Just catching up with reviewlettes….

The summer continues at its normal pace and I must admit that I haven’t been that productive so far (apart from general life responsibilities). I’ve also been reading — I know: shocker — and thought I’d let you know which titles have passed across my pupils. 🙂

I started off with “The Light Years” (1990), the first volume of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazalet Chronicles. Very lightweight but also very readable, despite the fact that it introduces a million new characters who may (or may not) be related to each other. (I wouldn’t mind a family tree – I bet there’s one online but I haven’t checked this yet.)

Anyway, this title introduces all the family just before the start of WWII and although I can’t say that I was completely blown away with it, I did go ahead and buy the next volume on Kindle, ready for if/when I need a fluffy read.

Then, I wanted a good travel/airport read (since I was actually traveling to CA in real life) so continuing with my TBR-read project, I pulled off “Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World” by Rita Golden Gelman (2002). This is a well-written travel narrative that follows the real-life adventures of the author who, after her divorce, decided to travel for a while to regain her mental bearings.

Cupcake vending machine in CA airport. 🙂

She travelled extremely lightly, with her fingers crossed that others would provide and that didn’t really sit very well with me. Isn’t it a little rude to travel SO lightly that you could only struggle on if you sponge off your future friends? (I might just be being me though.) It all worked out but perhaps she and I have different ideas of the responsibilities of being a host to a privileged white woman traveling “to find herself” (especially when one considers the poverty of a few of the countries she visits).

As mentioned, the writing was good and I enjoyed learning about her travels as she visited countries and tried traditions that I probably would not be brave enough to do myself. Plus – she got to talk with some interesting and generous people who she met during this time (which turned into years).

She also had adult children but she didn’t seem to visit them much (and neither they her, I must admit). I’m not sure that this was entirely due to low finances, as she claimed in the book – she sounds a little self-absorbed to me – but perhaps it was for another reason. I don’t know.

After that, I had a hankering for some more good writing, this time from the hands of Stephen King. Yes – that horror writer. Typically, I run screaming in fear from King’s work (in terms of narrative plot) but I’m realizing that I can enjoy his less-scary writing and he’s such an excellent writer that it helps overcome any reticence on my part.

So – I picked “Dolores Claiborne” from the library shelves and thoroughly enjoyed it, twisted though it was. I’m definitely picking up more King in the future — just staying away from his frightening stuff. This was a really good suspense novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then, finished up a novella from Sam Selven, “The Lonely Londoners” (1956), which was a really good read. Selven was a Trinidadian author who also lived in England for a lot of his life so he knew life from a Caribbean-English immigrant perspective in the city of London which makes this a very authentic read for me. (Not sure if he was part of the Windrush Generation but he’s got to be close to that…)

This novel, short though it is, packs a punch. It’s written in dialogue (but you easily get the hang of it) and revolves around a new Londoner called Moses, also from the Caribbean area. He has somehow been put into the position of welcoming new arrivals from his home country when they first arrive in England and helps them find digs and a job to start off their new life.

This fixer position is not what he likes but he’s too soft-hearted to complain and besides, it gives him a level of importance when England refused to recognize that in its new Black immigrants. (It’s the 1950s UK as well, so cultural diversity was pretty much non-existent in terms of being recognized by official and unofficial powers that be.)

I’m definitely going to do a long blog post on this because it’s worth it. I’ll link to it when it’s done so you can peruse it at your leisure. 🙂

Moving on, I’d enjoyed my earlier read of a biography of Queen Elizabeth II by Robert Lacey and so wanting more royal-related reading, toddled off to the library and picked “The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford” (1950).

At the first chapter, I almost put it down because it was written so simply (too simple) and seemed to be rather sycophantic at the same time. But for some reason, I kept going and, in the end, I must have become used to these traits since I finished the read without too much trouble (except a slump in the middle). A longer blog post in the future, for sure, so check back for that. 

And now I’m deep into “The Secret of Chimneys” by Agatha Christie (1925), a murder-mystery that is all wrapped up in a warm cup of tea. Not sure who the murderer is right now but thoroughly enjoying this read.

Next — not too sure. Just bought a couple of books online and a couple more at B&N (gift certificate was burning a hole in my pocket). And more to come on that…

We’re having our home’s hardwood floors refinished so we’re hanging out at a kind friend’s house to avoid the noisy sander – first stage of the process. The workers tell us should only be a couple more days and then it should look great. Can’t wait. ETA: It’s now the end of the week for the project. Sigh.

Reading plans for the future include a refocus on the old TBR pile and picking up some more writers of color.

And I’ve been cooking up a storm, supper-wise, (and still continuing with our marathon project of watching “The Great British Baking Show” except I’m not baking. I’m more of a savory person when I’m the chef in charge…)

Recent winning recipes include (a very easy) Crock-Pot beef stroganoff, another pork tenderloin with figs (a replay from earlier in the summer but no link) and a tasty (and very summer-y) vegan strawberry-edamame spinach salad.

Screen wise, we’ve been sucked into “Schitt’s Creek” which is brilliant fun (currently in crush mode with Alexa and David) and “Minari”, a movie about a Korean immigrant family to the US who wants to own a farm instead of being stuck sexing chicks (their current gig). It’s a fascinating plot all done in subtitles (since the family are such recent arrivals to the US). It probably meets the definition of a bildungsroman in terms of plot — seriously one of the best movies we’ve seen this year.

And then I’ve been pulled into doing loads of word search puzzles. Not the most intellectual of pursuits but they are fun!

Summer reading

School and grades are now completely done which means, for me, that I can start the Summer of Liz. I don’t have anything required (outside the normal responsibilities) so the next three months are mine, all mine. 🙂 (I’m very lucky, I know.)

So – how to wisely spend this time? HA! I’m going to read and then read some more. I’m going to go through my wardrobe to see which outfits I can create/combine (just for fun) and I’m going to go and see my twin sis in CA for a few days.

So, speaking of reading (as we were), what titles have I read since the end of school? The above image tells the story:

  • Chasing the Monsoon – Alexander Frater (NF). Reread and ok. Probably doesn’t need to live on my shelves any more though. :-} (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Soul Clap Hands and Sing – Paule Marshall (F). I’ve read and enjoyed other Marshall work. This was a collection of short stories. Meh. Library.
  • Majesty – Robert Lacey (NF/bio). I love the majority of Lacey’s work (good sense of humor) and and enjoying the older bio of the monarch. Nothing too mind-shattering but enjoyable all the same. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (F). Loving this classic. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • 100 Great Artists: A Visual Journey from Fra Angelico to Andy Warhol – Charlotte Gerlings (NF/history/art). I’ve really been interested in getting some more culture so got this out of the library. A quick but wide-ranging tour of some of the artworks of the world (mostly [all?] Western hemisphere).
  • The Pale Horse – Agatha Christie (F). A murder mystery all wrapped by the end of your cup of tea. I do like a Christie every now and then. Library.

November 2018 reading review

It’s the beginning of a new month and it’s close to the end of the college semester, so let’s check in with how my reading is doing (just out of interest). I’ve been reading, but not quite with the same speed as I usually do. My eyes is tired at the end of the day, sometimes!

The reads for November included:

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in November4 (and a half)

Total number of pages read 1,818 pages (av. 303). (This is exactly the same number of pages that I read last month. Weird.) 

Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / 4 non-fiction.

Diversity0 POC. 2 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned book and e-book.

Future plans include reading more of the printed word and my students’ writing. 🙂 

Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess – Sally Bedell Smith (1999)

diana.jpgSince there was a rather large English wedding that occurred the other day, my curiosity was triggered to learn more about one perspective of another former royal: Princess Diana.

(Especially after reading two of Bedell Smith’s other books: Prince Charles (good but no blog post for this one) and The Queen.)

(I know, I know… I’m English and typically we tend to rather roll our eyes with respect to the monarchy and the American obsession with them, but it was still an interesting read. Besides, loads of Americans frequently ask me (as the only English person they may know) to explain some of the finer points of this, so I was also just curious. I’m doing it for the people, man. 🙂 )

Bedell Smith is an American writer who is good at her craft and seems to approach her subjects with a pretty well researched and balanced perspective. They’re not academic tomes, to be sure, but they are readable and seem balanced for the most part. Sort of like an in-depth People magazine article of a kind.

So, this title was about the life and death of Princess Diana in respect of how she ended up marrying Charles and then all the drama that came with that. (And there was a LOT of drama.)

After reading this book, the feeling that I end up with is one of pity for everyone involved, really. (Keep in mind that I didn’t know any of the parties though… 🙂 )

And so it seems that most of the drama was actually created by Diana herself most of the time (at least according to this author). Diana seems to be mentally fragile for the majority of this book. Barely educated (no thanks to her parents) and then probably mentally ill on top of that.

If this book is true (and I don’t know that it’s not true, TBH), then the match between Charles and Diana was a mess from the beginning and then stayed that way throughout their lives. I think that the initial impression that many Americans had of Diana immediately after she died was that she was a golden and angelic woman who was stuck with a boring old codger, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

(Whether she was mentally ill or not, she does come across in this read as a particularly high-maintenance personality in a very unhappy relationship that probably should have never happened.)

Bedell Smith uses source after source to show the reader that Charles was not, perhaps, the evil monster that he was portrayed as in the 1990’s, and the end result was that he was just doing his best with a slightly unbalanced wife who he shouldn’t really have married.

I’m not sure what to think really, and since I don’t know them in any way, there’re probably few out there who really do know the events. This was certainly one perspective that doesn’t apologize for either of them in the end.

By sticking to her journalistic sources, Bedell Smith seems to give a fairly balanced view of this messy marriage and I have enjoyed the read.

If you like a fairly chatty tone to your non-fiction, but one that’s also supported by annotated facts and a large bibliography, you might like this author. It’s certainly not rocket science, but it’s still a pretty good read for when it’s hot outside and you don’t want to think too much about anything in particular.

So, not a bad read. Not a great read. Just somewhere down the middle.

Gone with the Windsors – Laurie Graham (2006)

This book had been well recommended at one of my favorite hang-outs on the interwebs which is Readers’ Paradise . Trusting my reading friends there, I ordered it with anticipation and then once it arrived, duly placed it on the tottering TBR pile to sit there for ages gathering dust. I had a hankering for an epistolary novel and a royal related one, and if it could be light-hearted and rather English, that would be great as well.

Graham’s novel fits the bill on all levels. It’s focused on the love affair of American divorcee Mrs. Wallace Simpson and the abdicated King Edward and is from the hilarious (although accidentally funny) view of one of Wallace’s close childhood friends from the US.  Maybell Brumby, the author of the fictional diary we are reading, is extremely funny in places, but is even funnier because she doesn’t mean to be hilarious. Others have compared her to the role of Bertie Wooster in P. G. Wodehouse and I think that is a fitting comparison – a sort of “blundering but well meaning idiot” type.

Maybell is a newly widowed wealthy lady from the bluestockings of Baltimore and has known Wallace (or Wally as she calls her) since they were school friends and Wally was a charity student at their posh school. Always having been filled with dreams of a grand life, Maybell achieved it through marriage, and then had watched Wally aim for the same thing. “Grand life” and “rich English men” rather went together as they had, much as they had during Victorian times (a la Downton Abbey), and so the book follows Maybell moving to England (at the behest of her sister who was also there) and then what happens when Wally arrives on those distant shores, meets the Prince and changes the path of the British Constitution and royalty for ever.

Maybell is an ideal foil for the canny and manipulative Wally who seems ruthless and determined to live the life of wealth and ease signified by marriage into the Royal Family. However, the path of love is not simple and as is commonly known (especially since the film, The King’s Speech was released), Wally was not crowned Queen and David (who was previously called King Edward the something) was forced to choose between throne and love. He chose love, which, according to this book, really really annoyed Wally who had much higher aspirations than living in exile with an excommunicated prince.

The names were a bit confusing at first as the royal men seemed to have constantly changing first names. Edward was also David was also Prince of Wales was also Duke when he abdicated. Bertie was Albert who was also King George the something and was his younger less well prepared brother. I did have to keep referring to the royal family tree to keep these straight and work out where the current Queen of England fitted in, but that was the only downside to the whole book.

Oh, and it could have been edited towards to the end. Once the abdication had occurred and the former royal couple were in exile, it was also the start of World War II and Graham has a great grasp of all the players, both big and small. But again, it was a bit confusing about who was who and doing what. Various equerries popped up and popped down and then there were also other members of staff who had roles. Minor quibble though.

It was very clear that Graham had done her research as the plot was detailed and spot-on as far as I could tell. (However, I am not an expert in these areas. Seemed good to me though.) And there were places when I just snorted out laughing in reaction to what Maybell writes in her mistakenly oblivious and very human way  — Edna Piaf, for example, was one of these errors and Harrold’s the department shop.  Close enough but no cigar as they say, and these ongoing errors were purposely made by the author and helped to make Maybell very human and real to me.

I am wondering if Graham is as hilarious in other books. I have previously read (pre-blog) her The Future Homemakers of America, but don’t remember much so may have to reread that. And then I have just ordered Perfect Meringues which was one of her back list books. Regardless of whether she is as funny in her other work, she gets a tip of the hat for being hilariously wicked in this one.