Christmas Photographs

These are just a few pics from this years decorating...


"The Empty House" and "In Time for Christmas"

The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher 

A couple of chapters into this one it began to dawn on me that I'd read it before, probably four or five years ago. I couldn't remember the ending and it's short so I read it through again. It's about a young mother who is trying to adjust to life with her two children after the accidental death of her husband. She rents a run-down cottage by the sea near an old family friend in Scotland. Also nearby is a farm run by a man she once came close to having a romance with. What happens from there is fairly predictable but the writing that unfolds the story is so enjoyable I didn't really care. It's comforting writing. Pilcher makes you feel like she's writing about your home, your people. She writes characters that stir your interest and sympathy and describes places that call you to them. Every time I finish one of her books I want to get on the first plane to England or Scotland or wherever the story was set. My favourite of her books is "September", and "The Shell Seekers" is also very good. This one wasn't as good, but still a nice diversion for a couple of days.

In Time for Christmas by Katie Flynn

I might as well just say it: I didn't like this book at all. I found the writing awful and the story no better. The story line had potential but fell flat at every turn. The characters weren't interesting, the dialogue wasn't natural and I have no idea why I kept reading. I finished all 455 pages even though I could have chosen to put it down at any time and start one of the 71 books I have waiting to be read. I think I was hoping it would turn into a Christmas story but the title was a little misleading.  A few Christmases take place in the course of the story but so do a few springs and summers. Usually I spend December reading a new Christmas story or two and then re-reading some of  my old favourites. I should have gone straight to the favourites. It has a pretty cover, though.

Another Catch-Up Post

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter

The Inklings were a "circle of friends who gathered about C.S. Lewis and met in his rooms at Magdalen". This interesting biography tries to tell the stories of several of them at once and it does a pretty good job. I was mostly interested  in Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, but enjoyed reading about Charles Williams and the others as well. It does focus more heavily on Lewis and that's fine with me. I tend to romanticize Lewis's life because being a professor at Oxford and meeting regularly with other literary notables sounds like the perfect life to me. Can you imagine living at Oxford? Sigh. Of course the reality was different than my romantic fantacizing and the nitty gritty everyday of their lives wasn't perfect by any means. Still, I loved being immersed in that atmosphere for the time it took to read the book. This is a biography worth reading if you're a fan of these authors.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I must be one of the last people to read this book. It's been reviewed on hundreds of blogs, the movie has been made and watched by millions and the copyright page says the book is, incredibly, almost ten years old. Every reader and movie-watcher I've heard from has loved it. Some have told me this was one of those rare circumstances when they found the movie as good as, or even better than, the book. I haven't seen the movie, but having read the book I'm very curious to see how they pulled it off and will make a point of watching it soon. Maybe it's on Netflix.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

A gothic mystery set on bleak and barren Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England, this book has just the right amount of creepiness. Mary Yellan loses her mother and goes to live with her aunt and uncle, innkeepers in Cornwall. On the journey there she hears whispers of strange goings on at the inn, and the carriage driver hurries away as soon as he drops her at the door. He's told her that travelers don't stop there anymore, that it has a bad reputation.

As Mary tries to settle in and make a life in her new home, she realizes that her aunt lives in fear for a reason. Her uncle is coarse, given to anger and drinking binges and is unpredictable, with friends coming and going inexplicably in the middle of the night. Strange things are afoot. Then comes a night when he tells Mary she must stay in her room with the door locked and the covers over her head until daybreak. Cue the spooky music. Not ghost-spooky, though. The living characters are creepy enough to make it interesting.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

I picked this up at a craft fair that had a used book table. I intended to buy no books and went home with five.

The Hotel du Lac is a small hotel on Lake Geneva where novelist, Edith Hope, has gone to pull herself together after ditching her fiance at the alter. Her horrified friends, who think she doesn't know how lucky she was to find such a catch, insisted that she needed time away to come to her senses. She's pretty sure they're expecting her to go home properly subdued and apologetic for upsetting everyone with her foolishness. She arrives at the hotel  at the end of the season so there are only a few other guests in residence. She becomes acquainted with their stories one by one, including that of Mr. Neville, who just might be the path to a new and easier life for her. In learning their stories, she also learns some things about herself that help her decide what she wants and doesn't want for her future. The focus is on the characters, who they are and how they relate to one another. There are little dramas but it's not a plot driven story. I love books that are all about the characters. I'd never heard this title before but it is apparently a Booker Prize winner. And, really, with quirky characters gathered at a quaint hotel in Europe at summers end, how could you go wrong?

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Tooly Zylberberg (Why, oh, why do authors give characters names that can be pronounced a dozen different ways? I drive myself crazy trying to decide which one to use each time I come across it.) runs a bookshop in a remote area of Wales. She keeps to herself because people are always interested in each other's histories and she doesn't know how to explain hers. When she was a little girl she was taken from her home to grow with an odd group of characters. There was Humphrey, a grumpy older man with a Russian accent who read books obsessively; Venn, the apparent leader who showed up and disappeared again without explanation; and Sarah who was flashy and flighty and completely undependable. Tooly didn't know why she'd been taken to live with them or even who they really were. Years later, when she hears through an old friend that Humphrey is in desperate straights, she feels compelled to set out on a complicated journey to find the answers to her questions.  

I am sorry to say I didn't like this novel very much. It's gotten wonderful reviews from people who know a lot more about literature than I do, but as much as I try to talk myself into liking it, I didn't really. I need to love the characters or the setting or something in a book and there simply wasn't much here that spoke to me. I didn't even find the plot all that interesting. Tooly spends all her time trying to discover her past, but there seems to be little going on in the present. I guess I can't expect to like every book I pick up, But, darn it, why not?

"A Tolkien Miscellany"

A Tolkien Miscellany by J.R.R. Tolkien

Is there anything more enjoyable than reading Tolkien and wandering around Middle Earth for a while? If there is I haven't found it. The Lord of the Rings books, and then The Hobbit, are some of the best reading experiences I've ever had. I didn't know what to expect with "A Tolkien Miscellany" and I can't say I loved it all, but overall it was pretty good.

Included in this book are: "Smith of Wootton Major", "Farmer Giles of Ham", "Tree and Leaf", "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" and Tolkien's translations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo". The first three are stories, but the chapters of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are written in rhyming verse.

My favourite of the rhymes is "The Last Ship" which is about the last Elven ship leaving the Grey Havens of Middle Earth for Elvenhome. The ship has room for one more and Firiel, an earth-maiden, is invited to join them and must decide whether to go or to stay where she was born.

I found "The Pearl" more difficult to read than the rest of it. I kept tripping over the order of the words. It begins:

"Pearl of delight that a prince doth please
To grace in gold enclosed so clear,
I vow that from over orient seas
Never proved I any in price her peer." 

Then there's:

"Courtesy, I said, I do believe
And charity great dwells you among,
But may my words no wise you grieve."

A bit like talking to Yoda, isn't it? It's not bad for a page or two but this was 101 twelve-line verses. It took some patience. Yoda aside, I'm glad I found this collection. There's some wonderful reading in it for Tolkien fans and I am definitely one of those.  

"Barchester Towers"

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

This is my first Trollope novel and I'm hooked. I loved pretty much everything about it: the writing, the time period, the characters, and the way Trollope turns away from the story every now and then to talk to the reader. As a technique, that can be distracting, and I've read authors who have tediously used it as an opportunity to preach to the reader, but with Trollope it's different. It adds interest and makes the reading that much more enjoyable. I love the language of this book so much he could probably write about tax law and I'd still be happy with it.

The story is set in the village of Barchester and follows the goings-on of the local people. It's character, not plot, driven so anyone looking for a lot of action will be disappointed. The plot involves things like who gets local government and church appointments and who gets romantic with who. Think Jane Austen, not Dan Brown.

I loved the naming of the characters. The haughty lady who thought she was above everyone else was called Mrs. Proudie. The clergyman who couldn't be trusted was Mr. Slope, and Mr. Vellum Deeds was an attorney. Then there was Mrs. Lookaloft, Mrs. Clantantram and Farmer Greenacre. Oh, and Mr. & Mrs. Quiverful, who, of course, had a lot of children. I've found this common with Victorian writers and not at all unique to Trollope but I always find it entertaining.  

What is most appealing to me about this book is Trollope's wit. It's brilliant. He makes the sharpest observations about his characters and their lives without descending into sarcasm or unkindness. Everything he says has an edge, but not an unpleasant one. If you aren't familiar with Trollope's work here's a sample:

"Wise people, when they are in the wrong, always put themselves right by finding fault with the people against whom they have sinned. Lady De Courcy was a wise woman; and therefore, having treated Miss Thorne very badly by staying away till three o'clock, she assumed the offensive and attacked Mr. Thorne's roads. Her daughter, not less wise, attacked Miss Thorne's early hours. The art of doing this is among the most precious of those usually cultivated by persons who know how to live. Who can go systematically to work, and having done battle with the primary accusation and settled that, then bring forward a counter-charge and support that also? Life is not long enough for such labours. A man in the right relies easily on his rectitude, and therefore goes about unarmed. His very strength is his weakness. A man in the wrong knows that he must look to his weapons; his very weakness is his strength. The one is never prepared for combat, the other is always ready. Therefore it is that in this world the man that is in the wrong almost invariably conquers the man that is in the right, and invariably despises him.  .....Poor Miss Thorne was altogether overcome. She knew very well that she had been ill treated, and yet she found herself making apologies to Lady De Courcy. To do her ladyship justice, she received them very graciously..."

I'm glad I discovered Trollope and his books and will look forward to reading more.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their Own Book". Here's the list of ten characters - some fictional and some real - whose points of view I'd like to read:

1. Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

2. Aunt Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

3. Lila Ames in Gildead by Marilynne Robinson

4. Mme de Bonneuil in Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

5. James Mortmain in I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

6. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

7. Miss Hargreaves in Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

8. Antonia Shimerda in My Antonia by Willa Cather

9. Will Schwalbe’s father in The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

10. Deborah Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish every Tuesday. Each week they post a new Top Ten list that they hope many other bloggers will join. They request that you link back to their blog on your own Top Tuesday post and add your name to the Linky list so everyone can see your list and they can see yours. I don't take part every week, but when I get a chance and there's a topic that interests me it's fun. Sometimes I find out things about myself that I'm not even aware of until I begin to work on the list.

What would be on your top ten list this week?