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Showing posts from May, 2012

Review: The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, by Daphne du Maurier

Pages: 295
Original date of publication: 1960
My edition: 2006 (Virago)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Amazon, October 2011


The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is a brief biography of the least-known of the Bronte siblings: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne’s brother Branwell, believed by his sisters to be the most brilliant of all the siblings. Born the only boy in a family of girls, a lot was expected of Branwell; but tied down by his imagination, which he fueled into the fictional world of Angria, a lack of job prospects, a disastrous affair, and a drug addiction, he died at the young age of 31 and was eventually eclipsed by his sisters. Yet Branwell was a moderately good poet and artist.

In this short biography, Du Maurier draws from Branwell’s poems, prose, and letters to giver her reader more of an idea of what he was like. And yet, it’s hard to know, trapped as he was in his own “infernal world,” a phrase that Du Maurier uses way too many times in the book but which is as …

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…

Review: The Unseen, by Katherine Webb

Pages: 447
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2012 (Harper Collins)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the Amazon Vine program, April 2012


The Unseen is another time-split novel. The historical bit takes place in 1911, when a young woman with a troubled past comes to the rectory in a small Berkshire village to be a maid. Cat Morley is a spirited, rebellious girl, and she clashes with several people in the village, including the vicar and his wife, who are pretty much stuck in their ways. Then Robin Durrant comes to the village, shaking things up so to speak with his talk of theosophy and the ability to see—and photograph—spirits. In the present is Leah, a journalist who is investigating the story of all these people in the past, including that of a n unknown WWI soldier.

As with all these types of novels, the historical strand is by far the strongest. Leah is kind of an archetype; she’s disillusioned with her career and looking for change. So when he…

Review: Shadow of the Moon, by MM Kaye

Pages: 614
Original date of publication: 1957
My edition: 2010 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Hatchards Bookshop, London, September 2011


MM Kaye was born in Simla, India, and came from a long line of people who served the British Raj. Several of her novels are set in India, most notably, of course, The Far Pavilions. Set against the backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, Shadow of the Moon is the story of the love between two British subjects with close ties to India: half-Spanish Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall. The story begins properly when Winter, who spent her younger years in India and England, goes back to India to marry Conway Barton, Commissioner of Lunjore, who turns out to be obese and a drunkard. Her marriage doesn’t turn out to be the romance she has envisioned, however, but that part of the story takes a backseat to the larger events going on.

To be sure, this is a romance-type of novel, but it’s subtle. Winter isn’t your typical Engl…

Review: Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, by Diana Athill

Pages: 196
Original date of publication: 1960-1972; previously published as An Unavoidable Delay
My edition: 2011 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: it’s a Persephone
How I acquired my copy: Persephone catalogue, June 2011


Midsummer Night in the Workhouse is a collection of 12 stories, 10 of which were previously published in the collection An Unavoidable Delay. Diana Athill is no stranger to the publishing industry; for decades she worked as an editor for Anddre Deutsch (she makes a cameo appearance in Q’s Legacy).

Athill herself wrote the preface to the Persephone edition, and she says that “the discovery that I could write changed my life for the better in a very profound way, so [the stories] mean a great deal to me.” Nevertheless, Athill never published any other fiction and preferred to remain in the background as an editor, although she did publish several memoirs about her career.
The 12 stories in this collection are all very different from one another but have a lot in common none…

Review: Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire

Pages: 370
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (John Murray)
Why I decided to read: I was in the mood to read something Mitford
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, York, UK, September 2011


Deborah Devonshire was the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters—last in line after Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, and Jessica. In 1941 she married Andrew Cavendish, son of the Duke of Devonshire, and eventually became the Duchess of Devonshire. Deborah helped turn Chatsworth into a popular tourist destination and is the author of several books. She also knew, literally, everyone, as seen from the impressive number of names she drops in this memoir.

The memoir is arranged more by subject matter than chronological; a chapter on the Kennedys (who Deborah was related to distantly through marriage; Andrew’s brother was married to Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy) is followed by a chapter on Deborah’s involvement in public life. It’s a good way to organize the book considering how exte…

Review: Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Pages: 410
Original date of publication: 2012
My edition: 2012 (Henry Holt)
Why I decided to read: review copy was offered by the publisher
How I acquired my copy: Review copy from the publisher, April 2012


Bring Up the Bodies has been anticipated greatly by me (and I’m sure many others) ever since I read Hilary Mantel’s fabulous Wolf Hall in 2009. The second book in a trilogy, Bring up the Bodies begins in 1535 and covers the dissolution of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and her execution in 1536.

While this book covers the strange events of that time, the book is actually more about Thomas Cromwell—the enigmatic, far-range-thinking mastermind behind both the Katherine of Aragon divorce and Anne Boleyn’s trial. To read this novel properly, it must be remembered that Cromwell is the star of this show, not Henry or Anne. Cromwell is one of most fascinating figures of Tudor England—and in this book and in Wolf Hall, Mantel portrays him in a more positive light than previous novels and f…

Review: The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones

Pages: 260
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2011 (Harper)
Why I decided to read: it’s a review copy
How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine program, January 2011


Set in (according to Amazon.com’s product description) 1912, The Uninvited Guests takes place over the course of one day at an old English estate. It’s Emerald Torrington’s birthday, and her stepfather (who she and her younger brother inexplicably hate) has gone off to seek funding for the failing estate. Meanwhile, a train accident happens “on a branch line,” and a group of survivors show up at the house to be held for the interim.

I really did want to like this book, but I didn’t I love historical fiction, especially fiction set in the Edwardian period, but I felt as though the author didn’t give her reader a good sense of time. Aside from the odd mention of cars or clothes, this book could be set in any time—1912, 1962, or even 2012. In fact, there was a distinctly modern feel to the characters.

There are a number of pl…

Review: Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, by Margaret George

Pages:880
Original date of publication: 1997
My edition: 2006
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, summer 2006
Why I decided to read: Amazon.com recommendation


Review originally published summer 2006 on Amazon.com

Mary, Queen of Scots, was an interesting character. Although portrayed as a villain by her enemies, the Lords of Scotland, Margaret George demonstrates in this wonderfully written novel that although Mary had character flaws, she was a passionate and loving woman who unfortunately could not cope with the demands of being Queen of Scotland.

The book follows Mary's life from beginning to end. The first part of the book focuses on her childhood and marriage to Francois of France. The second part of the book cover Mary's return to Scotland, her marriage to Lord Darnley, his murder, her marriage to Bothwell, and the uprising of the Lords and commoners. The third part covers Mary's imprisonment in the Tower of London. While all three sections of the novel are well-written…

Review: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen

Pages: 182
Original date of publication: 2012
My edition: 2012 (Random House)
Why I decided to read: it was offered through Amazon Vine
How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, February 2012


Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a series of essays, really, about being in one’s fifties. She covers topics such as owning “stuff,” having girlfriends, marriage, having grown children, and aging.

Although I couldn’t really relate personally to a lot of what Anna Quindlen talks about, reading Anna Quindlen’s book (and this really goes for all of her books) is kind of like talking to your mother. And there are similarities to my own mom that are eerie! (“I have needlepoint pillows everywhere: camels, chicks, cats, houses, barns, libraries, roses, daisies, pansies. I needlepoint while I watch television. I have a vision of my children, after I’m gone, looking around and saying, ‘What are we going to do with all these pillows?’”).

As I’ve said, there’s not a lot in this book I can actually relate to, since I’…