Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.
Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.
Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults
talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.
The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.
Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.
Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.
Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.
Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).
Docx, Edward. The Calligrapher. Boston: Houghton Miffler Company, 2003.
Reason read: March is hero month. The hero in The Calligrapher is a dead poet.
I love books that have the ability to suck you into its pages. I started reading The Calligrapher and before I knew it 75 pages were devoured before I next looked up.
Onto the plot: Jasper Jackson is a classy cad. He knows his wine. He knows his fish. He knows fashion. He knows his classical tunes. As a professional calligrapher, he knows the poetry of John Donne intimately. He also cheats on women who are already labeled “the other woman.” He can’t have a monogamous relationship to save his life…until he meets gorgeous-girl Madeleine. She is everything he has ever wanted in a partner: smart, funny, sarcastic, gone from home a lot as a travel writer, and of course, so beautiful everyone stops to stare wherever she goes. Miss Perfect. Jackson is willing to give up every other fling and sexual conquest for this girl. He has met his match in Maddy. He even takes her to meet his grandmother. No other woman has had the honor. Unfortunately, the other broken hearts Jasper has trampled on to get to Madeleine just won’t go away. He needs to deal with those messes before he can come clean. But. Is it too late?
Quotes I really liked, “Time cleared its throat and tapped its brand new watch” (p 43), and “Curious how the empty eyes of a dead fish could beseech a person so” (p 224).
As an aside, I have never thought about them before, but vellum and parchment and how they’re made. Calf and sheep, respectively. Ugh.
Author fact: Docx has written a bunch of other stuff. None of it is on my list, though. Bummer. As another aside, I checked out his list on LibraryThing and was a little taken aback by the photos. He’s one of those authors who has a hunch he might, just might, be good looking.
Book trivia: This should be a movie starring Hugh Grant. Oh wait. He already did one of those cad-turned-sensitive-guy movies for Nick Hornsby.
Nancy said: Pearl made comparisons to A.S. Byatt and she described the plot. That’s it.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dick Lit” (p 78).
I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
- City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
- All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.
- The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
- Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
- The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
- The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.
I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
- The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
- Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.
- Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
- Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
- African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.
- The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.
- We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.
I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.
Gill, A. A. The Angry Island: Hunting the English. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005.
Reason read: Gill was born in the month of June; read in his honor.
From the very beginning you know you are going to laugh out loud at least once or twice while reading Angry Island. Right in the preface Gill starts off with, “Facts are what pedantic, dull people have instead of opinions.” Well okay! He later states “the national character of the English is anger.” At the time of this writing he was a food and travel critic so he was required to be a little…well…critical. It was expected of him. In The Angry Island his snarky essays cover all kinds of topics from language to war memorials, from sports and animals to drinking. Needless to say, he has a well-barbed opinion about everything. My big question is this, if he was born in Scotland and considers himself Scottish and hates England, why stay there? Why didn’t he move away? He has even less of an opinion about America but that (or Ireland or Australia) would have been an option for an English speaking bloke, especially one with a sharp tongue.
Other quotes I liked, “The purpose of an army must surely be to put itself out of business” (p 237),
Author fact: A.A. Gill is Anthony Andre Gill, born on June 28th. He died of cancer in 2016.
Book trivia: since Angry Island is a collection of essays I was surprised to find an index.
Nancy said: Gill’s essays are “filled with biting, sometimes snarky commentary about morals and mores of England” (Book Lust To Go p 78). I had to laugh when I read the word “snarky” because it’s a favorite of mine and it describes Gill perfectly.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Entering England” (p 76).
Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book. Read by Jenny Sterlin.
Reason read: Connie Willis was born in the month of December. Read in her honor. Confessional: this book is nearly 600 pages long so I decided to start it early.
I don’t know why I get so nervous about reading science fiction. I really shouldn’t when it comes to Connie Willis. I have enjoyed everything I had read from her so far and Doomsday Book is no different. In a word Doomsday Book is brilliant. Young and ambitious student historian Kivrin has been eagerly preparing to leave her 21st century world for that of fourteenth century Oxford. Wearing a costume proper for women of the era? Check. Middle English language lessons completed? Check. Customs training for her alibi for a woman traveling alone? Check. Proper inoculations for illnesses of the day? Check. Or it is check with a question mark? Her instructors back in 2054 had made painstaking calculation to ensure she would arrive decades before the Black Death, but is it possible she slipped twenty eight years passed the targeted date? Did she arrive at ground zero at the exact wrong time? Strangely enough, the 21st century is suffering an epidemic of its own. Modern day Oxford is quarantined and fear bordering on panic runs rampant.
This is a story of parallel tragedies and the human nature that transcends all time…despite being “sci-fi.”
Author fact: at the time of publication Willis lived in Greeley, Colorado. Such a beautiful place!
Book trivia: Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula award for science fiction.
Nancy said: in Book Lust, “many people believe Doomsday Book Willis’s most accomplished novel (p 246). In More Book Lust, nothing other than to list it as a time travel book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246). Also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Time Travel” (p 221).
Dundy, Elaine. The Old Man and Me. New York: New York Review Books, 2005.
Introductions to books often bore me, I’ll admit it. I’m the one who will skip them nine times out of ten. For some reason I didn’t skip Dundy’s introduction to The Old Man and Me and I’m very glad I didn’t. I appreciated her explanation of who Honey Flood is, why Honey is the way she is (think Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way”), and why she wanted Honey that way. Dundy wants her reader to know the purpose of Honey in Old Man is as a response to the male anti-heroes of the era. By creating the female counterpart, Honey Flood is the Angry Young Woman who hates everything English. Additionally, Miss Flood is opinionated, hot-tempered, easy annoyed, more often than not, sarcastically irritated and a liar to boot. As Dundy explains, “But what I hope I had going for me is that Bad Girls are more interesting that Good ones” (p ix). Amen to that. So, about Honey…she’s out to seduce an older man. She’ll go to great lengths to land an interview with him, including befriending people she can’t stand. Why? He married her stepmother after her father’s death and by default (stepmum later committed suicide), has all Honey’s inheritance. In short, Honey wants her money back. True to Dundy’s intro, Honey is nothing short of nasty. There were surprises within Old Man and Me that popped up unexpectedly.
Lines which sparked the imagination, “Bollie was a sort of chain-talker, lighting one end of a conversation to another without letting the first go out” (p 8) and “She had lost her husband only two days ago and already she was a lost soul” (p 29).
Confessional: I didn’t catch that The Old Man and Me was a continuation of sorts of The Dud Avocado so I read Old Man before Avocado. My mistake. Bummer.
Reason read: January is the time people make resolutions. It’s also the most popular time to put affairs in order, like creating or revising a will.
Author fact: Elaine died in 2008. At 82 years of age she wrote the introduction I mentioned earlier. She lived to be 87 years old.
Book trivia: The Old Man and Me is a sequel of sorts to The Dud Avocado. The main character is in Dud and although she is older, she appears again in Old Man.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “American Girls” (p 18).
Fellowes, Julian. Snobs. New York: St. Martin Press, 2004.
This seems like an odd choice for a Christmas season pick. After all, this is supposed to be peace on Earth, goodwill towards men time. With a name like Snobs it doesn’t seem to fit, but this is in honor of one of Nancy Pearl’s gift choices for the holidays.
Edith Lavery is middle class society with big upper class ambitions. When she inadvertently meets the Earl of Broughton, Charles, it is with an admission ticket to tour his home in her hand. Little does she know, but the introduction, with her good looks, is also her ticket to upper echelon snobbery. Soon Edith works her way into the aristocratic family by marrying Charles. As his wife she discovers the high life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and finds herself becoming bored. The real trouble begins when Edith’s wandering eye settles on a less than successful actor. Things turn from bad to worse when it’s more than Edith’s eye that starts to wander. What makes this hungry-for-status story so funny is the wicked clashes of culture. Julian Fellowes seductively pokes fun at all types of cliques: actors, the fashion world, the genders, society, but none are funnier than the English.
Sarcastically good lines: “To an outsider it seems a vital ingredient of many marriages that each partner should support the illusions of the other” (p 5).
“…Mrs Lavery was passionately snobbish to a degree verging on insanity…” (p 12).
“Edith rolled her eyes. ‘She’s beside herself. She’s afraid she’ll find Bobby in the shower and it’ll all have been a dream” (p 40).
“At least he seemed to feel that something momentous had taken place, even if her body had never left the station…” (p71).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).
December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.
- The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
- A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
- Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
- I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
- A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
- Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
- Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
- ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
- Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
- Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).
For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).
Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.
So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.
Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!