Sunday, September 25, 2011

British Television Series

A slight book-blogging digression, as this is not a television blog, but it's vaguely book-related. So, last week I completed watching the original Upstairs, Downstairs series.  It was so wonderful, I'm currently in mourning -- what could I possibly watch next which is just as wonderful before Downton Abbey starts in January?  Frankly, I'm not that excited about network television at the moment, with the possible exception of Modern Family and The Amazing Race).

I'm lucky enough to work in a public library with an extensive DVD collection. Bloggers, I need some suggestions for my next series!  Here are the possibilities:

The most recent version of Robin Hood:

This brilliant Masterpiece Theater follow-up to Upstairs, Downstairs (I actually watched it years ago, but it's been so long I've forgotten most of it):

Another classic BBC series set in the 1930s:

A classic series about a British schoolmaster:

A thrilling series set in WWII:

Or a racy series about King Henry XIIV (technically not British, as it was on Showtime, but it's all about the Brits):

The trouble is I want to watch ALL of them!!  Bloggers, have you seen any of these?  Or do you have any other suggestions?  I've seen all of the Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell adaptations.  I love all kinds of historical and period dramas.  Some of my other favorites are Downton Abbey, Foyle's War, Bleak House, Wives and Daughters, The House of Elliott, and of course anything by Jane Austen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

With The Little Stranger, I've not only read another book for the RIP Challenge, I've also finally completed another owned-and-unread book from the TBR shelf.  I bought The Little Stranger at a library sale not long after I finished (and loved) Fingersmith, so I've been looking forward to reading it.  But like my last RIP book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Set just a couple of years after the end of World War II, The Little Stranger is an atmospheric story told in the first person by a British country doctor, John Faraday.  He grew in the shadow of Hundreds, a grand country house owned by the local gentry family, the Ayreses.  Though his mother was in service and his father a shopkeeper, Dr. Faraday was able to rise above his station through hard work and his parents' sacrifices.  He's not the Ayreses' regular doctor, but one day he's called out there as a substitute, to check on a young maid who's ailing.

The maid seems to be shamming, but confesses to Dr. Faraday that she's unhappy in the big house, which gives her the creeps.  He dismisses her fears -- the house is nearly empty nowadays, with only a full-time housekeeper; Mrs. Ayres, a widow; her daughter Caroline, who is in her twenties and unmarried; and her son and heir Roderick, who was a pilot in the war and was badly wounded and burned in a crash.

The Ayres family has fallen on hard times, and are barely able to keep the estate afloat.  With the pretext of helping Roderick with an experimental medical treatment, Dr. Faraday begins visiting the Ayreses on a regular basis.  He becomes a close family friend and confidant and is present when a terrible thing happens, the first of many odd occurences.

Three of Sarah Waters' novels are neo-Victorian, but this is her second foray into another historical era -- post-WWII Britain, which I thought she did extremely well.  Of course I'm no expert, but the past year or so I've been reading a lot more fiction written and published in that era, and the mood was very similar.  Waters does an excellent job evoking the period, but what I think was best about the book was her description of an aristocratic family fallen on hard times, and their struggle to keep their lifestyle afloat.  They're desperately hanging on to another era -- they can't keep the farm going, can't maintain the property, and can barely find servants to help them around the house.  It's a real contrast to the books I've been reading recently in which great houses have scores of servants and most women had few other job choices than to be a maid, cook, or governess.

The supernatural aspect of the book is not the best part, in my opinion, and I was a little disappointed in the ending, which didn't quite satisfy me.  But the book is so well written, I read it pretty quickly over a couple of days. I didn't like it quite as much as Fingersmith, but it was well worth reading.   One of my librarian friends is coordinating a historical fiction book group, and the December read is one of Waters' other books, Affinity, so I'm hoping to get to it in a couple of months.  This one is set in a Victorian asylum and also has supernatural elements -- as my friend Jason commented, "Nothing says Christmas like Victorian madhouses!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blogoversary Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my Second Blogoversary Giveaway!  And the winner is . . . .

She's won a copy of Germinal by Emil Zola, one of my very favorite reads this year.  I know she'll love it as much as I did. Congratulations!  And please visit her blog, she's a new blogger to me but I'm so happy to have found her in the blogosphere.  

And guess what???  I was a winner this week too!  I was the lucky winner BBAW Giveaway: a $20 gift card to, courtesy of one of my very favorite bloggers, Jenners at Life. . . With Books.  If you haven't read her blog yet, please do yourself a favor and check her out because she is hilarious!!  Thank you so much, Jenners!  I'm trying to decide on what I'm going to get with my gift card. 

Bloggers, help me out!  I want to use the gift card to get something in honor of the upcoming Jane Austen Society meeting which I'll be attending in Ft. Worth, Texas.  This year, the meeting's theme is Sense and Sensibility, in honor of its 200th anniversary of publication.  So should I buy this:

Or what about this:

I can't decide but I need to get ready for the meeting, it's only three weeks away!  It's five days of Jane Austen discussions, lectures, movies, English country dancing, whist, garden walks -- it's going to be great!!!  I attended the 2009 AGM in Philadelphia and I loved it.  I can't wait to go!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Another RIP read -- and a really good one.  In fact, it might be my ideal RIP challenge read:

1.  It's very creepy.
2.  It's very short (only 146 pages in my edition).
3.  It's a book from my TBR shelves that I've been meaning to read since it arrived in February in that Great Big Box of Penguins.

So, this book was a trifecta for a book challenge from the start.  Oh, and what is it about, by the way?  Well.  Published in 1962, this story is told in the first person by Mary Catherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat.  She's about eighteen when the story takes place.  On the day the story begins, Mary is has to go into town, to the library and to pick up the groceries.  Slowly, as she describes her walk, the reader learns about her very odd family.

Merricat lives with her sister and her Uncle Julian in a large mansion, but she's the only one that ever seems to leave.  Actually, her older sister Constance hasn't left the property in years; Uncle Julian is in a wheelchair, and he might be suffering from mental problems.  Pretty quickly, the reader realizes that almost everyone in the village seems to dislike the Blackwoods.  There are whispers and stares, and people pointing at Merricat.  At first I felt really sorry for her, and wondered what in the heck happened (though if you read the back cover it gives away more of the history. I really wish I hadn't, so I won't reveal it here).   As I kept reading, I realized there was a lot more weirdness going on.

Once again, I don't want to give away too much so I don't spoil it for anyone else.  All I will mention is that Shirley Jackson is just masterful at setting the scene and drawing the reader in, and the tension just escalates -- I couldn't put this book down.  Jackson is wonderful at revealing just enough to give the reader clues without giving away too much too fast.  I will admit that there was one big reveal I figured out pretty quickly -- I've read so many mysteries it's pretty easy for me to pick up on important clues.  However, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story one bit.

Before this, I'd really only read one other work by Jackson, her famous short story, "The Lottery," which is also creepy, but in a different way.  If you haven't read it, you can read it online here.  Jackson is well known for showing the darker underside of small-town life, and this book is so worth reading.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle is dark and creepy and Gothic, and I loved it.  A perfect quick read for the RIP season.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blogoversary Giveaway Extended

Well, due to my blogging ineptitude, I made a posting error the other day, and it's possible some of my followers did not realize I was having a giveaway in honor of my second blogoversary. One lucky winner will receive one of my favorite reads from the past twelve months.   I am extending the deadline until midnight Saturday, September 17.

For the complete rules and details about the giveaway, please scroll down to the previous post or click here.  And I promise to be more careful when clicking on the "post now" button in the future!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Second Blogoversary and a Giveaway!

Exactly two years ago today I posted my very first blog entry.  This blog was supposed to be about books and chocolate, but the chocolate and cooking entries seem to have fallen by the wayside.  I haven't blogged nearly as much as I wanted to lately -- I recently started a wonderful part-time job at the public library, and I'm continuing with Spanish classes.  That and my home life keep me pretty busy.  But I did want to thank all the people who have read and commented on my blog the past two years, so again I've decided to celebrate by giving away one of my favorite reads since my previous blogoversary.

Here are the rules:  ONE winner will receive a paperback copy of the following books, his or her choice, shipped via The Book Depository [if the winner resides in the U.S., I reserve the right to ship via Amazon or Barnes & Noble].   To see if The Book Depository will ship to you, click here.  I'll choose a lovely edition for you.

To enter: please select one of the following books, some of my favorite reads from 2010-2011.  

In the comment section below, please tell me why you'd like to read it, or why you liked the review.  You MUST include a link or email address so I can contact you if you win! 
One entry per person.  UPDATED:  The deadline for entry is now midnight Saturday,  September 17, 2011, Central Standard Time.  

At Home: A History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.  A long book about the social history of Victorian houses and so much more!  This was probably my favorite nonfiction read of 2011.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  Dear Trollope!  Backstabbing and bitchery among the clergy in a small Victorian English town.  It's a great introduction to Trollope.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.  A great, subtle novel about a spinster in 1950s England and her eccentric neighbors.  Pym has been compared to Jane Austen, and I love her wry observations.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.  Completely unlike most of my other reading, but so good!  It will get you completely sucked into the world of Winterfell and the Seven Kingdoms.

Germinal OR Pot-Bouille by Emile Zola.  Two very different books from Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle of novels.  Both were wonderful, so the winner could choose either one.

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  A GREAT Victorian sensation novel and my most recent posting.  I had to include it!

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Another book for the person who's read all of Jane Austen.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.  A charming novella about books, booksellers, and finding love.

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton.  My favorite so far of the NYRB Classics, about the residents of a small boarding house in WWII era London, trapped by life and circumstances.  I loved it.

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple.  I had to include at least one Persephone, and this is one of my favorites.  Whipple is the best-selling author in the Persephone book catalog, and it's easy to see why.

Very Good, Jeeves! by P. G. Wodehouse.  I didn't technically write a complete post on this book, I've read a lot of P. G. Wodehouse the past few months and I couldn't keep him off the list!  I feel the need to spread the humor of Wodehouse, and this is a great starting place.

Good luck and happy reading!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I love this cover --
the swooning is so over the top!  
My very first RIP posting!  I've signed up for Peril the First, which is four books, so I'm well on my way.  This book wasn't originally on my list of potential reads, but after Amanda at Ramblings raved about it, well, I had to read it right away.  And I am so glad I did, because I just loved it.  This book kept me up late at night, and prevented me from reading not one but TWO books for IRL book groups last week!  I also neglected Spanish homework, housework. . . it was that good!

Here's the setup:  Lady Audley is a beautiful young woman with a mysterious past.  She recently married Lord Audley, a rich widower much older than herself.  Meanwhile, Lord Audley's semi-slacker nephew Robert has just run into an old school friend, George Talboys, who is returning from Australia.  George left his young wife and infant son three years ago, desperate to make his fortune, and he's returned now as a rich man.  Their fates will intertwine, and the story includes mystery, murder, mistaken identity, bigamy, and madness.  Braddon published this, her first novel, in 1862, and it was so successful she was financially independent for the rest of her life.  She went on to write more than 75 other novels, though this is still the most famous, and it's never been out of print.

I really enjoyed this novel -- it's not great literature by any means, but it's great escapist fun. The plot was fairly predictable, but writing was actually pretty good, and it's a fast read.  It does make some points about women's fates and opportunities, and Victorian ideas about madness and psychology.  The characters were good too -- sometimes I liked Lady Audely, sometimes I hated her, and sometimes I just felt sorry for her.   I had a pretty good idea of what the big secret was, but I couldn't help wanting to read more.   I imagine it would be on a college reading list simply as an example of its genre.  According to the Penguin Classics website, "Lady Audley's Secret epitomized the scandalous and irresistible "sensation" fiction of the period," which I think sums it up nicely.  In other words, it's popular escapist fiction, but popular fiction that has endured, so it's a classic in that sense.  According to Wikipedia, it was pretty sensational for its time because it showed the darker side to the ideals of Victorian domestic bliss.

Anyhow, this was a great start to the RIP season, and I've already found another of Braddon's books at the college library.  Hopefully I'll enjoy it just as much as this one.

Friday, September 2, 2011

RIP 2011

Even though the temperatures are still in the triple-digits here in Texas, it's starting to feel like fall -- and it's time for the RIP Challenge!  Last year I only managed to squeeze in a couple, but I'm really hoping to tackle some more this time around.  I've signed up for Peril the First, which means I'll be reading four books.  I have a nice stack of novels just begging to be read:

From top to bottom:

The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Margaret Oliphant
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Drood by Dan Simmons
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

And I have this nice stack of short story volumes that would fit the challenge nicely:

Tales of Mystery and the Macabre by Elizabeth Gaskell
Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice LeBlanc
The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories by R. A. Gilbert, editor
Murder on the Menu by Peter Haining

Plus I still have some library books I have on hold already, including The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morely;  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole; and Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon!!   Any winners or losers in the bunch?  If I get half of these finished, I'll be happy.

Bloggers, what are you reading for RIP?