The Bibliophile's Adventurers Club

Exemplars of bookish delight

Tag: book reviews (page 1 of 8)

Second chances

Northanger Abbey was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read. Or more to the point, that old, mass market paperback with a yellowed cover and yellowed pages to match was the first Jane Austen novel I ever picked up.

I made it all of ten pages, before abandoning hope.

That, I figured, was that. No more Jane Austen for me. But time wore on, and friends wore me down. Finally, I agreed to read Pride and Prejudice; it was love at first page.  I went on to read all of Austen’s novels—all except Northanger Abbey.

So imagine my dismay when my book club announced the book of July was none other than Northanger Abbey . . .

Reluctantly, I picked up a new copy; specifically, a Penguin clothbound classic so, if nothing else, I’d have a lovely cover on which to gaze.

Then I started reading.

You know, strangest thing, it wasn’t at all as I remembered it (i.e. dull).  As a matter of fact, it was nothing of the sort.

I thought it charming and witty; and found it especially amusing when she offers the following aside:

‘Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common with novel-writers, of degrading, by their contemptuous censure, the very performances to the number of which they are themselves adding; joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if you accidentally takes up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another—we are an injured body.’

And let’s not forget the fact that it’s basically a parody of gothic novels—something of which I can wholeheartedly get on board.

Needless to say, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend you read Northanger Abbey. The story seems especially fitting for a chilly autumnal evening, when the sky is grey, and you’re in need of good, old fashioned entertainment.

Oh, and if you’ve got a book long abandoned, you might want to give it another try. After all, books, as in life, just might surprise you, if only given a second chance . . .

Tell me a story: I Capture the Castle

Despite the heat of the summer (and trust me when I tell you the heat is oppressive), I still can’t resist curling up with a good old-fashioned “hot water bottle” book, particularly during the last few weeks of cloudy, rainy days we’ve had here in Texas.  For me, a hot water bottle book means one that was written in the “days of yore,”  mostly starring young(ish) women and their roles and lives in respectable society, typically not without a splash of the romantic, but not enough to qualify as romance novels.  The recent spate of hot water bottle books I’ve read were all published before 1950 and I suppose it surprises me, although it shouldn’t, that the female characters are as sassy as they are.  Many of them would find the world we currently live in quite comfortable, I have no doubt.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – published in 1948

Dodie Smith is most famously known as the writer of 101 Dalmatians, the premise upon which the adorable Disney movie was based; but I Capture the Castle goes a bit beyond puppy dogs and be-furred (pretty sure that’s not a real word but to heck with it) villainesses.  Cassandra Mortmain is our young heroine of the novel. Cassandra’s father is a one-hit wonder of an author who blew all of his money on purchasing an old, crumbling English castle, in which the family now lives.  They’ve sold off all of their creature comforts, including most of their furniture, in order to buy food to eat. However, when Cassandra’s older sister comes of marrying age, suddenly it seems like the family’s fortunes may turn around.  With a rich set of bachelors moving in next door and her father growing more and more morosely hopeless in his writing escapades, her world is turned topsy turvy and Cassandra begins her own journey of maturation and discovering the world of adults.  If you’re familiar with Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce, Cassandra is how I imagine Flavia in her late teens.  At her very first adult party and observing the dancers, Cassandra remarks:

I leaned against the carved banisters and listened to the music and felt quite different from any way I have ever felt before – softer, very beautiful and as if a great many men were in love with me and I might very easily be in love with them.

You should read this one to find out if the precocious teenager grows up, falls in love, and comes into adulthood (relatively) unharmed and unscathed.

In retrospect: Diary of a Provincial Lady

E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady is just that—a lady’s (fictionalized) account of the minutiae of provincial life between the first and second world wars.

Originally published in 1933, there’s certainly much with which I cannot relate. The post, for one: I’m lucky to get a flimsy piece of advertising thrown in a box once a day, let alone invitations to dinner, hand addressed on fine paper, delivered twice daily. And not once, in forty years, have I had to deal with unruly servants.

But that’s neither here nor there. What struck me most were the similarities.

As a matter of fact, the book could very well be classified as chick lit; each entry could just as easily be a blog post. Just one lady, describing her day to another; while we may live in different times and places, we can laugh at that which we recognize: lagging bank accounts, nosy neighbors, snobbish sorts—the sad realization that all the effort put into your hair and makeup and dress, did not make it back home with you at the end of the party.

Echkart Tolle once said, ‘To love is to recognize yourself in another.” Perhaps that’s what makes Diary of a Provincial Lady so easy to adore.

Needless to say, it’s a charming book, perfect to throw in your bag for a lazy afternoon in the hammock or a lounge on the beach—equally delightful to read whilst snuggled up to a roaring fire.

When all is said and done, you’ll no doubt find it a quick read (you may finish it in one sitting) and witty (her parenthetical asides, notes to self, and rhetorical questions slay me), but a waste of time? Not in the least. After all, it’s a look back in time, to see what’s changed; but more importantly, it’s a reminder that much remains the same. And we’re not at all alone.

:::

I ordered my book through Persephone Books—a limited time offer, for Valentine’s Day. If I recall, they said it would be officially released the end of April. When, exactly, I cannot say . . . but do keep your eyes peeled!

Tell me a story: Lisey’s Story

Lisey's Story

If anyone knows how to write about writers, it’s Stephen King.  King, who created the terrible and terrifying Jack Torrance in The Shining and Paul Sheldon in Misery . . .  

In Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, Lisey’s writer-husband, Scott Landon, has been dead and buried for two years.  Lisey, little Lisey, solidly has stood by her famous husband through all the book tours and campus speeches, happy to be relegated to one of his millions of admirers, even though she is the only one who really knows him. Lisey, stoic and calm, has finally taken to clearing his studio of his boxes of papers, drafts, and books.  But the demons, both real and imaginary, that have haunted Scott during his life, have not died with him. Now they’re out for Lisey.

Let me stop there. King is known for his horror, but in my opinion this piece is stunning as King creates a monster you don’t ever really see. You sense its presence and its terror, but it never truly appears in its full form.

King admits Lisey’s Story is his favourite novel he’s written. Having read his other books, I can only guess at why this is. Maybe because it’s written from the other side of the writing desk.  There must be some dose of his wife in this book and her position as the right-hand of one of the most famous authors of our time.  Or maybe it’s because this book lives in the mind instead of in the “real world.”

If you want to read a book about an author’s mind at work–to experience some of the terror that must be deeply rooted in the mind of someone who can create something so wonderful, yet so horrific–study this one. Then ask yourself if those monsters don’t live in the heads of everyone, if they don’t peek out at us through reflections in windows, at dusk or in the deepest hours of the night.  When we do catch a glimpse of them, best cover those mirrors and write; write like the demons are after you themselves.

Tell me a story: Get Jiro

GetJiro

And yet another fun find, recommended to me by my local comic book store (go and find your very own, if you haven’t already done so); trust me on this (and trust them on their recommendations) . . .

If you are familiar with any of Tony Bourdain’s work, this is exactly as you’d expect a graphic novel by Bourdain to be.  If you’re unfamiliar, Anthony Bourdain is a chef/writer/tv personality who was one of the first to expose the real world of the chef’s kitchen and all of the background, behind-the-scenes gritty activity that happens in top commercial restaurants around the world.  He expected to get hacked and sliced by those in the restaurant industry for telling it like it is–the drugs, the hours, the real people who cook and prepare your food–instead, the world fell in love with his honesty and candor and apologetically true stories.

Get Jiro takes place in an alternate Los Angeles where chefs rule the world.  Among other things, they dictate the politics, laws, and borders of the city.  Jiro is a Japanese sushi chef, newly arrived from Japan and skilled with the blade.  Dip your sashimi in soy sauce or ask for a California roll?  WHACK, off with your head.  Jiro’s antics are quickly noticed by the top two competing chefs in the city, heads of their own mafias, and each competes to win him over to their side.  Chef Bob delights in the luxury of eating and of saluting the classics.  Chef Rose is vegetarian, vegan, locally sourced, granola.  With these two characters, Bourdain mercilessly pokes fun at the two extremes of cooking, as he often does in his TV shows, and paints each chef as ultimately hypocritical.

Yes, we the reader can delight in the triumph of one who wants things done with integrity and honor and refuses to bow down to what others pressure him to do.  We root for Jiro, not only because he is the hero of the graphic novel, but because he stands for the individual making a choice, eating being the most basic of the functions we can call our own.

If there’s any disappointment in this book, it’s the abruptness of it all.  What is Jiro’s backstory and how did chefs come to claim power?  We don’t get nearly enough time with him to figure out his motivations, to learn the story behind his tattoos, and find out  how an esteemed chef from Japan came to be in LA.  Bourdain, please give us more and more!

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