Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Next Book: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

It was a very close race, and if we ever have another 'runners-up' context, looks like Palladian might be a favorite! But this time the majority voted for Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, so that will be our next group read. Let's aim to put up posts and/or join in the discussion around August 30. Happy reading!

Here are some links to places you could buy the book:

Book Depository
Chapters / Indigo
Munro's Books
Abe Books

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

New Options: Books "of a Certain Age"

I'm happy to be putting up our next list of options! I've been feeling annoyed by reading much-hyped new releases that end up disappointing, so these are all books "of a certain age." I hope I'm not the only one who finds them tempting! The last two are also quite "light" reading options, which might suit for the summer.

I've read three other Elizabeth Taylor novels recently and they were all good, especially Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Doesn't this one sound enticing?

Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father has just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer -- a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a nineteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s gothic fantasies in Northanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.

I am a latecomer to Barbara Pym and am learning to really appreciate her low key satire. Excellent Women is supposed to be one of her best.

Mildred was quite capable of dealing with the stock situations of life. In fact her handling of births, marriages, deaths, jumble sales and garden fetes ruined by the weather was masterly. It is the introduction of new and exotic neighbours that pulls her up short.

I read Lehmann's The Weather in the Streets a while ago and was surprised and fascinated by it; I've been curious to read more by her ever since.

Grace Fairfax lives with her dull, conventional husband Tom in a grey manufacturing town in the north of England. At thirty-four she finds that her external life of dreary routine fails to live up to her lush, wistful and dreamy internal life. Norah, her energetic and chaotic friend, is equally settled in her own bland marriage to an irritable university professor. Then Hugh Miller and his sister Claire descend upon the town. On all four, the hypnotic charm of these two visitors exerts an enchanting spell. And after their departure, life -- having been violently disrupted -- will never be quite the same again.

I've read one other Thirkell novel, in this same series of reissues. One warning: it was very poorly copy-edited! But it was, as this effusive blurb suggests, quite delightful and inevitably reminiscent of that other series of Barsetshire novels.

In this first [of her] Barsetshire novels, Angela Thirkell sets the stage replete with infatuations, endearments, and cross purposes. The main character, Laura Morland, is a happily widowed author of very successful “good bad books.” She and these characters live throughout the Barsetshire series. The “plot never thickens” but moves along with swift acerbic sureness. Verbose George Knox, devoted Miss Grey, stalwart housekeeper Stoker, and others mix in this rare English country society. AT becomes addicting. Her simple intrigues and alluring characters draw the reader to want more. As Publishers Weekly wrote, “There’s just no stopping after one novel.” [!!]

I've finally warmed to Heyer's Regency romances, but I have yet to read any of her mysteries.

A houseful of people he loathes is not Sir Arthur's worst problem…

It should have been a lovely English country-house weekend. But the unfortunate guest-list is enough to exasperate a saint, and the host, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, is an abusive wretch hated by everyone from his disinherited son to his wife's stoic would-be lover. When Sir Arthur is found stabbed to death, no one is particularly grieved—and no one has an alibi. The unhappy guests find themselves under the scrutiny of Scotland Yard's cool-headed Inspector Harding, who has solved tough cases before—but this time, the talented young inspector discovers much more than he's bargained for.

How about we vote by next Tuesday (July 16) and aim to start our discussion August 30?