Monday, October 17, 2016

The Spirit of Hadrian's Wall

The Spirit of Hadrian's Wall is an absolutely gorgeous coffee table book, with text by Mark Richards and photographs by Roger Clegg.  Here's their Amazon bios:

Mark Richards lives in Cumbria, on the fringe of the Lake District and has written a series of Fellranger guides covering the region, as well as Great Mountain Days in the Lake District. He has also written a guide to Hadrian's Wall, and several to the Peak District in England.

Roger Clegg is a professional photographer whose captivating and evocative landscapes have an unique quality all of their own. His photographs have been used in numerous exhibitions throughout Britain, and his particular specialty is the landscapes of Hadrian's Wall, a World Heritage site in the north of England.Mark Richards, author of 'Hadrian's Wall Path' provides an historical commentary.
This is the first book in my reading that will prep me for my trek along the Wall planned for next summer, and it was a perfect way to start.

The book moves east to west, as do most trekkers, documenting the countryside and the Wall along the way.  Even though we plan to hike west to east, it was still a good way to learn place names and familiarize myself with the terrain and geography that we'll encounter.

I noticed that many of the photos were taken in the Fall and Winter when the mist rises, the sky glows pink and orange, and the shadows are long and ghostly.

For all you armchair travelers, even if a visit to the Wall isn't in the cards for you, I can recommend this book as an excellent way to experience a beautiful countryside, rich in history and still relatively unchanged over the millennia.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Maisie Dobbs - books 3 and 4

I've been in the mood for historical mysteries lately and satisfied that mood with books 3 and 4 in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.

Pardonable Lies and Messenger of Truth take place in 1930 and both plots still revolve around the aftermath of WWI (or the Great War), although we get a hint of the growing unease in Europe in Messenger of Truth with Hitler mentioned a few times.

I really enjoy these books, and Maisie is an interesting, complex heroine.  I like her self-reflection, which reminds me of another favorite mystery heroine, Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon.  They both deal with demons, self-doubt, and have a strong conscience and need to do the right thing.  They don't always know what they want out of life, but they do know what they don't want.

I enjoy Winspear's attention to detail--the clothes Maisie wears, the food she eats, her hairstyle, the car she drives, etc.  This provides me with a real feel for the England that Maisie lives and works in.

I read the first two a year apart a year and it was nice to read these back to back as the continuity was strong from one to the next.  I hope to get to book 5 before year's end.

I like Maisie--I like her need for independence and her compassion.  I like the way she straddles several different classes--she's very much a modern woman who values tradition.  She's a character that works for me.  I also like the mysteries and the secondary characters--all in all, a great series for relaxing and losing yourself in an interesting world with interesting people.

I can't help thinking this series would make a terrific TV series--I hope others with a bit more clout think the same.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

R.I.P. Challenge Update

I signed up for the ever popular R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge this year and blithely set out to read four books.  I've got two of them under my belt, and I'm not sure if I will read the other two as horror is really not my favorite genre.

I read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which I thought pretty good. It was a fresh idea, an interesting twist on time travel, had a good dose of WWII, which is a time frame I'm currently much interested in, likable characters, and a healthy amount of tension and danger.  I like school stories and this was definitely a school story; it was a bit reminiscent of Harry Potter in that you have a very ordinary boy as the hero who becomes extraordinary because he has the courage to do the right thing.  There's also a Hermione type of girl character as well as an evil one who is disguised as a friend of the hero.  I'm not sure I loved it enough to read more in the series or to watch the movie, but it was a fun book.

My second R.I.P. book was Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes. Published in 1962, it is very much a product of its time, reflecting the fears of rampant technology that characterized the Cold War.  Just as Miss Peregrine reminded me of Harry Potter books, Something Wicked reminded me of Frankenstein, especially towards the end with Mr. Electrico being revived.  I liked the idea of the carousel adding or subtracting years to one's life.

Both books dealt with the problems inherent in immortality--being stuck in a time loop in Miss Peregrine and being alive but not "living" and endlessly riding the carousel forward and backward in Something Wicked but not having anyone left to love or care about.

I'm glad I read both, but I have to say I felt a sense of relief when I finished.  Neither gave me a world that I particularly liked inhabiting.

I have to say that Something Wicked ended up being exhausting. Early in the book, I tweeted that I was surprised at how poetic it was, but my GoodReads summary when I finished it was a "hemorrhage of words--good story but an overwhelming metaphoric flood."

I like writing that is leaner, with the occasional poetic flight. Not sure whether this is typical of Bradbury or not, but I found it too much for my taste.

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!