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Blogging Hiatus

I thought I would take this opportunity to say that I am not going to be overly active on the blog for the foreseeable.  I will try my best to reply to all comments as and when I have the time, but as far as writing and scheduling posts goes, I am taking a hiatus.  Life has taken over; I have so much work on at present, and along with two upcoming holidays, planned days out and contemplating whether I should apply for a Master’s degree, I just do not have enough time to keep things ticking over here.  I will spending much of the spare time which I am left with reading, rather than writing about it.

April has gone AWOL, which doesn’t help matters, and I have no idea when – or even if – she will be blogging again.  Thankfully we have the wonderful help of Marzie, which I am so grateful for.

I have scheduled enough posts to tide the blog over until mid-May, and will work on writing more reviews to schedule as and when I have the chance to do so, so there should be no noticeable difference in the daily running of the blog.  I will still be reading our book club reads and writing those posts, and I will also endeavour to keep my yearly reads page up to date as far as possible.

Thank you so much to all of The Literary Sisters’ readers for their kindness and wonderful comments.  I hope to be back as soon as possible, and thank you so much for your understanding.

Kirsty.

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‘Charms For The Easy Life’ by Kaye Gibbons

What a neat story this is! I am hit and miss with Kaye Gibbons, but this is a story I thoroughly enjoyed. It has elements that I am drawn to: a very Southern Gothic sense, a family of women striving to get through life as a family, and the individual strengths of each woman.

Margaret is the narrator, living with her mother and grandmother in the old family home. The grandmother is called Charley Kate, a name of her own choice and she is the ” healer”. She is a legendary medicinal practitioner, who sees herself as correcting all the wrongs of the professional Doctors. The mother is Sophia, a woman used to more glamour than her mother, and bound and determined to find a man who deserves her. Margaret is in the midst of these two women, and is strong in her own right.

The plot is not necessarily set in stone here. Instead, there are many stories, past and present, of the three women. The setting is North Carolina, and the sense of place is written wonderfully. Gibbons is an expert in local dialect and customs in each of her books, but this one struck me as the least dramatic, written in a the manner that family stories are usually handed down orally . It is a nice quick read for a weekend or filler between more involved books.

Rating: 4 stars

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Flash Reviews (18th April 2014)

‘The Happy Foreigner’ by Enid Bagnold (Methuen, 1924)

‘The Happy Foreigner’ by Enid Bagnold ****
The Happy Foreigner is another lovely little Virago, and it is one which I have been most looking forward to, especially since reading Enid Bagnold’s intelligent and adorable novel The Squire in a beautiful Persephone reprint last year.

This novella is set in the aftermath of war, and begins just after ‘The war had stopped’.  The protagonist of the piece is Fanny, who is in Paris when the story opens, and soon finds herself travelling to a rural part of France.  She has travelled to France to ‘drive for the French Army’.  The sense of place and time which Bagnold has crafted feels astonishingly real.  It is a sweeping and beautifully written story, and the descriptions throughout are stunning.  Bagnold is an author who certainly deserves to be read more widely, and from both a social and historical perspective, The Happy Foreigner is a marvellous read.

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‘Monsieur Pamplemousse Hits the Headlines’ by Michael Bond ***
I was endeared to purchasing this when placing an online order with The Works at the start of the year for three reasons: the name of the book’s hero, the fact that it is written by Michael Bond, who created my beloved Paddington Bear, and the fact that it was priced rather cheaply.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I hoped that it would be both witty and charming, just like the Paddington books.

Monsieur Pamplemousse Hits the Headlines is set in one of my favourite cities, Paris, and Bond certainly builds up the sense of place well.  The main way in which he does so is through the medium of food.  Monsieur Aristide Pamplemousse – who works for ‘Le Guide’, a ‘gastronomic bible’ in France, and who has a trusty companion in the guise of a dog named Pommes Frites – is given a free ticket to a cookery show, Cuisine de Chavignol.  Whilst he is watching the demonstration, Monsieur Chavignol, the host of the show, is poisoned by a cyanide-laden oyster and drops dead.  Monsieur Pamplemousse takes it upon himself to solve the crime.

The book is nicely written, but the mystery was not a stunning one, and nor was it particularly intriguing for the mostpart.  Monsieur Chavignol was portrayed in such a way that one did not really care, nor even seem surprised, that he was targeted by a killer.  Monsieur Pamplemousse Hits the Headlines is the fourth book in the series (something which I did not know when I purchased it), and I do not think that I got the full benefit from the book’s story by reading it before the others.  Parts of it felt a little flat, and at times elements went unexplained, which I can only presume had been outlined in preceding books.  It is not a series which I am overly enamoured with the idea of continuing, sadly.  It is not a bad novel by any means, but it did not hold much interest for me personally.  I did enjoy Bond’s writing, however, so it has received a wholesome three star review.

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‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain ***

My Dad gave me this book rather a long time ago, and on each occasion in which I have begun to read it, I have thought that I should really read its prequel of sorts, Tom Sawyer, first. I have never got around to it, however, so when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn came out of my book choice jar, I began it regardless.

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain

The book, which was first published in 1884, is told in dialect – quite a light one on the whole, which is not at all overdone and which is quite easy to get into the style of. I did find Jim’s dialect a little taxing at times though, and I occasionally found myself skipping over the things he said because it simply felt like too much of a chore to interpret it all. The social and historical elements of the story are strong, and nature looms large throughout, almost presented as a character in itself. Indeed, things like the Mississippi River bring life to the tale, and without this one important landmark, there would certainly not be such an exciting adventure within the book. The importance of the river – both to Huck and Jim and to the population at large, who depend upon it so very much – is well portrayed.

I did not read any of Twain’s work as a child, and part of me is glad that this was the first time in which I encountered The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It holds a lot of interest for me as an adult with regard to its historical perspective, but if I had read it when I was little, I am sure that it would merely have felt like a boy’s adventure story, and would have lost some of its intrigue in consequence. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is very of its time, and that is why I feel that it is such an important book to read.

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‘Indian Summer’ by William Dean Howells

This is a story of Mr. Colville ,experiencing what we would call a mid-life crisis, and how we view the past upon reaching middle-age. Colville has left the ownership of a small Indiana newspaper after a failed run for Congress. Seventeen years earlier, his life was on path to become an artist in the spirit of Ruskin. He moves to Florence with a young man’s high hopes, and promptly falls in love. It is hinted that the love affair was not reciprocal, but instead a passing fancy for the young woman. This failed relationship wounds him dramatically.

He leaves Florence to return to the States, and takes over the ownership of a paper his brother bought in a land deal. He is ultimately very successful, beloved by the town for his fair and even-handed news reporting. In all these years, he remains a bachelor. It is only when he steps outside of being the ‘Everyman’ and voices his own opinion in his Congressional race that the townspeople rebuff him. He, in essence, is rejected again in voicing his true feelings. As a result, he sells up and decides to give Florence and art another try seventeen years later.

Within the first day of his return to Italy, he runs into a widow, a Mrs. Bowen, her small daughter Effie and her charge for the season, twenty-year-old Imogene Graham. It seems that Mrs. Bowen, seventeen years earlier, was the best friend of the girl who threw over Colville.  As a wealthy widow, she spends the majority of her time in Florence, rarely returning to the States. Colville and she strike up an instant reacquaintance and friendship. Colville is doting upon her small daughter and charming at every party and ball they attend. It looks like Mrs. Bowen would be an ideal wife for Colville after his life of rejection. But as I mentioned, this is a mid-life crisis theme. The young and beautiful Imogene, with her sparkling youth, entrances Colville. He is living his own past. Mrs. Bowen is keenly aware of his path, but what can stop him?

I really enjoyed this, my first William Dean Howells book. His admiration for authors Henry James and George Eliot are seen, as he gives a vibrancy to the exchanges between characters and in the European setting, specific customs and mores. His great friendship with Mark Twain is evident in the clever humor and the retrospectives of an American abroad.

Rating: 4 stars

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‘The Gingerbread House’ by Carin Gerhardsen ****

I found this quite by chance on my library’s online catalogue, and was swayed by the fairytale-esque title.  The blurb was intriguing and I do very much enjoy Scandinavian fiction in translation, so I thought I would give it a go.  The Gingerbread House was first published in 2008, and was translated into English in 2012.  It is part of the Hammarby series, though nowhere does it say which number this book is in the cycle, which I found a little odd.

‘The Gingerbread House’ by Carin Gerhardsen

The Gingerbread House is set in Stockholm, and features Inspector Conny Sjoberg, the Chief Investigator at the Violent Crimes Unit.  The prologue of the novel moves to the small town of Katrineholm in 1968, and then goes forward in time to the investigation of the book’s crimes, which begin in 2006.

The prologue begins with rather a brutal incident, in which a young and friendless boy named Thomas is set upon by his classmates after preschool ends one day.  Most shockingly, the children’s teacher does nothing to prevent what the others do to him: ‘She casts a quick glance at the tied-up boy and his playmates, and raises her hand to wave goodbye to a few of the girls standing closest’.  The first murder which occurs in The Gingerbread House is that of the boy – now man – who beat Thomas up so badly and bullied him throughout preschool.  An elderly woman finds his body in her house after returning from a hospital stay.  Soon afterwards, more victims are targeted and the investigation, let by Conny Sjoberg, ensues.  The ‘Diary of a Murderer’ unfolds alongside the investigation of the case, and as a literary technique, this works well.

The sense of place which Gerhardsen has crafted is vivid from the start: the pine trees in Katrineholm are ‘like stern guards tasked with protecting the preschool against the winter cold and other unwanted guests’, for example.  The novel is well paced and is rather an easy read.  The character studies which Gerhardsen presents are all interesting.  The only qualm which I personally had with the book was the way in which some of the translation felt quite dated and rather unlikely – for example, Sjoberg saying ‘Oh, crud’ when he learns of the first murder.  Regardless, the plot and its twists are clever, and I will certainly be reading more of Gerhardsen’s books in future.

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‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ by J.K. Rowling ***

I have wanted to read this book for an awfully long time – since I learnt of its publication, in fact – and I

‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ by J.K. Rowling

purchased a copy for my boyfriend a couple of years ago now, thinking that it wouldn’t take him long to get to and that I could read it afterwards.  It is, however, still sitting unread on his bookshelf.  I decided to eventually borrow The Tales of Beedle the Bard from my local library, and read it in less than an hour one chilly February evening.  The book itself is lovely, despite the fact that the copy which I borrowed was very worn and looked as though children had chewed on its corners.

I had hoped that it would not be disappointing, as I have sadly found the other Harry Potter companion books to be so.  I remember reading a lot of mixed feedback for this book – some gushing, and others not very complimentary at all – around its publication, so I did not set my expectations too high upon beginning it.

Beedle the Bard supposedly lived in the fifteenth century, and was the original author of these stories.  The additional commentary to the volume has been ‘written by’ Professor Dumbledore, and the entirety is said to have been translated by Hermione Granger.

Five stories in all are collected in The Tales of Beedle the Bard – ‘The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’, ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’, ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’, ‘Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump’ and ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’.  The introduction to the volume states that this book is ‘a collection of stories written for young wizards and witches.  They have been popular bedtime reading for centuries…  [Here] we meet heroes and heroines, who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do’.  The introduction is quite amusing, comparing the tales rather favourably to ‘Muggle’ fairytales, and stating such things as, ‘Asha, Altheda, Amata and Babbitty Rabbitty are all witches who take their fate into their own hands, rather than taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe’.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a very quick read, and the stories themselves are more like fables really.  The illustrations are sweet, and the use of imagined history in Dumbledore’s commentary works well too.  Whilst it is a nice addition to the Harry Potter stories, The Tales of Beedle the Bard does feel rather underwhelming, and it does become a little repetitive after a while.  I presume that I probably would have preferred it far more had I still been a child upon reading it.

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