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Showing posts from September, 2011

Review: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff

Pages: 137
Original date of publication: 1973
My edition: 1976
Why I decided to read: it seemed like the perfect thing to bring on the plane when I went on vacation to England
How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, January 2010


You decide to stop using the word “anachronism” when a seventeenth-century carriage drives through the gates of Buckingham Palace carrying twentieth-century Russian or African diplomats to be welcomed by a queen. “Anachronism” implies something long dead, and nothing is dead here. History, as they say, is alive and well and living in London (p. 82)

In 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff collected the letters she and Frank Doel, a bookseller in London’s famous Charing Cross Road, exchanged for twenty years, from just after WWII up until his death. Helene Hanff had always wanted to travel to England, but until the summer of June 1971, after 84 Charing Cross Road had been published and she went on tour to publicize the book, she had never had the opportunity to do so. This…

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a busy week and weekend. I spent a good deal of my free time working on this ten-page paper I had due on Friday. The course I’m taking is an online course that has three webinars over the course of the semester. Yesterday was the second webinar, but since the professor had trouble logging on, we (the students) hung around for about an hour waiting for her. Frustrating considering that this was the webinar where she was going to explain our long final paper to us! Hopefully, though, we’ll make it up somehow.

I spent a good deal of time this week organizing—mostly organizing the documents on my computer and flash drive so that I can find them more easily. For example, I now have a folder for my book-related documents, one for the class I’m taking, and one for things like resumes and cover letters. What I haven’t been good at is writing reviews, so I’m going to try to get to those at some point this week.

So I’m trying to cut back on sugar. Anyone who knows me know I LOVE sweet s…

Review: Cindie, by Jean Devanny

Pages: 332
Original date of publication: 1949
My edition: 1986 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: I read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: found it in a secondhand bookshop near work


Cindie tells the story of a young woman who goes to Queensland, Australia, to work for Randolph Biddow, who owns a sugar plantation, his wife, Blanche, and their two young children. Cindie thrives in her new environment, and she rises to become manager on the estate. Sharply in contrast to her is Blanche, who complains ceaselessly about her new life and feels bitter and jealous towards her former maid.

It’s a beautiful story, made even more vivid by the lush way in which Jean Devanny describes North Queensland and the people who inhabit it. She highlights beautifully the differences between whites, Aborigines, and Kanakas, set against a real historical event: the creation of the Commonwealth Bill in the 1890s, under which Australia’s Constitution was made legal by Queen Victoria.…

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! So much has gone on around here in the past few weeks that I don’t even know where to start! Last Sunday my sister and I came back from a 10-days vacation to London and York where we saw positively everything! We got there on Friday the 2nd, late at night, and on Saturday, we went to the British Museum, which has to be my favorite London museum. They’ve got an exhibition on right now on medieval relics and reliquaries that had me drooling—reliquaries and manuscripts and other devotional objects, one of which was the MS of Matthew Paris’s Chronica Majora! Stunning. Then we went to the Persephone shop, where I picked up a copy of Reuben Sachs. In the afternoon we went to Regent Street and Piccadilly. Went to the enormous Waterstone's there, where I went to the fiction section while my sister went to look at the art books. She came back 15 minutes later to find me with an enormous stack of books in hand! They just don't make books in the US like they do in the UK.

On…

Review: Mad Puppetstown, by Molly Keane

Pages: 304
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 1990 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: Read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, Augst 2010


Mad Puppetstown contains all the hallmarks of a Molly Keane novel; a large, rambling estate in Ireland; a slightly dysfunctional family; and, of course, house-parties in which hunting is featured. Easter, Evelyn (male, so I’m assuming it’s pronounced like Evelyn Waugh), and Basil are cousins who grow up together at Puppetstown. The novel opens in 1908 and takes the cousins through the Great War and, more importantly, the Easter Rising, during which the cousins must flee to England. They harbor hopes, however, that they will return to Puppetstown and restore it to its former glory.

The novel starts off slowly, idyllically; this is the point in the novel at which the reader is supposed to feel the magic of Puppetstown and why the cousins are so attached to it. After all, it’s where Easter, Evelyn and Basil grew up, if on…

Review: Myself When Young, by Daphne Du Maurier

Pages: 176
Original date of publication: 1973
My edition: Virago (2004)
Why I decided to read: I’m a huge fan of anything by Daphne Du Maurier
How I acquired my copy: Awesomebooks website, February 2011


I feel as though I can never go wrong with Daphne Du Maurier’s books. Fiction, nonfiction, I haven’t run into a bad one yet. Myself When Young is a memoir based on the diaries that Du Maurier kept from 1920-1932, or from ages 13 to 25, when her first novel The Loving Spirit, was published. It’s a short book, but covers a lot of ground, from her early years living in the shadow of her father Gerald Du Maurier, her schooling in Paris, and her early years as a writer.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was how Daphne talked about the inspiration for some of her writing—specifically Rebecca, The Loving Spirit, and some of her earliest short stories. I also liked seeing how certain places (Menabily especially, which was in the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca and became the…

Review: Mary Oliver, by May Sinclair

Pages: 380
Original date of publications: 1919
My edition: 1980 (Dial)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: the Philadelphia Book Trader, February 2011


Man, how I wanted to like this book! The only other May Sinclair novel I’ve read is The Three Sisters, which I loved, so I expected to love this book just as much. I found Mary Olivier to be a tough slog, the kind of book where I was putting it down to read something else.

Mary Olivier is the youngest child and only girl in a large Victorian family. She grows up in the shadow of her brothers, father, and overbearing mother. The story follows Mary’s point of view from early childhood in the 1860s up through middle age in the first decade of the twentieth century. The story is told from the sensibility of the child, but the author’s handling of this style of writing is clunky. A skilled author can tell a story from the point of view of a child and tell us exactly what happened, even though the c…

Review: Lady of the English, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Pages: 511
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2011 (Sourcebooks)
Why I decided to read: I’m a huge Elizabeth Chadwick fan
How I acquired my copy: review copy from publisher, June 2011

Lady of the English tells the story of Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. Although Henry made his barons promise to uphold Matilda’s claim to the English throne, his barons aren’t ready for a female ruler. The novel follows Matilda’s struggle to uphold her claim, pitting her against her father’s cousin, Stephen. The story is told alternately between Matilda’s point of view and that of her stepmother, Adeliza, from 1125 to 1149.

With the civil war between Matilda and Stephen, I always got the impression that Stephen was the kind of guy you’d invite over for dinner, and Matilda was more ice queen. It’s true that Matilda has been portrayed in historical chronicles as somewhat of a virago, so I was interested to see how Elizabeth Chadwick would vindicate her. I liked how she handled her charac…