Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Fancies

If you're reading this blog, chances are that you're someone who has an extensive To Read pile, whether on your night stand at home or virtually on Goodreads. I've always acquired books faster than I can read them and can therefore appreciate some of the sound advice in these tips for tackling your To Read pile. I especially like #2. I used to try to plan out my reading order in advance, but lately have been preferring to just go with my mood when it's time to pick up a new book.

(image via here--I've never read any Tolkien, but these pretty editions might almost tempt me.)

The food styling behind Downton Abbey--an interesting read for the lead up to Sunday's season finale.

Speaking of TV, the new season of Broadchurch starts airing on BBC America next week. Watch it!

And here's an intriguing concept- centireading. Would you ever try it? Which book would you choose?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Revisiting The Woman in White

It's been quiet around these parts lately not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been reading too much. Or, more accurately, I should say that I've been reading too many things at once. I had three books in progress over the past few weeks, which didn't leave a lot to blog about. One of these books was The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which I was rereading. This time around, some of the tensions in the plot and conflicts between characters left me feeling so stressed out that I had to lay the book aside for a while. It would be very hard to argue that Collins isn't a master of suspense. That said, The Woman in White is not without its flaws--a fact that became apparent as I revisited it this time around.

The Woman in White begins on a dark night when artist Walter Hartright encounters--of course--a mysterious young woman in white. They meet on the deserted road and Walter escorts her for a small leg of her journey into London. Shortly after they part, he overhears a passing conversation that leads him to deduce that the woman had escaped from an asylum. In the following days, Walter takes a position as a drawing instructor to half-sisters Laura Fairlie and Marion Halcombe and is unsettled to learn that their family may have a connection to the mysterious woman. Walter's narrative during this opening section is one of the strongest parts of the novel, setting a moody and atmospheric tone for what's to come. Because it's so good, it feels a bit disappointing when the novel switches narrators. We see much of the plot unfold through a series of devices like Marion's journal entries, letters from peripheral characters, and recorded testimonies from household servants. Aside from Marion, most of the characters who take a turn narrating are long-winded and irritating at best, completely unlikeable at worst, which can make some of their sections feel a bit tedious. It makes for a novel that you want to race through, both so that you can find out what happens next and so that you can move on to a different narrator.

The character of Laura Fairlie was another element that was slightly irritating upon this second reading. She's portrayed as kind, innocent, and delicate--traits that are all pretty typical for heroines of that time period, but that tended to grate after 600 pages worth of Walter and Marion tiptoeing around her fragile constitution. Although Laura is cast as the romantic heroine and the center of the novel's mystery, it's the active and competent Marion who is the stronger female protagonist (though Collins doesn't let her get away without having a few moments of simpering herself).

Although this rereading brought out some of these flaws for me, it didn't change my overall favorable opinion of the novel. The issues that stood out might even be attributed to the fact that it was first published as a magazine serial--making its overall success as a self-contained novel a testament to just how good of a mystery writer Collins was.

What do you think of The Woman in White? Or is there any other book that you enjoy in spite of its flaws?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Fancies

Obviously the biggest book news of the week--or of the year, really--was the announcement that a new novel by Harper Lee will be published this summer. I can't remember the last time I felt such a jolt of excitement from reading a piece of news. In the subsequent days, many questions have been raised about whether or not Lee really wants this novel published. Personally, until there is more than just speculation that she's being taken advantage of by her lawyer or her publisher, I plan on focusing on the excitement of reading Go Set a Watchman. This piece in the Guardian argues in favor of taking that point of view.

While we're all waiting for the book's summer release, here are some nonfiction essays by Harper Lee to check out.

A Nancy Drew cookbook--who knew?

And 40 ideas to cultivate a richer reading life--I definitely want to try some of these.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ghost Stories for Winter Nights

Sometimes the winter season puts me in the mood to read cozy, Pym-esque books. This year, however, all I've been in the mood for are mysteries, dark thrillers, or ghost stories, as evidenced by the facts that I'm currently re-reading The Woman in White and that I only seem to want to watch moody TV shows like Broadchurch. In case you happen to be feeling the same, I thought I share a quick recommendation for Simone St. James, a Canadian author whose books I discovered last summer summer. Her three novels, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, Silence for the Dead, and An Inquiry into Love and Death take place during the inter-War years. They follow three different young women who are on their own in life and who find themselves in unusual jobs that throw them into the midst of mysteries with supernatural twists.

The fact that St. James's novels have so many common elements could easily turn them into cliched retellings of the same story. What saves them from this, though, is the way that St. James seems to take pains to develop her casts of characters in unique and interesting ways. In spite of the basic similarities of their circumstances, all of her protagonists are uniquely and vividly drawn. The same is true for the love interests they meet along the way--all former soldiers whose battle with the metaphorical ghosts of war create an added layer of depth as they battle more tangible ghosts in the course of the novels. Although it's obvious that St. James has a formulaic approach to her writing, it's one that works and that exceeds expectations thanks to her attention to detail and character development.


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