penelope Lively (1998; 218 pages; fiction)
2. The Players Come Again. Amanda Cross (1990; 229 pages; fiction)
3. The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman (1998; 255 pages; fiction)
4. The Night Strangers. Chris Bohjalian (2011; 375 pages; fiction)
5. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios. Eric Rasmussen (2011; 212 pages; nonfiction)
6. Liberty. Garrison Keillor (2008; 267 pages; fiction)

7. A Fall of Moondust. Arthur C. Clarke (1961; 206 pages; fiction)
8. Murder in Mount Holly. Paul Theroux (1969; 148 pages; fiction)
9. A Month in the Country. J.L. Carr (1980; 135 pages; fiction)
10. The Horned Man. James Lasdun (2002; 193 pages; fiction)

MARCH 2012
11. Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925. Susan Goodman (2011; 330 pages; nonfiction)
12. The Solitary House. Lynn Shepherd (2012; 340 pages ARC; fiction)
13. The Other Side of the Fire. Alice Thomas Ellis (1984; 156 pages; fiction)
14. Seven-Day Magic. Edward Eager (1962; 190 pages; fiction)
15. The Dovekeepers. Alice Hoffman (2011; 500 pages; fiction)

APRIL 2012
16. Tyrannosaur Canyon. Douglas Preston (2005; 398 pages; fiction)
17. A Man Lay Dead (An Inspector Alleyn Mystery). Ngaio Marsh (1934; 224 pages; fiction)
18. The Mysterious Key and What It Opened. Louisa May Alcott (1867; 109 pages; fiction)
19. Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale. Lynda Rutledge (2012; 292 pages ARC; fiction)

MAY 2012
Didn't read anything in May! That was "moving month" around here.

JUNE 2012
20. Artists in Crime (An Inspector Alleyn Mystery). Ngaio Marsh (1938; 288 pages; fiction)
21. Night Watch. Linda Fairstein (2012; 404 pages ARC; fiction)
22. The Key (A Miss Silver Mystery). Patricia Wentworth (1944; e-book; fiction)

JULY 2012
23. The Warden. Anthony Trollope (1855; e-book; fiction)
24. Right Ho, Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse (1934; 228 pages, e-book; fiction)
25. Dead Man's Folly. Agatha Christie (1956; e-book; fiction)
26. Skios. Michael Frayn (2012; 257 pages ARC; fiction)

27. The House at Riverton. Kate Morton (2006; 472 pages; fiction)
28. Elephants Can Remember. Agatha Christie (1972; 224 pages, e-book; fiction)
29. My Man Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse (1919; 185 pages, e-book; fiction)

30. The Little Stranger. Sarah Waters (2009; 463 pages, e-book; fiction)
31. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson (2005; 465 pages, e-book; fiction)
32. Mrs. Malory and No Cure for Death. Hazel Holt (2005; 256 pages; fiction)

33. Lost Boy Lost Girl. Peter Straub (2003; e-book; fiction)

34. The Bartender's Tale. Ivan Doig (2012; 400 pages; fiction)
35. The Nursing Home Murder (An Inspector Alleyn mystery). Ngaio Marsh (1935; Kindle edition; fiction)

Another month with no books finished. Tsk, tsk.

"ON HOLD" (started but not finished in 2012):
The Children's Book. A.S. Byatt
Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann
If on a winter's night a traveler. Italo Calvino

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2012

Hosted by: Yvonne (Socrates' Book Reviews)
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2012

See the guidelines on the announcement/sign-up page here. There are three levels to choose from; I'm signing up at the first level (complete one series), and I'll be trying to finish up the Mrs. Malory mystery series by Hazel Holt -- I need to read three more books:
  • Mrs. Malory and the Lilies That Fester
  • Mrs. Malory and No Cure for Death
  • Mrs. Malory and a Death in the Family
There are a couple of other series I'd like to finish this year, too -- but I don't want to promise more than I can deliver. As the year goes along, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog here.

Mystery and Suspense Reading Challenge 2012

Hosted by: Book Chick City
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2012

Mysteries and suspense are my favorite genres, so this is one I can't pass up. See the announcement/sign-up page for all the guidelines, but basically the idea is pretty simple: read twelve or twenty-four books from any of a long list of sub-genres. I'm signing up for twelve, although if 2012 is anything like 2011, I'll end up reading more than that. During the year, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog here.

Off the Shelf Challenge 2012

Hosted by: Bookish Ardour
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2012

See the announcement/sign-up page here, for guidelines. I'll be signing up at level two again this year ("Trying" -- 15 books), but hope to read a few more than that.

I have a ridiculously huge number of books on my TBR shelves/lists, so there's a lot to choose from (some of them are listed on my GoodReads "To-Read" shelf). Haven't made up my mind about which ones I'll read this year, but these are a few I'm considering:
  • Afternoon Men. Anthony Powell
  • Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann
  • Death of a Hollow Man. Caroline Graham
  • The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman
  • Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte
  • Los Alamos. Joseph Kanon
  • The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins
  • The Sign of the Book. John Dunning
During the year, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog here.

1st in a Series Challenge 2012

Hosted by: Katy (A Few More Pages)
Dates: 1 January through 31 December, 2012

For guidelines and to sign up, see the challenge blog here.

Again this year, I'm signing up at the "Series Novice" level, so I'll be reading at least three books. Haven't decided what they'll be yet, but I have a list of books I'm considering:
  • The Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler (first Philip Marlowe novel)
  • Fer-de-Lance. Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe)
  • Last Bus to Woodstock. Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse series)
  • A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh (Albert Campion series)
  • Relic. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Pendergast series)
  • The Warden. Anthony Trollope (Chronicles of Barsetshire)
And I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog here.

New Author Challenge 2012

Hosted by: Jackie at Literary Escapism
Dates: 1 January to 31 December, 2012

I've participated in the New Author Challenge for two years now, and it's always one of my favorite reading challenges. Love finding new writers, and this really encourages the hunt.

See all the guidelines on the announcement/sign-up page here. Once again, I'm committing to 15 new authors, but hope to do a little better than that. Also will really try very hard to do a better job of posting reviews this time around (no, really -- I promise). And I'll be tracking my progress through the year on my challenge blog here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What's in a Name 5

Hosted by: Beth Fish Reads
Dates: 1 January to 31 December, 2012

I had so much fun with this one in 2011, I can't possibly resist the 2012 edition. The idea is to read one book in each of the following categories:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title
  4. A book with a type of house in the title
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title
  6. A book with something you'd find on a calendar in the title
See the announcement/sign-up page here.

At the moment, I'm considering these titles for the challenge, but the list will almost certainly change during the year:
  1. Tyrannosaur Canyon. Douglas Preston
  2. The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins
  3. Spiderweb. Penelope Lively
  4. Iron House. John Hart
  5. The Glass Key. Dashiell Hammett
  6. The Man Who Was Thursday. G.K. Chesterton
I'll be keeping track of my progress on my challenge blog here.

The Wrap-Ups Go On and On

So 2011 is almost outta here -- today is New Year's Eve Eve already. Time to wrap up the rest of my challenges for the year. Many of the books I read for these challenges overlap, so instead of retyping the same info for each one, I'm just going to list the challenges and provide links to my challenge blog where I've been keeping track of my progress during the year. But I'd like to say thank you to all the challenge hosts -- I enjoyed every one of these, and will most likely be signing up for the 2012 versions, if they exist.

1 January - 31 December 2011
Host: Alyce of At Home With Books
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 23 September through 21 December 2011
Hosted by: Katrina at Callapidder Days
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Hosted by: Book Chick City
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Hosted by: Bookish Ardour
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Host: MizB
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Hosted by: Bev Hankins @ My Reader's Block
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Hosted by: Beth Fish Reads
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 February - 1 December 2011
Host: 3M (Michelle) @ 1 More Chapter
See my list of books read here.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2011
Host: 3M (Michelle) @ 1 More Chapter
See my list of books read here.

Dates: September 1 through October 31, 2011
Hosted by: Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings
See my list of books read and movies/TV shows watched here.

Dates: 15 February - 15 August 2011
Host: Teddy Rose @ So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
See my list of books read here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Best of 2011

This week BTT asks: "What were your favorite books of 2011?" Predictable question, of course, and coming at just the right time because I was getting ready to do a post about my favorites and my reading year in general.

And, in general, my reading year sucked. Not exactly the books I read, although there were a number of clunkers amongst them. But I went through several slumps, didn't read nearly as many books as I'd hoped, and really had a hard time finding books to temp me out of said slumps. And although I did manage to complete the reading for most of the challenges I signed up for in 2011, I posted very few reviews -- so I sort of feel like I was only half successful.

I won't get into excuses or reasons -- I'll just say that real life intruded way too much in 2011. So I'm very happy to get the year behind me and make a fresh start with my reading for 2012.

And 2011 wasn't a total loss when it comes to bookish pursuits. I did find a few really fine reads; in fact, several have entered my list of all-time favorites. Here are my faves (in no particular order):

The Sense of an Ending. Julian Barnes
2011 Man Booker Prize Winner. Wonderful book. One I'd definitely like to read again -- it gives the reader such a lot to think about for such a short work. The seemingly simple story is layered with amazing complexity. Beautifully written, it reminds me a little of Anthony Powell's novels. I've tried other books by Julian Barnes in the past, and never been able to finish any of them; but this has made me want to go back and give those abandoned works another look.

The Seance. John Harwood
I love a good ghost story, and this one is excellent. I was a little reluctant to try it because Harwood's first novel (The Ghost Writer) got such mixed reviews. Glad I didn't let that stop me.

The Killings at Badger's Drift. Caroline Graham
First book in Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby mystery series. I've read a couple of the later novels in the series, and always meant to go back and read this first one. This year the 1st in a Series Challenge finally nudged me into doing it, and I'm very grateful. I've loved all the Barnabys I've read, and this was no exception.

Third Girl, Hallowe'en Party, and Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Agatha Christie
I set myself a little personal challenge this year to read or re-read all the Hercule Poirot novels that feature Poirot's friend, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. Mrs. Oliver is my favorite Christie character and I've always wished Dame Agatha had seen fit to let her have her own series. Loved all of these -- especially "Mrs. McGinty."

Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life. Martin Meredith
This was an unexpected pleasure -- picked it up at the library, on a whim, and I'm glad I did. Very enjoyable overview of the history of the study of human evolution. Meredith does a fine job of presenting the search for the origins of human life, as well as the stories of the modern-day men and women doing the searching. Just the right mix of science and gossip. Not written for the professional in the field (good, because I'm not one), but still scholarly enough to hold my attention; and exciting enough to keep me turning pages into the wee hours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And a Few More Wrap-Ups

Hosted by Joanne at Booklover Book Reviews
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2011
Objective: Read and review books written by Australian Authors

I signed up at the "Tourist" level, and read three books:
  1. Picnic at Hanging Rock. Joan Lindsay
  2. The Seance. John Harwood
  3. My Brilliant Career. Miles Franklin
Loved this challenge -- thanks so much to Joanne for hosting. The three books I read were some of my favorites from this year's reading, and a couple of them (Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career) had been on my TBR list for decades.

Hosted by Yvonne of Socrates' Book Reviews
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2011

I signed up at the "Snoop" level, and read six books:
  1. Whisker of Evil. Rita Mae Brown
  2. Malice in Miniature. Jeanne M. Dams
  3. Mrs. Malory and the Fatal Legacy. Hazel Holt
  4. Mrs. Malory and a Time to Die. Hazel Holt
  5. Quiet As a Nun. Antonia Fraser
  6. The Killings at Badger's Drift. Caroline Graham
Many thanks to Yvonne too, for hosting this one. I love mysteries, and while I didn't exactly cruise through the cozies for this, I still enjoyed all the books I read. Still trying to catch up on reviews (what else is new?), but I've included links to those that exist.

Hosted by Historical Tapestry
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2011

I signed up at level four ("Daring & Curious"), and committed to five books. Actually read seven:
  1. The Anatomy of Ghosts. Andrew Taylor
  2. The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead. Paul Elwork
  3. Mr. Chartwell. Rebecca Hunt
  4. Picnic at Hanging Rock. Joan Lindsay
  5. The Winter Ghosts. Kate Mosse
  6. The Seance. John Harwood
  7. Alice I Have Been. Melanie Benjamin
I had some misgivings about signing up for this one -- didn't think of myself as a fan of historical fiction; but as it turned out, I had a lot of fun with it. Thanks so much to Historical Tapestry for hosting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

More Challenge Wrap-Ups

Well, I was sort of dilly-dallying around, hoping I might do a little more catching up on review-writing. But now that there's only a week to go in 2011, I think it's just as well to admit defeat in that area, and get on with challenge wrap-ups. That way, I can devote my whole attention to all those new challenges on the horizon for 2012! And to save time, I'm not going to do individual wrap-up posts this year -- so here goes:

The 2011 2nds Challenge was hosted by Katy at A few More Pages. I signed up at the "Just a Spoonful" level, and read three books:
  1. A Shilling for Candles. Josephine Tey
  2. Shut Your Eyes Tight. John Verdon
  3. Malice in Miniature. Jeanne M. Dams
Didn't manage to get reviews written for any of these, but I enjoyed them all and will be reading more books by these authors in the future. I want to thank Katy for hosting this one, and I'm thinking seriously about signing up for the 2012 2nds Challenge, too.

The 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge was hosted by Jackie at Literary Escapism. I committed to reading 15 new-to-me authors, and I actually did a little better than that. Here's my list of authors/books, with links to reviews (if any):
  1. Andrew Taylor: The Anatomy of Ghosts
  2. Peter Robinson: Bad Boy
  3. Joyce Dennys: Henrietta Sees It Through
  4. Paul Elwork: The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead
  5. Elizabeth Stuckey-French: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
  6. Mary Cunningham: Cynthia's Attic: The Missing Locket
  7. Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad
  8. Jim Stinson: Tassy Morgan's Bluff
  9. Rebecca Hunt: Mr. Chartwell
  10. Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock
  11. William Boyd: Nat Tate
  12. Michael Robertson: The Brothers of Baker Street
  13. James Patterson: Along Came a Spider
  14. Conor Fitzgerald: The Fatal Touch
  15. Kate Mosse: The Winter Ghosts
  16. Miles Franklin: My Brilliant Career
  17. John Harwood: The Seance
  18. Paul Scott: Staying On
  19. Melanie Benjamin: Alice I Have Been
  20. Philip Eade: Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II
This was one of my favorite challenges, and I'm really grateful to Jackie for hosting. I definitely intend to sign up for the 2012 edition, and promise to try to do a better job of keeping up with reviews.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Still Here

Hard to believe we've come to the final Sunday of 2011. Also hard to believe this is just my second (I think) Salon post of the year. It's always hard for me to settle down and do any writing on Sundays, just as it's a little hard to get much reading done. Sundays are usually pretty busy around here, with errands to run and catching up on things we should have done during the week. And then, for most of the fall there's all that football to watch!

Today's been a little different, though. Haven't even turned the TV on. And after the orgy of Christmas movies in the last week or so, that's been a real relief. The hubby and I have been listening to Christmas music and working on a jigsaw puzzle (love puzzles, but I'm really pretty hopeless at putting them together). And I've even done a little reading.

Today I've been trying to finish up a biography of Britain's Prince Philip, by Philip Eade -- Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II. Catchy title, huh? It's an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing, and not really the sort of book I ordinarily request, but the prince has always interested me. I'm enjoying it and finding out a lot about his family life before he married Elizabeth. I knew about his family's connections to the National Socialist Party in Germany before and during WWII (his sisters all married German princes), but I didn't really know what a scattered and insecure life the young prince led. So far, the book is very informative and a really entertaining read. It also makes one more nonfiction book for the year -- I've read more nonfiction than usual this year, for some reason.

Later on, I'm hoping to get a start on wrapping up all the reading challenges I signed up for in 2011. Way too many, of course, but I did manage to complete the reading for most of them. Now I can start thinking about the challenges of 2012, and trying to keep myself from joining each and every one I hear about. I've promised myself to try to stop being such a challenge junkie next year, but old habits are hard to break.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Alice I Have Been

This week my teaser lines come from Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin's novel based on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his child-muse, Alice Liddell. This snippet comes from the beginning of Chapter 3 (p.49), in one of the (imaginary, I'm assuming) letters from Carroll to Alice:
The Perfect Day knocked on my window this morning....I don't know about you, but I am rather tired of being myself. Aren't you? Would you like to be someone else, just for today?
Would you?

I'm about halfway through this one, and will have more to say about it in a day or two. It's giving me a lot to think about.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Challenge Wrap-Up: 1st in a Series 2011

Time to start wrapping up some reading challenges for the year. For the 1st in a Series Challenge, hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages, I signed up at the "Series Novice" level, and read three books:
Enjoyed all three of these. I've read later books in the series by Fraser and Graham, but the first Alex Cross novel was a new experience. Hope to read more books in all three series.

Thanks so much to Katy for hosting this one. Haven't signed up yet for the 2012 Challenge, but I'm definitely thinking about it.

Reading Report: Quiet as a Nun

Written by Antonia Fraser
Viking Press, 1977; 176 pages

At the beginning of Antonia Fraser's Quiet as a Nun, Sister Miriam, a nun in the Convent of the Blessed Eleanor, is found dead (an apparent suicide) in the Tower of Ivory, an ancient structure adjoining the convent grounds. Sister Miriam was an old school chum of television reporter Jemima Shore -- many years ago, they both attended the convent's private school for girls. In those days, Sister Miriam was Rosabelle Powerstock, heiress to "the Powers fortune," one of the largest fortunes in Britain.

Jemima is contacted by the Reverend Mother Ancilla, head of the convent and school, and invited back to look into Miriam's death and a number of other strange occurrences. During her investigation, Jemima discovers that Miriam, whose family owned the convent's lands, might have written a second will leaving everything to another charity. If that will exists and is found, it could force both the convent and the school to shut down.

Understandably, not everyone welcomes Jemima's poking around in convent affairs. And things turn really spooky when the girls at the convent school tell Jemima that the Black Nun was seen in the convent just before Miriam's death. Supposedly, the ghostly (and faceless) spectre is only seen when a death is about to take place in convent grounds. And now it's been sighted again. Can Jemima discover the truth about Sister Miriam's death before someone else (possibly Jemima herself) is killed?

Well, obviously Jemima can -- this was the first novel in a series that went on to include seven more books. But it's a good, mysterious read, even though we know she's going to figure everything out in the end. I've read several of the later Jemima Shore mysteries, and decided it was time to see how they all started. I always enjoy them, even though they're really not the most thrilling tales -- basically cozies, they proceed at a nice sedate pace. But Fraser's writing is always elegant. And Jemima is an interesting character -- intelligent, sophisticated, and serious about her work as a journalist. And unmarried and childless -- very unlike her creator, who was married and the mother of six!

Definitely had fun with this one. And I'll be reading more Jemima Shore in the future.

Booking Through Thursday: Character or Plot?

This week, Deb at BTT asks: "What’s more important to you? Real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters? Or an amazing, page-turning plot?...(Yes, I know, they are both important. But if you had to pick one as being more important than the other?)"

Well, if I absolutely had to pick one of those offerings over the other (yes, they are both very important), I'd definitely have to pick plot over character. Through the years, I've found that my favorite fiction is usually extremely plot-driven -- which is probably why I read so many mysteries. I love it if a book has fascinating characters, too; but my main requirement is an interesting story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reading Report: Along Came a Spider

Written by James Patterson
Grand Central Publishing, 2001; 502 pages

First published 1993

Along Came a Spider is the first book in James Patterson's long-running series about Washington DC police detective Alex Cross. It's a deliciously frightening and complicated tale in which a serial kidnapper/killer snatches the daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and the young son of the secretary of the Treasury.

Gary Soneji (no spoiler -- we learn pretty early on who's doing the snatching) believes he can commit the crime of the century, and is inspired by the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby back in 1932. Alex Cross isn't happy about being diverted from the case he's working on, involving the murder of two African-American women and an infant; but the DC police department knows they need to put their best cop on the high-profile kidnapping case. And that means Cross is getting reassigned.

As I said, it's a complicated plot, involving lots of twists and turns. Along the way, Cross gets involved with beautiful Secret Service agent, Jezzie Flanagan -- against his grandmother's advice and his better judgment -- and puts his own life, along with that of his partner John Sampson, in jeopardy before the mayhem comes to an end.

I loved the way Cross was presented -- a good man, and a good cop, but not a paragon; he's compassionate and intelligent, but definitely has his flaws. This was my introduction to James Patterson's writing -- somehow, I managed to avoid reading any of his books over the years. But I'd enjoyed the movies with Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross, so I decided to take a look at the novels. Read this one last August at the beach, and it was a perfect beach read; but it would be a fun read no matter where or when. This one really does deserve the "thriller" label.

Reading Report: Mr. Chartwell

Written by Rebecca Hunt
Random House, 2011; 256 pages

First published 2010

Publisher's Description:
July 1964. London. Esther Hammerhans, a young librarian in the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the windowpane she sees a vast silhouette. Meanwhile, in Chartwell, Kent, on the eve of his retirement from Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill has just woken up. There's someone in the room with him, someone he's known for a long time, but it's not a friend. A dark, mute presence is watching him with rapt concentration. Both the humble librarian and the eminent statesman have just been visited by Black Pat. For the man who saved Western civilization, this "black dog" is all too familiar. For Esther, he's a weirdly charming, deeply unnerving stranger just come to rent a room. Or is he here to stay?

My Thoughts:

Rebecca Hunt's Mr. Chartwell is certainly an odd and interesting book -- I enjoyed reading it and loved the awful character of Black Pat (Mr. Chartwell). I was a little skeptical at first -- a book about a gigantic talking dog, supposedly real or completely imaginary, isn't really something I'd usually choose to read. But Black Pat is definitely not just any talking dog. He can be disarmingly human and charmingly mutt-like at the same time. And then he can be disgustingly human and repulsively mutt-like, too. And also very, very sinister. But always intriguing.

The character stems, of course, from Churchill's "black dog" of depression, a ghost that haunted him all his life. I've wrestled with the dark beast of depression myself, and understand how debilitating it can be, but also how strangely attractive. I thought Hunt portrayed the problem very adroitly.

The one thing that bothered me all the way through, however, was the lack of period detail to ground the story in the time period of the book. Just a few extra touches of 1960s worldview would have been nice. But that's just nitpicking on my part. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful tale, and Rebecca Hunt is an exciting new writer. I'll be looking for more of her work in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reading Report: My Brilliant Career

Written by Miles Franklin
First published 1901; 319 pages

"Miles Franklin" was the pen name of Australian novelist Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. She wrote many books, but My Brilliant Career is the most famous, and was written while she was still a teenager, for (she claimed) the amusement of her friends.

The novel is narrated by Sybylla Melvyn, also a teenager, and is her story of growing up in rural Australia in the 1890s. After her family is reduced to poverty because of her father's drinking, Sybylla is allowed to escape the drudgery and boredom when she's sent for an extended visit with her grandmother. Life is much more comfortable on her grandmother's property, and Sybylla is well-treated by her aunt and uncle and all their friends and neighbors. She also meets wealthy young landowner, Harry Beecham, who falls in love with her and proposes marriage in spite of the abominable way she treats him. Sybylla is convinced that she's too ugly and too much of a tomboy to be the object of any man's affection. She gets Beecham to agree to a sort of trial period -- they'll be engaged but won't announce the engagement until she's twenty-one. But soon after that, Sybylla's fortunes take some dramatic (and disturbing) turns -- and that's all I'll say about the rest of the plot.

My Brilliant Career is an interesting book, and I enjoyed it. Mostly. There's really not much plot to get involved in. It reads very much like a memoir -- which is basically what it is, I suppose. Although she can be sympathetic and intriguing, Sybylla also displays a lot of very exasperating behavior -- sometimes you just want to grab her and give her a good shaking. And the writing is definitely that of a very young writer -- exuberant and full of life, but annoying and overwrought at times. Still, a fun read, and another volume crossed off the long-time "must read" list.

Reading Report: The Seance

Written by John Harwood
Houghton Mifflin, 2008; 350 pages

In Part One of John Harwood's brilliantly creepy second novel The Seance, we meet Constance Langton who grew up in a house marked by the death of her young sister, her father's indifference and eventual estrangement, and her mother's perpetual mourning for her lost child. In an attempt to help her mother overcome her grief, Constance becomes involved in the world of Spiritualism. But after persuading her mother to attend a seance, hoping it might provide some comfort, Constance is devastated by the tragic results.

Soon afterward, she learns that (through rather complicated family connections) she's inherited Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside, with a very dark reputation -- several members of the family who owned the house have disappeared mysteriously. Constance learns the sinister history of the house through diaries and journals (some dependable, some not); and, with the help of the family's solicitor John Montague, must deal with the consequences of this eerie bequest.

The Seance is a wonderful take on the classic Victorian gothic tale. Spiritualism, Mesmerism, ghosts, clues in diaries, unexplained disappearances, lost loves and penniless spinsters, mistaken identity, orphans -- all the bells and whistles. The story is told from different points of view, by several characters, both male and female; and the language and tone are always spot-on, in every instance. There are also a couple of love stories involved, as well as bit of a surprise ending. Great stuff!

I was a little wary of The Seance because Harwood's first book, The Ghost Writer, got such mixed reviews. But I'm so glad I took a chance on the book -- it's turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

Reading Report: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Written by Joan Lindsay
First published 1967; 212 pages

Joan Lindsay's classic suspense novel is set in Victoria, Australia: On Valentine's Day in 1900, several girls from the upper class boarding school Appleyard College picnic with a few of their teachers at a nearby geological formation known as Hanging Rock. Four of the girls and one of the governesses climb the Rock; one girl returns immediately, in a state of terror and unable to remember what happened to her or her companions. After a search, another girl is found, also with no memory of her time on Hanging Rock. The other two girls and their French governess are never seen again; they've vanished without a trace, and the mystery of what happened to them eventually affects everyone connected with the school.

This is another one of those books I've had on my TBR list for decades now -- ever since I saw the 1975 film based on the novel -- and I'm grateful to the Aussie Authors Reading Challenge for finally nudging me into taking it off the shelf. Quite a few reviewers have called Lindsay's book a perfect novel. I wouldn't go that far, but it's certainly a gripping read. Lindsay explores themes of female sexuality, social class differences, and man (or woman) versus nature, at the same time presenting us with a really fascinating mystery.

When the book first appeared, there was some controversy as to how much of it was based on an actual incident, and how much was invented by Lindsay. But the story of the disappearance of the schoolgirls is entirely fictional, although the Hanging Rock formation does exist.

So what did happen to the missing girls and their teacher? Were they kidnapped by an unseen stranger? Possibly abducted by aliens? Were they killed by falling into a hidden crevice in the Rock? Did they slip into a parallel universe? Originally, Lindsay included a final chapter in which the mystery was solved, but removed it before publication. Later, it was published after her death as "The Secret of Hanging Rock." When I finished the novel, I was tempted to track down a copy of that "missing Chapter 18" as it's called; but after giving it a little thought, I've decided I really prefer leaving the mystery unsolved.

Teaser Tuesdays: Staying On

This week my teaser lines come from Staying On, Paul Scott's 1977 Man Booker Prize winning novel about a British couple in India after Independence.
My eyes never seem to have quite made up their minds about being grey, blue, green or violet. In those days the faint green tinge could be picked up by a green accessory. Later, by wearing deep red. Then the green faded from my eyes forever. But this is woman's talk. It couldn't interest you. (p.140)
I know that's a lot more than a couple of lines. Sorry, but it was hard to decide what to cut. And poor Lucy (the speaker of the lines) does tend to ramble on and on and on. Sounds familiar, hmmmm?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Booking Through Thursday

This week, BTT asks: "All things being equal, which would you prefer–a mystery? Or a love story?"

And I don't even have to think about it -- I'd choose the mystery every time. I guess that's why I don't read many romance novels. I love mysteries, suspense stories, thrillers, and those are the genres I read most often. I certainly don't mind if there's a love story involved along the way, but I don't go looking for books with a love story element as the central theme.

Having said that, I guess I should admit that the book I'm currently reading is a romance -- Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return -- which was the basis for one of the most romantic movies ever filmed, Somewhere in Time.

But it also features a mysterious plot with a sci-fi angle, so it's not your run-of-the-mill love story. And I'm loving it so far.