Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Teaser

teaser tuespic

Eek! I haven’t posted in a while so I figured I could at least share what I’m currently reading.
Though I didn’t plan it, I’m reading a collection of Mollie Panter-Downes’ short stories about the World War Two experience in England and The Postmistress set during the same war in America. Here is a teaser from Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress. I picked it up yesterday and have to read it in a week as there are a load of requests for it. Hopefully that means it will be good!

There were years after it happened, after I’d returned from the town and come back here to the busy blank city, when some comment would be tossed off about the Second World War and how it had gone-some idiotic remark about clarity and purpose-and I’d resist the urge to stub out my cigarette and bring the dinner party to a satisfying halt. But these days so many wars are being carried on in full view of all of us, and there is so much talk of pattern and intent (as if a war can be conducted like music), well, last night I couldn’t help myself. “What would you think of a postmistress who chose not to deliver the mail?” I asked.


Lady Killer by Lisa Scottoline

I haven’t read a thriller/suspense in a long while. After a co-worker recommended this one to me and then brought in her copy for me, I figured I’d give it a try. Mary DiNunzio is a Philadelphia lawyer. She brings in big clients for Rosato & Associates. Her most recent client is Trish Gambone, a rival from high school. She comes in because her mobster boyfriend is mistreating her and she is afraid for her life. She refuses to go to court for a restraining order or more proceedings for fear of the mob finding out. So she leaves the office and turns up missing the next day and Mary goes on a quest to find Trish even at the warnings of the police department. Not too long afterward a dead body turns up in an alley and more questions are thrown into the mix. Mary’s dealings in this case begin to threaten her job and and possibly her life as she goes around Philadelphia questioning possible witnesses and collecting clues. And of course to keep it spicy love is on the horizon.

Mary doesn’t do much lawyering, she even begins to neglect her other clients and cases to solve this mystery. As the book goes along, Mary has to confront some demons from her past and come to grips with feelings and issues that she had previously suppressed.

It appears that Scottoline has a series of books that feature the characters in this book. I’m not sure that I’ll check out any of the others. I didn’t really feel anything special for Mary. She seemed reckless and at times the events and her sleuthing seemed forced and unreal. It was a great escapist and quick read, however, that I could pick up at anytime.

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Angelica Deverell is most likely a child that you would never want to meet. And somehow Elizabeth Taylor made me like her, or at least enjoy reading about her.

As a teenager when the story opens, Angel is being reprimanded for making up stories at school. She writes these stories for class assignments and makes up extravagant stories about her family for the eager ears of her classmates. She is more comfortable in her dream world and her imagination is quite vivid. Her mother, a widow, doesn’t approve, and has sacrificed much of the family money to send Angel to school in hopes that she will end up being something more than a shopkeeper’s daughter. With a temper and a reputation for telling lies, Angel does not get along well at school. Her ironical name is most evident in the way that she treats others, particularly her mother. Though she is not likable, she is not at all painted as a villain. Her arrogance and outward confidence seem to mask insecurity and possibly loneliness.

Unlike most young girls, Angel is not eager to marry and she lightly reflects that she wants to control the world and not just one single person. At the moment she can control her mother and her own thoughts. In her mind she retreats to dream worlds where the furnishings are lush and the atmosphere is heavy with romance. Her stories are over-the-top. She imagines all sorts of plots and surroundings even though she has experienced none of it herself. She hardly reads and doesn’t find it necessary. She puts herself square into these dream worlds and spends large amounts of time formulating the plots. She even pats herself on the back for being able to do this. She proclaims that she will be an author and promptly fakes being sick to avoid going to school and facing girls that do not like her. She starts her first novel and writes fiercely, often hiding her writing from her mother.

We follow Angel through the entirety of her life as she works towards her goal as a famous (though maybe infamous) and wealthy author. She writes multiple books that are popular but not for their literary merit. With her success, she moves into the home that she has dreamed about her entire life. But what we see is a painful realization that intense fantasy can not outlast reality. Though the reader sees it I am not sure Angel can. She remains unwavering even as her dream life and home crumble around her.

I didn’t intend to have two Elizabeth Taylor’s post back-to-back. I’ve been a bit lax in my posting and have a few books waiting to be written about.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

Harriet and Vesey have known each other since they were children playing hide and seek. There had always been some sort of tension between the two as they hid from the younger children to steal a few moments alone. As they grew up the games and tension began to become not so innocent. Harriet realizes her love for Vesey, an aloft young man who defies all conventions of a gentlemen, as she grows older. Making a turn into adolescence her sweet crushes become intense obsessions fueled by the sometimey hints from Vesey who turns hot and cold at a whim. He is playing a sort of hide and seek game of his own with Harriet. I was never sure if Vesey knew about the games he was playing. It was hard for me to tell if he was aware of the tugging on her heart he caused. Vesey leaves for school without a word. Seeing no other options Harriet leaves her job as a shop girl and marries Charles and starts a family and seems to have put aside the feelings and is raising her daughter Betsy. Then as luck would have it Vesey returns, he is an actor in the theater, to uncover all those passions that Harriet did her best to cover.

This is my second Elizabeth Taylor and I really enjoy her work. She does a wonderful job in constructing the scene and thoroughly drawing each character out into the open so that we get to know them, both through their own eyes and through the eyes of others.

Though maybe not meant to be comical I laughed at reading this:
She and Miss Lazenby gave Harriet a great deal of conflicting advice, but Miss Brimpton’s ruled through both. Miss Brimpton bade her turn her back on men; no relationship in which a woman might stand to a man but debase her: she evoked a procession of downtrodden wives, bullied mothers, cast-off mistresses; the jilted, the enticed, the abandoned; harlots, doormats, birds in gilded cages. Were not men, she asked, all ungenerous or tyrannical or both, peevish, bestial? They were also vain-glorious and ugly. They had, she always ended hairy legs. There she shuddered. She took up her cup and drank tea slowly, as if rinsing her mouth.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Emily Fox-Seton is a very docile, happy and a pretty unremarkable person. Others see her as perfect, she is thoughtful helpful and blissfully ignorant. Burnett makes her reader painfully aware that Emily is not brilliant or even special but manages to appear so in everyone’s eyes under no doing of her own. Really she is very likable even while people around her can be vile and cunning. She never seems to see this in others. Before beginning the book I read parts of the introduction in which a comparison of Emily to a Cinderella type story have been made, and I agree. Emily lives in a boarding house and makes her living as a sort of companion who runs errands and writes letters. She is invited to a party in the country and meets Lord Walderhurst, the Marquis. She believes he is interested in another guest and is surprised and grateful when he proposes marriage. Here begins the story as Emily settles into her new life to become a Marchioness. It is a life far removed from the times when she had to worry about money, furnishings, and dressing herself in economical clothing. What I see as a very interesting statement made by Burnett in this novel is the idea that no matter how kind Emily was or all the things that she did for people she could never escape the negativity of others. In a sort of twist ending we see that kindness still may not always pay.

Class separations and moving between these separations through family and marriage are among the main themes in this novel. Burnett provides almost scathing stabs at the upper class and the way society is structured around class and money.

Days after reading I began to think about the other women in the novel. They all seem to be drastically different but their motives seem to be dictated by their positions in society, particularly their class standings which rely heavily on others. There were few ways in which the women could take control of their lives. There were options of marriage and of course finding work. But really what we see happening is a subversive sort of ill will towards other women as they grapple for a place in society. There is Hester who is very unlikable and rude to Emily and has returned from India with her husband, a somewhat removed heir to Walderhurst’s fortune. This is of course put into jeopardy after Emily’s marriage and the possibility of her having a son. Jane is Emily’s maid who feels threatened by the presence of an Indian maid. She is convinced Ameerah practices the dark arts and will hurt Emily. Even though these women may not have been likable, Burnett enables us to understand where they are coming from.

Written in 1901, there are racist portrayals of Indians and anyone non-English. While I understand the sentiment at the time, it is difficult to read today. Sometimes it makes me wonder if these are just the sentiments of the times as acted out through the characters or if the author really feels this way.

I will admit that I struggled with this one for a bit. The descriptions of the surroundings, furnishings, and garments are rich in detail. And at times what seem like small events to me are turned into dramatic displays. At times I enjoyed it and at others I felt extremely tired. I am glad that I stuck with it and after letting it sink in for a few days I feel that I appreciate The Making of a Marchioness more. I’ll be interested to read The Shuttle, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess. I know the story of the last two and feel like I read them as a girl, but can’t remember entirely if I really did.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Jerusha Abbott is a young girl who has lived in orphanage her entire life. She has been there so long that she has been put to work so that she can earn her keep. One day she is called into the office thinking she is in trouble. The headmistress tells her that she will be going to college and that a Trustee of the orphanage has agreed to pay for her education as a result of her writing. The trustee would like her to attend college to become an author provided that he remain anonymous and Jerusha writes a letter to him monthly to keep him up to date on her progress. Jerusha is of course excited to have a chance at a life outside of the orphanage. On her way out of the office she thinks she sees the Trustee, she has seen some of them before but is curious to know what her Trustee looks like. The man she saw in the shadows was tall and she names him Daddy long-legs.

Daddy Long-Legs is told through Jerusha’s letters during her four years at a girl’s college. She is very excited and bubbly and therefore writes many more than the required amount of letters. They are filled with her explorations of new friends, college life, society, and the classroom. She is observant, inquisitive, cheerful, and at time outraged at Daddy-long-legs’ silence. Her letters are filled with full descriptions of her life and her surroundings complete with the occasional illustration for further emphasis. What I think is most interesting is her character which shines through her letters. Jerusha (who quickly changes her name to Judy) learns that she is not a throw-away, that an opportunity at a life outside of the orphanage can change her life provided she takes full advantage. She has many opinions and often offers commentary about what she is learning in school and about society as a whole. She is writing at a time when women did not have the same rights as men and the political climate is changing. We know exactly what happens and how Daddy long-legs reacts to her stories without ever seeing his secretary’s responses. There is even an interesting twist at the end.

I just knew I had to read Daddy-Long-Legs after reading posts by both Nymeth and Aarti. And I think it would make an excellent selection for the Women Unbound Challenge. Jean Webster did produce a (sort of) sequel called Dear Enemy which I am interested to read.

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

I read Annie John last year before I started blogging so my thoughts on the book are already getting fuzzy. I do remember liking Annie a lot, she’s ten years old, a little quirky, intelligent, and a bit mischievous. She describes her childhood adventures growing up in Antigua with her mother and father. As a young girl she had a wonderful and loving relationship with her mother. But this changes when her mother begins to see her as a young lady. Immediately their relationship becomes strained and almost hostile throughout the rest of the novel. Annie’s new title brings new treatment and new rules that she must follow. She immediately resents this and feels that her mother is withholding the love that used to be freely given. In retaliation she begins to lie and sneak to do things that she knows are not allowed in her mother’s home. Kincaid explores mother-daughter relationships beautifully showing that love can be both painful and sweet.

Annie John: A Novel

Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler

Mind of My Mind is chronologically the second novel in the Patternist series. Like Wild Seed, it is a story that tells the origins of a group of people. Mary is the daughter of Doro (the creator of powerful telepaths, who we met in Wild Seed). Mary is the daughter that Doro has always wanted and she is just transitioning into her mental powers as the novel opens and it is obvious from the beginning that Mary will be extremely powerful, possibly powerful enough to challenge Doro. As Mary transitions into her mental powers she creates a Pattern that draws other telepaths to her. She is able to control these telepaths often forcefully and against their will. She can feed off of their energy and use the Pattern to call other telepaths, heal physical ails, and enhance the telepathic powers of others.

Butler’s stories are sure to be full of social and ethical questions. I think she writes these dilemmas and topics for thought into her stories well. There are issues of modern slavery (telepaths can control the thoughts and feelings of mutes or non telepaths and use them to do their bidding), genetic selection, and using gifts and powers for evil purposes. The only thing that I thought the book lacked was full development of the characters. I never really got to know Mary and her “First Family” and I didn’t feel very close to any of them. Each had their own set of powers, a life before Mary, and their own story of transitioning into their power and the pattern but the reader is given only a glimpse of this. This is exactly opposite of how I felt when reading Wild Seed. Hopefully Mind of My Mind is setting up the other books in the series; the idea of the Pattern is intriguing.