March 31, 2009

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

I picked up The Other Boleyn Girl last week when I was in my reading slump and in need of something to get me through it. I had tried to read this book a couple of years ago but I gave it away soon after I started because I was finding it a little too trashy for my tastes. My tastes have obviously changed or I am in a different reading mood at the moment because it didn't take me long to be taken in by the book this time around. Having said that - I do still think the book is quite poorly written and is extremely repetitive and boring in parts (particularly in the middle section) but for some reason I kept on reading until the very end.

I have always been interested in this period of English history - I think it is the best soap opera story around! I have also recently started watching The Tudors on tv and become a little obsessed by it! I'm not sure that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a very accurate physical likeness to King Henry VIII but he does pretty the show up a lot!!

So, getting back to The Other Boleyn Girl, the book is told from the perspective of Anne Boleyn's sister Mary - the first Boleyn girl to attract the attention of King Henry and become his mistress. Of course we all know that it is Anne that finally goes on to become Henry's wife and Queen of England - although it doesn't end up all that well for her.

I liken the book and the story to a soap opera and that is definitely how the reading felt for me - very romanticised, sentimental and basic language and writing techniques - I felt as though I was being told a story rather than being shown the way and allowed to make up my own mind about certain characters and situations. I would normally hate this in a book but I obviously needed this type of book and storytelling at this time.

I'm not sure if I am going to go on and read the other books in this series - can anyone give me some advice on this??

I have picked up a copy of The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser from my library and I am thinking this might offer me a more historically accurate picture of the period.

March 26, 2009

Gone With The Wind - Reading Notes Part 2

I am falling a little behind in the Gone With The Wind Read Along being run by Matt - we are supposed to be up to the end of chapter 50 by the end of this week and I have only just finished chapter 25 - I'll have to see how much catching up I can do over the weekend I think.

I am still really enjoying the read but as I have mentioned in previous posts I think my problem at the moment is that I am going through a bit of a reading slump - so it's taking me just a little longer to get through this book than I thought.

The section of the book from chapters 10 - 25 sees Scarlett staying in Atlanta - quite oblivious to the impact of the war to begin with - until she is forced to nurse in the local hospital and sees first hand the devastation the war is bringing to her friends and countrymen.

The relationship with Rhett continues to develop as he is able to bring Scarlett the pretty clothes and accessories, that the war has made so scarce, through his blockading escapades. I like reading through this section as Scarlett starts to get a bit of an inkling that Rhett might be a man she could see herself with (even if it is only as a form of escape) but it frustrates me that she stays so dedicated to the thoughts of love she has for Ashley!

I am a true Scarlett fan - I can definitely see her spoilt, brattish and selfish nature but I just keep reminding myself that she is basically a 19 year old girl - stuck in a situation where her whole world and sense of self is being destroyed - I think I'd be more than a little selfish in the same situation!
The end of this section becomes even darker as the broader impact of the war is brought home to Scarlett in a very personal way after she travels home to Tara and sees the devastation it has met with. I always hate reading this part and seeing it in the movie too but I do love the declaration Scarlett makes about never going hungry again.

March 24, 2009

Reading Struggles...

I am going through a rough reading patch - this has happened to me before but not for a while now and I want to find a cure! My problem is that I can't seem to find one book and just stick to it - I have started about 10 different books in the last week and none of them are grabbing me and making me want to go on - HELP!!! I definitely have the itch to read - I just can't find the right book to scratch that itch.
I am still reading Gone With The Wind, slowly but surely, and I am enjoying it - but it has lost that new book sensation for me and I think I need something else to inspire me.
I have picked up a few new selections over the weekend - both purchases and library pickups. I bought The Marriage Bureau For Rich People by Farahad Zama - I had read lots of great reviews of it in some magazines so when I saw it in a local independent bookshop I snapped it up. I also picked up Drood by Dan Simmons and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson from my library yesterday - just not sure they are the books to pick me back up and throw me into my reading swing??
I would love some help - if you have read the books I have listed I would love to hear what you think of them - or I would love to hear of any great books you have finished lately that have made you forget about everything else and have just made you read, read ,read!!

March 21, 2009

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice

The title alone would have drawn me to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets even if I hadn't read good things about it over at Danielle's Blog.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is set in 1954/1955 London and England (with a lot of references to America and the rising pop music scene of the times as well). Penelope Wallace is an 18 year old on the cusp of "finding out who she really is" when she meets Charlotte while waiting for a bus. Penelope is introduced to another world and way of living through Charlotte (a character I have to say I liked a little more than Penelope) and Charlotte, her Aunt Clare and her cousin Harry become a part of Penelope's family life in the majestic country home, Magna. In some ways it is actually Magna that is the main character of the story - as the family home of Penelope's father who was killed in WW2 it maintains a significant hold on Penelope and her mother and brother and draws on their ever dwindling financial situation.

This book definitely made me feel as though I had been transported to 1950's England - it felt true to the period (even though I have never actually been in that time of course!) and I felt connected to the characters and what would eventually happen to them. Music plays a large role in the setting and the plot of the story and I felt that the developing pop music world was somehow echoed in the changing of the times following the end of WW2 and in the establishment of the "teenager" - seen through the eyes of Penelope and Charlotte and their devotion to a pop music icon.

A beautiful, sweet book - perfect for reading in front of the fire with a cup of tea!

March 20, 2009

The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R King

I have to say I am really starting to enjoy my mystery novels! I have picked up some great ideas from my fellow bloggers, particularly Eva and Danielle and they both recommended The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King (I'm sure there are others out there that have loved this book too so please let me know if I have forgotten you!). I am fairly new to the mystery genre so recommendations are really the only way I can enter this reading world safely - there are just too many mystery novels out there to wade through.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first novel in Laurie R King's series which brings together the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and a budding young investigator, Mary Russell. I have to admit I have never read any of the Sherlock Holmes writings so I really knew nothing about the character - this didn't impact negatively on my reading of this book at all. King sets up the character and the setting perfectly - the first half of the book where this is all done was by far my favourite - I enjoyed it more than when the actual mysteries and cases started to occur!

Sixteen year old Mary runs into Holmes in the English countryside near her farming home in Sussex Downs - they recognise a similar intellect in each other (although the two characters are not without their considerable differences which leads to some great tension throughout the book) and Holmes becomes a mentor for the orphan Mary.

The relationship between the two characters was the real joy in the reading of this book for me - the mysteries and cases were really only a vehicle for learning more about their relationship and their personalities - I'm not sure if this is supposed to happen when reading a mystery though??

I have to say I'm hooked now - I'll definitely be looking out for the rest of the books in this series.

March 16, 2009

Happy 1st Birthday!

Today is BookBath's 1st Birthday! One year ago today I discovered the book blogging world and decided to jump in and have a go myself. In some ways it feels like just yesterday and in others I feel like I've been doing this as long as I have been reading!

I have loved meeting other book obsessed people like myself (I worried that I was the only one at times in my life!) and I think that has been the greatest surprise of my blogging experience - I started the blog really as a way to record my own reading and to stretch myself a little in terms of my reading choices but the connections I have made with other readers are what has kept me here.

So thank you to all of you who have "met" with me over here at BookBath - I'm looking forward to continuing to build on my connections in the blogging world, to meeting lots more reading friends and to reading excessive amounts - of course!

March 15, 2009

Travel Excitement!

I am very excited as we have started meeting with our travel agent to officially plan our trip to Ireland and England later this year! I wouldn't call myself a well travelled person at all - it is really only in the past few years that I have started to explore the world in a way other than through books - but I am definitely hooked!

I am also excited about this trip because: 1) It will be the first overseas trip we have been on that I will NOT be combining with work or a conference and 2) We get to stay for 3 nights in Paris! Now I know that 3 nights is really not all that long to spend in that city but in our original plans we were only going to have the time to spend a day there - so hence the excitement over the 3 nights.

I would love to hear from you on what you think we should not miss when we are in Paris - and also London and Ireland for that matter! I would also love to hear any reading recommendations for the places we are going to visit - I always love to have done some reading on the place I am visiting before I arrive.

March 14, 2009

Girl in a Blue Dress - Gaynor Arnold

I bought Girl in a Blue Dress when I was in Sydney a few weeks ago - every bookshop I walked in had it displayed rather prominently so I was "forced" to at least take a look. The cover did entice me - I enjoy reading books about female characters by female authors so this book did fit that description - and I find the cover pretty and sensual - the picture of the lower part of the face of a young girl with what I would imagine was a pretty revealing blue dress for the Victorian era - it was drawing me in (I think the UK and US covers might be different to the Australian one though??).
Before I purchase a book I always read the publishers blurb (not always reliable I know but I need something to go by) and I also like to read the blurb about the author - it was actually the latter that made me finally purchase this book. Gaynor Arnold is actually a social worker by day and a writer by night - exactly what I would like to be! I have the social worker by day thing covered - just need to get working on my night time persona. If I can connect with an author in some way through their limited description on the back cover I will almost always take the risk and buy the book - I have been known to purchase a book simply because the author was born in the same year as me!
I have to say I did purchase the book for another reason - it's connection with the Charles Dickens story. Having just finished Wanting by Richard Flanagan I have been searching out books related to the life of this writer. As I said in my review for Wanting I have never really read much about Dickens himself or the life he led so I am wanting to discover more about this "character" - even if it is only a fictional account.
Which leads me to Girl in a Blue Dress - a novel based on the marriage of Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine through the use of fictional characters that embody their persona's and situations - Alfred and Dorothea Gibson.
The book is told from the perspective of Dorothea as she reflects on her life with "The One and Only" following his death:

My husband's funeral is today. And I'm sitting here alone in my upstairs room while half London follows him to his grave (p. 1)

As I have said, I am not all that familiar with the real story of Dickens and his marriage, and Arnold makes it quite clear in her Afterward that even though the marriage of Charles Dickens was the inspiration for the book it is a work of fiction and she has changed many things about the story. Arnold goes on to say; "In spite of these alterations, I have always attempted to keep true to the essential natures of the two main protagonists as I have come to understand them". I would love to hear from any of you who have a deeper knowledge of the life of Dickens than I have and who have read this book - is it close to the real story do you think?

I did not find my lack of knowledge about Dickens a hindrance when reading this book at all - in fact, I think it probably helped me to engage with the story more for what it was as opposed to always thinking "that's not right" or "that never happened".

Arnold tells a brilliant story (and apparently the judges for the Man Booker Prize made this comment when they longlisted the book for the award in 2008) - I was engaged with Dorothea and her telling of her story from the very beginning. Why is the wife not attending the funeral of her husband? Why is she hidden away in a room while the rest of London grieves openly? You are caught from the very beginning.

Dorothea begins to reflect on her life with Alfred as the funeral goes on without her, she tells of their initial meeting and the passionate courting that occurred without the permission of her parents. Once married the passion seems to be exchanged for reality, work and pregnancy. Alfred becomes absorbed in and consumed by his writing and Dorothea gives birth to 8 children in fairly quick succession:

Sometimes I did not think Alfred liked me so well as a woman. He did not like to see me retch, or sweat, or toil up the stairs with my gown kirtled up and panting with shortness of breath. He would look away and laugh, talking of my interesting condition as if I had grown stout of my own accord, as an act of contrariness; as if he had nothing to do with it (p. 94)

The picture painted of Alfred Gibson is not a pretty one - he appears as selfish, self-absorbed, cruel and arrogant. His treatment of his wife (admittedly as told by the wife herself) is horrific - even though no physical violence is ever portrayed the verbal abuse, isolation, betrayal and character assassination that Dorothea endures through the words of Alfred renders her a lonely character cut of from her sisters, her friends and most importantly her children.

Despite this Dorothea remains firm in her love and admiration for Alfred - something which I did struggle with throughout the book. I had to keep in mind the era in which the novel was set and the expectations of woman, particularly married women, of this time. There is a slight change in Dorothea towards the end of the novel where she does make a claim for the rights of woman when speaking to a close friend:

"Yet all the same how can it be proper for a woman to be married twenty years, then cast aside on a pittance? How can we lose the right to see the very children we have raised? Why do we need to go cap in hand for every bit of money that we need? If woman made the laws, wouldn't things be different? (p. 404)

The author's writing style is also based in a strong narrative - you do feel as though Dorothea is in front of you having a conversation about the life she has led with her husband. However, the books seems quite long in places - at times I found Dorothea's reflection repetitive and overly sentimental - but the author does not indulge in these passages for too long before changing the scene so in this way I was always kept interested and engaged.

Apparently it took Arnold 5 years to write Girl in a Blue Dress - I hope she seriously thinks about putting social work on the back burner for a while so that we can read her next novel sooner rather than later.

March 13, 2009

Writers Who Have Influenced Me - Meme

I saw this meme over at So Many Books and it looks like it has been doing the rounds of the blogging world so I thought I would join in.

Name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people.
Like others I’m not actually going to tag 25 people but I would love to read lists from all of you if you would like to join in too.

My 25 influential writers are:

1. Enid Blyton
2. Ruth Park
3. Thurley Fowler
4, Eleanor Spence
5. Louisa May Alcott
6. L. M. Montgomery
7. Judy Blume
8. Kate Grenville
9. Helen Garner
10. Jhumpa Lahiri
11. Toni Morrison
12. Margaret Atwood
13. Margaret Drabble
14. Jane Austen
15. Charlotte Bronte
16. Anne Lamott
17. Maggie O'Farrell
18. Marian Keyes
19. Germaine Greer
20. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
21. Carol Shields
22. Judith Wright
23. Anne Morrow Lindberg
24. Alice Sebold
25. Jane Austen (yes, I know this is on the list twice and is kind of cheating but that's just how much influence she has in my life!)

I realise now looking over the list that all of the writers I have chosen are women - I really did not mean this to happen but I think it does say something about how much I admire and seek out women writers. Sorry guys!!

March 09, 2009

Writing - Beginnings

I am starting my 8 week email/on-line writing course this week -and I have to say I'm a little anxious about it. I've been putting off exploring my writing for so long now (the reason I signed up for this class really - as a kick start and motivator) that I'm not really sure where or how to begin!

The structure of the course means that I get an email on Monday giving me a writing exercise for that week, then another email mid week with some tips and inspiration and then on Sunday I send a piece of writing (up to 2000 words) to the facilitators for them to review and constructively critique. I like the protection of the on-line method - no embarrassing read aloud sessions to groups of other students - I realise this can be very helpful in the writing process, just not sure I'm up for that at the moment!

I have no dreams of being a published, award winning author - I would just like to be able to write some simple pieces without the angst and dreaded anticipation of what will arrive on the page.

So, here we go - not sure what the outcome will be but hopefully I will enjoy the process.

March 08, 2009

I Love Your Blog!

I was really excited to see that I had won this award from Mari. Thank you so much Mari - I love your blog as well!

I originally started my blog as a way for me to challenge, expand on and record my reading experiences but the connections I have made in the reading and blogging world have really enriched my reading life so I am so excited to see that my blog is being enjoyed by others.

Now, for the fun part of passing on the award to blogs that I adore:

Here are the rules to keep the award moving:

1) Add the logo of the award to your blog

2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you

3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs

4) Add links to those blogs on your blog

5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs!

My "I Love Your Blog" Awards go to:

1. Thyme For Tea - a close personal friend as well as a blogging friend, Tamara's blog always challenges and informs me about broader issues in the world - thanks T!

2. The Reading Life of an Antipodean Owl - a fellow Aussie, I love reading the great reviews as well as other local info.

3. Little Breeze - Another Aussie blogger with beautiful photos and travel stories - always inspirational.

4. Kiss A Cloud - a gorgeous title for a gorgeous blog!

5. Another Nutter - I love this blog for it's reflections on life and reading - and some great recommendations.

6. Austenprose - I love this blog for its beautiful representation of all things Austen.

7. Bookgirl's Nightstand - such variety to be found on this blog - I love it!

March 07, 2009

Gone With The Wind Read-along - Week 1

I was most excited to join in the Gone With The Wind Read-along being hosted by Matt. Gone With The Wind is one of the books I have chosen to read for The Chunkster Challenge so this was the perfect opportunity to get it read and have some discussion along the way.

I was a little worried about starting such a large book when I have so many other books on my reading horizon at the moment but I didn't need to worry - once I started to read GWTW I was hooked and have been immersed in it ever since.

I have read the book before - when I was about 14 I was introduced to the movie and fell in love with Scarlett straight away. I then sought out the book and fell in love even more. So, my reading of the book may not be that un-biased (if this is even a word!)but I am finding that reading it again over 15 years later is bringing up different interpretations for me - and even more enjoyment I think.

The read-along timetable is listed on Matt's website - for this first week we read up to the end of chapter 9.

The book starts with a glorious description of the Southern Georgian plantation of Tara, Scarlett's family home and of the character of Scarlett herself - both the physical and psychological character traits are clearly described:

But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin...

The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, wilful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanour. Her manners had been imposed upon her by her mother's gentle admonitions and the sterner discipline of her mammy; her eyes were her own

I can see why I was so drawn to those descriptions and the character of Scarlett as a 14 year old beginning to try and assert her independence in the world - and nothing has changed for me as a 34 year old woman - I can still connect with this character who is miles away from me in context, location and times.

For me (and I am supposing for Margaret Mitchell as well) Scarlett is the heart of GWTW - it is what connects me to the story of the Civil War and the political and social situation of the times. When we first meet Scarlett she is flirting with two local boys whilst at the same time dreaming of her believed true love, Ashley Wilkes. The first part of the book concentrates on the southern plantation life - descriptions that help you seep into the world in which the book is set and let you see exactly what these people believe they are fighting for when they embark into war.

Through this part of the reading I have been drawn to seeing this book, and in particular the character of Scarlett, as a feminist portrayal of women of this time. I'm not sure that this is ever what the author intended but I feel that the situation of women and what was expected of them can be seen through this lens - I'm finding this an interesting by-product of my reading of the book this time.

I have left Scarlett in Atlanta - enjoying the ruination of her reputation - and I'm looking forward to getting back there soon.

March 06, 2009

Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear

I have never really been much of a mystery reader - I'm not really sure why, just haven't been drawn to them in the past. But I have been reading some wonderful recommendations in the blogging world for various mysteries and in particular Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. I have been reading a little differently this year, trying different genres and styles of books I have previously avoided or just simply not gotten to - so I have decided to give the mystery novel a go.

I love reading books set in England - particularly around the times of WW1 and WW2 - so in that regard Maisie Dobbs was a great choice for me.

Maisie is a woman who started life as a member of the working class, she began working as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton and her family in the early 1900's. Her natural instincts for reading and learning drew her to the attention of her employer in another way and Maisie began to be mentored by Dr Maurice Blanche, with the support of Lady Rowan, in the ways of the intellectual world. Maisie eventually won herself a place at Cambridge University but this was interrupted by the arrival of WW1 where Maisie went to serve as a nurse in France.

The book starts in 1929 where Maisie is beginning to set up her own personal investigation business and it sweeps back and forth between 1929 and the past where we learn of Maisie's introduction to the world of investigation and her involvement and personal losses in WW1.

I did enjoy reading this book, and I will continue to read the others in the series, but I did have some problems with the plot development (which I thought was pretty predictable and simplistic) and Maisie herself.

Things just seemed to jump into place in terms of the plot - people were where they needed to be when they needed to be, people were conveniently met when they needed to be met etc... I found this a little contrived but I was able to see past it to still enjoy the story.

As for Maisie, she did annoy me at times! I was trying to work out what it was when Maisie herself seemed to describe the reason for me:

She knew she was out of bounds. But this was not new for her. She spent much of her life out of bounds, living and speaking where, according to some, she had no business.

This is normally a trait that would endear me to a character, particularly a female one, I love to read about strong female characters, but for some reason I found Maisie overbearing and bossy at times - particularly with her clients who she felt it was quite ok to order around!

I realise I am probably being a little harsh - and I need to place the character in the context of her times.

I also struggled with Maurice - jumping into Maisie's mind constantly with his little philosophical mantras!

But for all of these complaints I did enjoy the story - the setting in particular. So, I will give Maisie Dobbs another go but would also love to hear of any other suggestions for mystery books as I feel a little addicted now!