Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' ChoirThe Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this more. All the elements are there: a cast of characters in a small English village, young people and older folks making do during wartime and dealing with adversity. "Keep Calm and Carry On." But I found reading it a slog. I skimmed the last half because it seemed so long getting going. Maybe it's in part due to my mood now. Or I've been reading too much historical fiction set in WWII England.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen SocietyThe Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Natalie Jenner's debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. For a comfort read in time of uncertainty, this one is up there with my favorite standbys: Miss Read (Dora Saint) and D.E. Stevenson.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Miss Austen

Miss AustenMiss Austen by Gill Hornby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Gill Hornby's novel, Miss Austen. It focuses on on Cassandra, rather than her famous sister Jane, though Jane does feature prominently.

“She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Jane Austen, the Secret RadicalJane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Helena Kelly's examination of some of the radical subjects that Jane Austen explored in her novels. Like what? Oh, slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution. Just a few of the topics subjected to the Austen treatment, while her heroines search for eligible husbands. Women have always been multitaskers.

It’s impossible for anyone to write thousands upon thousands of words and reveal nothing of how she thinks or what she believes. And, contrary to popular opinion, Jane did reveal her beliefs, not just about domestic life and relationships, but about the wider political and social issues of the day. (10% Kindle)

Nowhere in her surviving letters is Jane openly critical of her father or of her brothers. But in both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice she permits herself to write about the carelessness, and thoughtlessness, of men who do nothing to provide for their female dependents, and to touch on female financial anxiety and the psychological pressures of being beholden to more fortunate relations. (24% Kindle)

There’s no reason at all for the reviewer of Emma to start writing about “fanaticism” or religion. The final paragraph of the review has nothing to do with Emma, but the talk of “fanatical novels” and “fanatical authoresses” applies very much better to Jane’s previous book. The reviewer seems to want Jane to know that he has understood—and heartily disapproved of—what she was doing in Mansfield Park. (64% Kindle)

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020


CastleCastle by David Macaulay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not many books deserve to be called fascinating. This one does. Just enough text to accompany the superb illustrations. I wish I had known about this author when I was a child, but frankly, I may not have appreciated his work as much as I do now.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Clergyman's Wife

The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice NovelThe Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel by Molly Greeley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Molly Greeley's debut novel, The Clergyman's Wife. The novel takes readers for a visit with Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, and her highly eligible spouse.

“Behind me on my writing desk, a fresh piece of paper sits ready. The salutation at the top—Dear Elizabeth—has been dry for some time. I never feel the quiet uniformity of my life as fully as when I am trying to compose a letter to my friend…There is always the menu to plan, the accounts to balance, the kitchen garden to tend. I embroider a great deal more than I used to, and my designs have improved, I think. But descriptions of embroidery do not an amusing letter make.” (8)

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Mrs. Tim Christie

Mrs. Tim ChristieMrs. Tim Christie by D.E. Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on the author's experience as the wife of an Army officer in early 20th century. She loaned her personal diary to a friend whose daughter was engaged to an officer in a Highland Regiment and was wondering what military life would be like. "There was nothing secret in my diary so I gave it to Mrs. Ford to read." When the family returned the diary to Stevenson, they told her that "we laughed until we cried" and suggested turning it into an "amusing book." After adding a few bits to "pep it up" she did, and the first of four Mrs. Tim books was published.

Like other Stevenson novels, this one shines with astute and humorous observations of daily lives that manage to be both hum-drum and chaotic. The author's love of nature is woven throughout the story, but especially shines in the last part of the story set in the Highlands. I also learned several new words:

ebullition: sudden, violent outburst
grass widow: a discarded mistress; woman with illegitimate child; a woman whose husband is away temporarily (in this case, Mrs. Tim); a woman divorced or separated
anent: concerning; about

I started marking passages of memorable quotes, but ended up with over twenty, so I'll share a couple to give the flavor of humor that I find appealing.
Personally, I am much more sorry for Herbert. (Mamie Carter is a person who sits still and smiles wistfully while everybody in the vicinity rushes around, wildly, doing her job.) Perhaps I am a trifle bitter about this, having assisted in the Carters' last move. (p. 15)

Am bitterly aware that Tim is one of those men who do not understand clothes or women, but reflect afterwards that perhaps this is just as well in some ways. Men who understand women being sometimes too understanding of women other than their wives. ( p. 57)

I reflect that neither of my companions is attending church with orthodox motives, but perhaps it is better to attend with unorthodox motives than not at all. (p. 237)

The things of Martha fall away from me, and a blessed feeling of idleness encompasses my soul. I have not got to remember anything--neither to order fish, nor to count the washing. I need not write an order for the grocer, nor hunt after Maggie to see if she has cleaned the silver and brushed the stairs. The condition of Cook's temper is of no consequence to me, there are no domestic jars to be smoothed over. No sudden appeals to my authority, requiring the wisdom of Solomon and the diplomacy of Richelieu, can disturb my peace. (p. 376)

Betty runs, and jumps, and springs into the air like a young goat. "The hills make me full of springiness," she says. "D'you think I shall find something nice to buy at the shop, Mummie? Guthrie says they have everything except what you want, but I don't know what I want so perhaps they'll have it. What do you think, Mummie?" p. 580

You cannot beat a D.E. Stevenson novel for comfort reading. A smattering of amateur book reviewers claim that some of her books are sub-par, but I haven't encountered a tedious one yet. Goodreads lists 54 distinct works, so if there are a few duds in there somewhere, I feel that Mrs. Tim can be forgiven.

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