Sunday, September 25, 2016


I saw the movie Wild when it came out a couple of years ago, and finally got around to reading this memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest by Cheryl Strayed.  I thought Wild was a great book.

Yes, Cheryl is reckless and sets out to walk from southern California to Oregon without adequate preparation.  But, I think that is the point.  As Monty Python taught us, No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition.

When tragedy derails you and you are free falling and you see a way out of the fall, you take it, whether you are prepared for what that way might entail or require of you.

I admire Cheryl for recognizing that she was out of control and for taking on a task that enabled her to relearn self-control.  Her courage, grit, humor, and willingness to examine her life make her admirable despite her faults and weaknesses, not least of which was vanity.

I do believe that nature and wilderness can heal the mind and spirit--they can also be unforgivingly harsh.  I think Wild honestly acknowledges both facts.

I love hiking/walking adventure treks.  I wish that I was a backpacker and could do some of what Cheryl did, but I must be content with B&Bs along more traveled routes!

Excellent book--excellent movie.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Some One" by Walter de la Mare

I grew up reading and memorizing poetry.  My family had a complete set of Childcraft  books, circa 1954, and I spent countless hours reading books 1 and 2, the poetry books.  They not only had a fantastic selection of readable poems for children, but the pictures were sublime.  Burned into my malleable brain.  I nabbed them when I moved out and faithfully read them to my children.

Last week when I stumbled across the stump above I immediately thought of one of my all-time favorite poems from my childhood:

Some One 
Walter de la Mare

Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Someone came knocking; 
 I'm sure-sure-sure; 
 I listened, I opened, 
 I looked to left and right, 
 But nought there was a stirring 
 In the still dark night; 
 Only the busy beetle 
 Tap-tapping in the wall, 
 Only from the forest 
 The screech-owl's call, 
 Only the cricket whistling 
 While the dewdrops fall, 
 So I know not who came knocking, 
 At all, at all, at all.

And yes, I can still rattle it off without prompting!

Here's the wonderful illustration from volume 1 of Childcraft.

Don't be surprised if I treat you to more poems from my youth in the weeks to come.  Now that I've opened my memory box, I won't be able to stop revisiting all my old favorites.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Victorian Novels

I have this set of Victorian Women Author stamps, which I treasure!

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite books in X Genre.  Since I love Victorian novels, my only issue was limiting the list to 10.  The last one is not strictly a novel, but a literary bio, one of the first of its kind, but it reads like a novel.

I ended up limiting my list of books to those I had read at least twice, though I don't think there's a book on here I haven't read at least three times.  And, it had to be one that I plan to reread. After all, favorite means favorite!
  1. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  2. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
  3. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  4. Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray
  5. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  6. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
  7. North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  10. The Life of Charlotte Bronte, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for other Top Ten genre lists.

Sadly, I couldn't find a Wilkie Collins Stamp

Friday, September 09, 2016


Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson is one of those books that keeps popping up on must-read lists or group-read lists.  I really didn't know what to expect going in, but having read it, the cover finally makes sense.  It shows a railroad track going off into a fog with just the barest outline of the barrier-less bridge over the chasm that the railroad spans. Even the words of the title are blurred by fog. It is a brilliant cover and completely captures the themes of the book and the ambiguity of the journey the characters take in it.

I seem to be reading a lot of stories about sisters lately, and this is another one, but I really cannot draw a parallel to the other sister stories recently read (Sense and Sensibility, The Nightingale, The Small House at Allington) because this didn't follow the traditional sister motif of the others.

Housekeeping is narrated by Ruth, the younger of two orphaned sisters, who live in Fingerbone, a fictional semi-rural small town in western Washington first with their grandmother and then with batty Aunt Sylvie after their mother commits suicide. Ruth and her older sister Lucille are waifs, struggling to grow up and make sense of a world and community and family in which they don't seem to fit or have a place.

Published in 1980, the setting is in what feels like the 1950s, with Ruth reminiscing about her youth, and her grandmother's house and how she and Lucille and Aunt Sylvie try to keep the house and their lives moving forward and not derailing.  The story is heavy with house imagery and metaphors, traveling imagery and metaphors.  Lucille opts for safety--living within the norms of society, bridges with railings, houses with roofs.  Ruth tags after Sylvie and takes a leap of faith that the world will provide what her life requires for sustenance and that traveling is preferred to keeping house, staying put.

Ruth and Lucille live in a house that slowly disintegrates through lack of routine care that they as children cannot provide.  They also find various substitute homes--a cave, a boxcar, a boat.

This is a multi-layered book.  It is a somber story with an oppressive tone.  It is brilliant and thought-provoking and unsettling.  It is literary.  But is it good?  Yes, I think so.  I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I would ever reread it.  I felt a sense of relief when I finished, though I thought about for a good long while afterwards.

This was one of the books I selected for my TBR Pile Challenge for 2016, and is the 7th book out of the pile that I've read this year.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Giveaway: Darcy By Any Other Name

I don't read much Austenesque fiction these days, but when I heard that Laura Hile (who wrote the fabulous Mercy's Embrace 3-parter) was coming out with a P&P-inspired work, I knew that I had to read it because:
1) It would be funny and sweet and interesting.
2) It would be well-written and carefully crafted.
3) It would be unique.

Darcy By Any Other Name delivers on all three counts, and it was a fun way to spend the last week of August.    And, if you comment below and provide me with your email address and I randomly select you, you can enjoy a e-book version, courtesy of Laura herself!

So here's the basic idea--think Freaky Friday and/or A Christmas Carol ala Austen.  Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins are caught in a ferocious thunderstorm during the Netherfield Ball.  Lightning (or Providence) makes them switch bodies and they get the opportunity to stare down their biggest flaws and recognize their true heart's desire and uncover their true characters.

Since Darcy is in the title, you are right in assuming that the bulk of the story is really about his coming to terms with his flaws, desires, and character, and I must say that I quite liked him as an earnest clergyman.  I guess when you have the right stuff, it really doesn't matter the physical trappings!

So, if you're looking for a wonderful romp in Austen land, guided by a true Janeite who doesn't mind playing around with the canon, then definitely give this novel a whirl.

And if you want a chance at the e-book, leave me a comment below.  I'll randomly select the author at 8 pm (MT) on Friday, September 9.  Since we're talking e-book, the giveaway is open internationally.

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Small House at Allington

I really enjoyed The Small House at Allington, the 5th book in the Barsetshire series by Anthony Trollope, until the end.  What is it about endings that make even great writers like Trollope go all wobbly?

The Small House at Allington was strongly reminiscent for me of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, but different enough that it was not just a rehashing of the themes Austen explored.  Let's start with the basic premise and plot.  Like S&S, The Small House at Allington revolves around the lives and loves of two sisters, Isabel (aka Bell) and Lily Dale and their widowed mother, who live together in a house provided by a rich relative, in this case the mother's brother-in-law.

The older daughter, Bell, is the sensible, quiet, pragmatic one, quietly courted by a good and steady man.  Thank goodness he didn't have a girl on the side, ala Lucy Steele!  The younger daughter, Lily, is passionate, believes that someone can only really love once, and falls hopelessly and very publicly in love with a charming reprobate who breaks her heart when he jilts her to marry an earl's daughter.
I simply cannot believe that given the parameters of the story that Trollope was not inspired by S&S.

If you want more info about Austen's influence on Trollope, check out this post comparing Framley Parsonage with Pride and Prejudice.

One of the big differences is that in The Small House in Allington, the reader gets to hear the men's side of the story. Much of the book is really caught up in explaining how and why Adolphus Crosbie, the Apollo that Lily Dale falls for, comes to mess up his life so completely, how he comes to totally regret throwing Lily away for a harpy of a wife, and how he contrives to live a less happy but not completely unhappy life in the end. Early on, the narrator promises that the story is not about Crosbie, but then he lets him dominate most of the book.  It could be that Trollope was just more comfortable telling a man's story just as Austen was more comfortable telling a woman's story.

As in S&S, the major themes in The Small House in Allington are constancy, familial duty, and being true to one's own self.  As in S&S, Trollope's characters journey to self-awareness within the confines of fairly rigid social structures, but in the end, it is the individual who decides whether they will be happy and productive or miserable and slothful.

There are some wonderful characters surrounding the Dale family--in particular, I quite fell in love with Johnny Eames, the Colonel Brandon character, but in this case he is young, poor, hardworking, big-hearted, and bright.  He ends up entangled with the daughter of his landlady and spends most of the novel trying to extricate himself from her clutches so that he can be worthy of Lily when she finally comes to her senses and gets over Crosbie and falls in love with him.

***Spoilers below***
The frustrating part came in that after reading this long book--almost 600 pages--the reader really didn't get a satisfactory Victorian novel wrap up.  Lily never does get over Crosbie.  She should, she knows she should--like Marianne in S&S, she becomes dangerously ill with grief and emerges with the will to overcome her lost love, but she never matures to the point of being able to fall in love with the man she should.

Maybe Trollope never really bought that Marianne came to love Colonel Brandon as he deserved to be love and so made his S&S story one in which the passionate girl who declares that only first loves are real lives by that conviction.

We get the marriage of Bell to the good Dr. Crofts, and we get that Crosbie's wife deserts him, leaving him happily alone as a bachelor again.  But no resolution as to what happens to Johnny Eames, my personal favorite.

The last 50 pages of the novel are pretty much devoted to the wretched De Courcy family, none of whom I care about in the least.  Why, Trollope, why ruin a perfectly good novel by veering off at the end and not providing adequate closure of the main story?  It's not that I always have to have a happy ending--life isn't like that.  But I do like an ending!

This book is part of my Back to the Classics challenge for 2017--nicely filling the category "Classic which includes the name in the title." It also is part of the Big Book Summer Challenge, which runs through Labor Day.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Bring on Fall...With R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge

I'm so excited to finally have remembered to set aside time in September and October to participate in the 11th annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (or RIP) challenge.

I have 4 books picked out, so I'll be shooting for the Peril the First level.

Visit the Stainless Steel Dropping blog for info on the other levels, including short stories and video and gaming categories.  It's all good fun and all four of my titles are ones I've learned about from reading blogs from participants in years past.

Here are my selections for this reading challenge:

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

The Brimstone Wedding, by Barbara Vine

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I am doing a group read of Miss Peregrine's Home with Castle Macabre - and the reading schedule means I start this interesting looking book today!

Happy Autumn and happy reading...time for cider and apple pie!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reading the Classics: a beginner's guide

I am a classics reader--of course, that's not all I read--I believe in supporting contemporary authors and I love to read hot new books to see what the fuss is about, and I like memoirs and travel books, and on and on, but back to the classics.

I think everyone should read at least something by each of the following authors, so here are my top 20 recommendations for enjoyable, accessible, memorable British/American classics.

  1. Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing or A Midsummer Night's Dream - don't just read the play, get a good movie version and read the text while watching!
  2. Jane Austen - Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice
  3. Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
  4. Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist or Great Expectations
  5. Mark Twain - short stories (The Mysterious Stranger, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaverous County)
  6. John Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men or Cannery Row
  7. F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
  8. Thomas Hardy - The Return of the Native or Tess of the D'urbervilles
  9. Elizabeth Gaskell - North and South
  10. George Eliot - Silas Marner (short) or Middlemarch (long)
  11. Louisa May Alcott - Little Women
  12. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - any of the Sherlock Holmes stories
  13. E.M. Forster - A Room With a View
  14. Washington Irving - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  15. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
  16. Bram Stoker - Dracula
  17. Edith Wharton - Ethan Frome
  18. E.B. White - Charlotte's Web
  19. Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  20. William Thackeray - Vanity Fair

I think these are the books that will whet one's appetite for more classics.  They all have good stories, are well written and interesting.  Not chock full of arcane language and topical references that are incomprehensible or irrelevant to a modern reader.  They also tend not to have long tangential flights of fancy that bore many readers--Dickens does this in some of his long novels, as does Trollope.

Then, when you've read all these books, go back and reread them!  That's what I do.  Good books are meant to be enjoyed and revisited and savored, not just checked off.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven't Read Yet

Today's Top Ten list is all about procrastination and good intentions!  The post title says it all--what has been hanging around the TBR shelf since before I started writing about what I've been reading?

In no particular order, although the first is the first book I put on my GoodReads TBR list.

  1. The Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon
  2. Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
  3. Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte
  4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See
  5. Trinity, by Leon Uris
  6. Chesapeake, by James Michener
  7. Battle Cry of Freedom, by James MacPherson
  8. The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher
  9. The Proud Tower, by Barbara Tuchman
  10. Perdita, by Paula Byrne
Interestingly, none of these are on a reading list for this year.  Maybe I've just gotten comfortable with where they are on the shelf.  Anything I should push to the top of next year's lists?

Visit The Broke and the Bookish to see what others have a hard time committing to!

What's on your list of good intentions?

Friday, August 19, 2016


Eventide is evening, in the poetic sense, and Kent Haruf chose well when he chose this title for the second novel in his series set in fictional Holt, Colorado, a small town east of Denver on endless prairie.

I loved Eventide even more than the first book in the series, Plainsong, which I absolutely adored.  Some of the stories and characters continue seamlessly from one book to the next, particularly the story of the McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, and the teen they befriend, Victoria Roubideaux, and her baby daughter, Katie, and some are new in the second book.  But it works because the tenor of life in the small town--the heartbreak behind closed doors, the struggles to work through the dark to the light, the comfort of an open heart and a willing spirit--is what really flows from one book to the next.

I loved the experience of reading Eventide--I loved the language, the stories, the tenor, the mood. Haruf was a master of his craft--his sparse prose creates a depth of understanding and compassion that is a joy to experience.

Eventide is the 6th book I've read on my TBR Pile Challenge.  We're a bit past the mid-point of the year, which means I'm a bit behind but making steady progress.