Books


For decades, my mother has been nagging me to read Celia Garth, by Gwen Bristow.  The book was published in 1959, making it just about the same age I am.  I’m not sure why I never got around to reading it, but now I could kick myself for not having read it when Mom first mentioned it.  In short, I loved it.

We meet Celia herself right away.  She is a 20-year-old orphan who is working as an apprentice seamstress for the best dressmaker in Charleston, South Carolina.  The year is 1779, and the American Revolution has been going on for several years.  Celia really doesn’t care one way or the other about the war; all she cares about is having some excitement in her life.  But circumstances draw her in, and soon she cares very, very much about the war and the participants.   She gets engaged to a rebel captain, she becomes a spy for the rebel cause and, along the way, she and the people she cares about face real danger and real sorrow.   As has been said, “War is Hell,” and young Celia learns this first hand.

Real historical figures play important roles in the story; we get to meet Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), and we learn about the King’s commanders Cornwallis, Clinton, Tarleton, etc.

At first, I found Celia a little annoying, but I guess a lot of 20-year-olds are, and she did grow on me.  I loved the supporting characters as much as Celia does, and felt her joy and her pain as her world went all topsy-turvy around her.  Celia grows up because of her experiences, and I am glad I got to go along for the ride.  I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who likes a good historical novel with lots of romance and action.  It’s just wonderful and it’s a book I can see myself reading again over the years.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

OK, now for the reason I’ve been away so long.  I took the plunge and became a homeowner.  Neither side used a realtor, so I got a crash course in home buying and it consumed so much of my time and emotional energy (and cash!) that I didn’t have enough to spare for reading, stitching, movie-going, blogging, etc.  But now I’m settled in and am getting used to living on my own again.  No parents, no dogs, no “partners-in-crime” just across the street or down the block.  It’s very quiet, but I am remembering how much I like quiet when I’m not at work (odd for a City Mouse, but true).   In my 100+ year-old NYC apartment building, the walls were so thin that I could practically hear my neighbors boiling water (and we all heard things we wish we hadn’t!).  But this is a 7-year-old building made out of cinder block, so I hardly know I even have neighbors now.  I still need a ton of stuff — book cases, living room couch, coffee table, etc.   I had “issues” with the washing machine, and the ice maker that I bought in December to go with the refrigerator  I bought at the same time was just delivered and installed this morning.  The guest room still has a lot of boxes, but the living room and dining room are looking good.  My handyman will be back next weekend to help out with some stuff I can’t do myself, and the “official” housewarming is in 2 weeks.  It’s a small townhouse, and all but 2 of the 20-something invitees have said they’ll be here.  Yikes!

Anyway, so now you know “The Rest of the Story.”

Two years ago, Janeites celebrated the 200th birthday of S&S, and this year we are celebrating P&P.    Yes, today marks 200 years since P&P was first published.  The book had been rejected by a publisher in the late 1790s, but a much smarter publisher accepted it for publication on January 28, 1813.  And the world is a better place as a result.

I have been listening to the “readathon” at the Jane Austen Centre website.  It’s been a lot of fun listening to each chapter as read by a different person.  It was supposed to go from 11 a.m. — 11 p.m. GMT, but it’s now 1:30 a.m. GMT on the 29th and there are still at least  6 or 7 chapters left to go.

Thanks to Tropical Storm Debby, I was able to finish 2 books this weekend.

First was That Woman, a new biography of Wallis Simpson by Anne Sebba.  My knowledge of the story of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson was gleaned from books, movies and newspaper articles in which the couple were mentioned, but I had never read any biographies about either of them.  One of the things that appealed to me about this book is that Ms. Sebba read letters, journals and contemporary accounts of the events that led up to Edward’s abdication and then his marriage to Wallis.

I had never had much sympathy for either of them, to be honest, and this book made me have even less.  They both come across as being selfish, self-absorbed hedonists.  The big difference between the two of them is that Edward was weak and desperate to be led, and Wallis was manipulative and more than happy to “wear the pants” in the family.  They both complained a lot and blamed others for all of their problems.  Edward doesn’t seem to have cared much about his duty to his country.  His attitude is so different from that of his niece, Elizabeth II, who has devoted her life to her country during her 60 years on the throne.  We are told several times during the course of the book that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a good thing that Edward did not continue on as King and that George VI was there to lead his country through the horrors of WWII.

The other book I read this weekend was Murder on Fifth Avenue, the 14th entry in Victoria Thompson’s “Gaslight” series (as an aside, this synopsis was obviously written well before the book was published because there is no Algernon Abernathy in the book; the character referred to in this synopsis is named Chilton Devries in the book).  I mentioned in my review of Threadbare, Monica Ferris’ 15th Needlework Mystery, that I thought the series was getting old and that I didn’t know how many more of the books I would bother to read.  I had the same worries about Murder on Fifth Avenue when I learned it was about to come out.  But, in this case, my worries were for naught.  I really enjoyed this book.  There were 2 murders in this story and, while I did not figure out who killed these people, I did manage to figure out some of the other plot twists before Sarah and Frank did.  So #14 gets 2 thumbs up from me.

It’s now after 7:30 and the weather in Florida is still awful (and looks to be awful for the foreseeable future), but I likely won’t get any more reading done tonight; RA and CC are facing each other in Queens starting in about 1/2 hour and it should be a good game. LGM!

I just finished the most recent entry in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series.  This one is called Naughty in Nice and is book 5 in the series.  This entry is just as much fun as the previous four.

In this book Georgie finds herself on the French Riviera and, of course, mayhem ensues.  As usual, we spend time with Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson, along with Binky, Fig, Belinda, Darcy and Georgie’s Mum and Granddad.  Queenie is her usual klutzy self, and Georgie still can’t bring herself to fire this incompetent lady’s maid.  We also get to meet Coco Chanel, who asks Georgie to model for her.

It’s a very quick read, but it’s a lot of fun, and I honestly did not figure out who the murderer was until just about the same time Georgie does.  The characters are interesting, the dialogue is fun and the stories keep me coming back.  I highly recommend this series, and am looking forward to reading book #6, whatever it may be.

I just finished Monica Ferris’ latest Needlecraft Mystery, Threadbare.  As my regular readers know, I have been a fan of this series since the beginning, but Threadbare just didn’t do it for me.  I figured out pretty quickly “whodunnit” and wasn’t really impressed at how Betsy figured it out.  There are times when I’ve figured out who the murderer is and the fun is seeing how the author wraps everything up.  But in this book, I actually got bored.

Ferris does something different in this book than she has in her other books.  Here, we get inside the head of several characters and all of them could have reasons to commit murder.  I don’t remember her using this technique in any of her other books, and it seemed to me throughout that she was getting desperate in trying to prevent us from figuring out who the murderer was too early in the story.  But I figured it out almost immediately upon meeting the character, and nothing changed my mind.

In the final analysis, I’ll give this series another go, but I haven’t enjoyed the last few books.  I liked the earlier books enough that I will definitely be sorry to say good-bye but, if the future books in the series are as obvious as the last few have been, I won’t have trouble moving on.

I spent part of last weekend with the local JASNA chapter in Clearwater, where we watched a Latina version of Sense & Sensibility called From Prada to Nada.  It stars nobody I’ve ever heard of and I went into it with no preconceived notions whatsoever.  The group I was with had a lovely time, and we thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

With very few exceptions, the skeleton of S&S is still intact.  Nora and Mary Dominguez are the daughters of a rich man in LA.  One day, he suffers a massive heart attack and dies.  At the reading of the will, they learn 2 very surprising things.  First, that they are destitute, since their father was in bankruptcy and second, that he’d had an affair years earlier and they had a half brother named Gabe.  Gabe (= John Dashwood) and his wife, Olivia ( = Fanny Dashwood) buy and sell houses for a living, so they buy the Dominguez home and Olivia kicks out Nora and Mary.  The girls end up moving in with a maternal aunt (= Mrs. Jennings?) in East LA, where they experience massive culture shock.  They are Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish, so they are like the proverbial fish out of water in that part of town.

Mary is a college student, and she falls head over heels for a rich Mexican TA named Rodrigo ( = Willoughby).  He turns out to be married and buys Mary and Nora’s childhood home for his wife.  Nora falls for Olivia’s brother, an attorney named Edward Ferris (close, but no cigar to “Ferrars”), and ends up working for him at his law firm (she quit law school when she learned she was poor).  The Colonel Brandon character is a local gardener named Pablo; we do not get to know him well enough to learn if there is any young Eliza in his life. Mary almost dies in a car accident when she learns of Rodrigo’s behavior, but we never see him again, and he certainly never “apologizes” for what he did.  Nora drives Edward away because he does not fit into her “10-year plan,” but she realizes how much she loves him when he gets engaged to Olivia’s friend Lucy (who is not a villain here).  Of course, she gets him in the end, but the way this happens was a little awkward.

There is a subplot about Nora and Edward providing pro bono legal assistance to some Mexican janitors, but that neither adds nor detracts from the story being told.  One twist that is not from the original story is that Gabe realizes just how awful his wife is, so he dumps her and ends up becoming friends with his sisters.

So, yes it’s a modernized version of the story, and yes, the fact that it is less than 2 hours long means that much of the story is gone, but this is still a very entertaining movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m looking forward to seeing it again, and this time I’ll watch the various making-of features that are on the disc.

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve actually used my “time off” productively.  I’ve read a slew of books — more books than I have in a while, and that can only be a Good Thing.

First off, I finally got to re-start (and then finish) The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin.  It’s outstanding.  Siblin is a former rock writer for the Montréal Gazette who, when he discovered Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, became obsessed with them.  He traveled the world to learn more about Bach, the Suites themselves and Pablo Casals, who found a copy in a tiny music shop in Barcelona in the late 19th century and gave them back to the world.  Bach has long been my favorite composer and, while I prefer his orchestral work to these Suites, the book is a great read.  Here is an interview with Silbin at Harper’s that includes some clips of Casals playing the Suites.

Next up was R.A. Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up.  Dickey is the sole knuckleballer left in the major leagues, but that’s only a small part of who he is as a person.  He had a rather awful childhood, and it affected him until he was able to get help facing the demons.  I love him as a Met, and have a lot of respect for him as a man since I learned more about him.  And, speaking of the Mets, they are looking so much better than anyone (including yours truly) could have predicted.  As of right now, they are 5 games over .500 and are only 2 games back of the division-leading Nationals.  As of right now, life is good, and I am actually looking forward to seeing them play the Rays next month.  Hopefully the good times will continue and they won’t embarrass the Blue-and-Orange faithful who are going to convene at the Trop next month.

Then there was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.  I’m not sure why they call her “Lady”Almina, considering she was not the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquess, but the mistake was not just for the North American market.  The title of this book is the same in the UK, which truly boggles my mind.  Anyway, once I forgot the title, I could get interested in the book.  I liked it.  Almina Wombwell was a Countess of Carnarvon at the turn of the last century.  She was the illegitimate daughter of Marie Wombwell and Alfred Rothschild.  Her mother was married, but everyone knew that she and Rothschild were “an item” and that Almina was their daughter.  He was officially her godfather, but he left her his entire estate, and also gave her the enormous dowry that enabled her to marry the Earl.  This particular Earl of Carnarvon was avid Egyptologist and played a role in discovering King Tut’s tomb.  So, why is the title Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?  Because Highclere Castle, which plays Downton Abbey in the series, is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.

As a follow-up to this, I read through Jessica Fellowes’s book The World of Downton Abbey.  This book talks about the series Downton Abbey but in terms of what would have happened to the characters in real life.  For example, what were a footman’s duties?  What uniform did a housemaid wear?  Etc.  I already knew a lot of the material covered, but for those who don’t, I think the book is worth reading.

I’ve mentioned before that Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is one of my comfort reads. Before it went into storage, I read it at least once a year.  Unfortunately for me, I’ve only been able to read it once (via interlibrary loan) since I moved here.  I’ll have to see about buying a paperback to tide me over until I can get my original copy back in my hands.  Winner’s latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is a completely different experience.  It’s more about re-finding God than finding Him in the first place.  Since Girl Meets God, Winner has gotten married, lost her mother, gotten divorced and lost her way spiritually.  She’s now an ordained priest in the Episcopal church and a professor at the Duke Divinity School, and her mid-faith crisis was especially discombobulating.  Most people of faith have gone through a period when they aren’t sure God is really there, including priests and professors of divinity.  This book is not quite a memoir, and not a self-help book either.  It didn’t affect me as much as Girl Meets God, but I do think I will read it again at some point to see what else I can get out of it.

In an example of perfect timing, just as I was ready to start Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U, I learned that the library was ready to lend me a copy of Natural Woman, Carole King’s memoir.  In short, I loved it.  I have been a fan of King’s music for decades, and could hardly wait to read her story.  OK, so she glosses over a few things, but not the things I cared about.  She doesn’t go into detail about how she and Gerry Goffin “had to get married” while she was a 17-year-old student at Queens College.  All I cared about was learning about how and why they created the music.  It’s always been about the music for me.  As for the music, I also downloaded Carole King’s Legendary Demos from iTunes.  I’d never heard her sing some of these songs before (such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or “Crying in the Rain”), and it’s a real treat to be able to hear the writer’s take on songs that other artists turned into classics.

There is, however, a book that has more personal details about King’s life, and I took that out of the library as I was returning Natural Woman.  This one is Girls Like Us, by Sheila Weller.  It deals with 3 of the great women singer-songwriters of our era: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.  It contains more intimate details of these women’s lives than does Natural Woman, but it doesn’t appear to be unauthorized, so I imagine that the stories are all true.  I’m only about 1/4 of the way through, and am finding it thoroughly engrossing.

I’m still waiting for the library to tell me that Victoria Thompson’s latest, Murder on Fifth Avenue, is ready for me to pick up.  I’ll report back when I’m done with it.

Another thing I want to do is to get back to stitching.  There are times when stitching helps me clear my mind of work-related stress; it’s nice to be able to put aside the craziness I deal with every day and to spend my time concentrating on creating something beautiful.  I’m also looking into buying my own place, and have been scouring various websites and newspaper articles to see what’s out there that answers my 2 basic questions: 1) can I afford it and 2) is the neighborhood safe?

Next Page »