I’m making progress on blurbing out all those books I’ve read this year that I haven’t gotten around to writing about.
Stand Up Straight and Sing by Jessye Norman
Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn
Two books on singing. Imperfect Harmony is a memoir of a woman who finds healing and community by singing in a choir. And Stand Up Straight and Sing is a memoir by the incredible soprano Jessye Norman. Both were nice reads but didn’t leave much of an impression. Norman’s book in particular was a bit disappointing because I really wanted some opera gossip and she is a bit too principled to delve to those depths. Some might even say the book is uplifting.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
I know that Elizabeth von Arnim can write some gritty fiction, well, gritty for her (cf Love), but with this title I was hoping something that was more like wonderful The Enchanted April. And it was. Kind of. I really loved the parts where she talked about her garden and garden mania. With her writing and sense of humor I could really just read page after page of garden chat.
The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
I’ve been working my way through the Palliser series with the help of Timothy West’s brilliant audiobook recordings. I had already read The Eustace Diamonds and it was a delight to listen to. It’s probably the least political of this political series. The other two I half read/half listened to which is not only delightful but also a good way to make a lot of progress on these giant books when one’s car commute keeps one from being able to read as much as one would like. I was rather bored by the earlier volume Phineas Finn and at first was a little bored by Phineas Redux, but after a while it picked up and I ended up enjoying it. The Prime Minister may be my favorite so far. That evil Fernando Lopez! What a villainous cad. Way too much (and too little) happens in Trollope, I would never try to truly review his work. I will say I am excited to read the final volume in the series The Duke’s Children. It would be kind of cool to finish by the end of this Trollope bicentennial year. But with only a month and a half to go and Emma to read in December among many other things, I am not sure I can make the time.
The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson
A darker side to DES? Kind of. A messy divorce is not something I expected. But, like all DES novels some of the characters are virtuous and do all the right things. If you like DES, you will like this one.
Gang of Lovers by Massimo Carlotto
A gritty noir mystery from Europa. I knew nothing about this when I bought this one except I was in the mood for something different and European. The main character was kind of an awful person but he was surrounded by other awful people so one kind of ends up rooting for him. Part of Carolotto’s Alligator series, I’m definitely going to check out more of his work, it also makes me want to look into more Europa mysteries as well.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
This was my first go around with Sarah Waters. While I enjoyed it, I’m not sure why she is as well regarded as she is. In retrospect, after reading that awful A Little Life, The Paying Guest really didn’t have too much wrong with it. And it was definitely a page-turner. Perhaps my biggest quibble was that I wanted it to be somewhat happier. You know me, I always want everyone to do the right thing.
I’ve read both A Little Life and The Paying Guests in the past few months. I can’t believe I made it all the way through Life because I never believed a word of it. Too off, too unlikely. Too miserable. Too far gone. And Guests really grabbed me at the end. (Spoilerish……) to have perhaps lost all but also have a breath of the possibility of a beginning of a new, mutated version of your past is the best we can hope for sometimes. That was profound. The rest of it was a lot of buildup to only that, but it was worth it.
I liked Paying Guests a lot, but it’s not Waters’s best. It’s not as well-paced as her other books. My favorites are Fingersmith and The Little Stranger. (The latter is a controversial choice and possibly something you’d dislike.) But none of her books are particularly happy. Fingersmith is probably the most fun, and Tipping the Velvet has some fun parts, but also some incredibly dark sections. I mostly love her books because they’re so immersive, and she’s so meticulous with her historical details. Plus, she fills her books with great (as in interesting, but not necessarily good) women characters, which to me is a good thing.
I need to finish the Barchester Chronicles before beginning Emma… working my way through The Last Chronicle of Barset now. They’ve all been read/listen combos, but I’ve had Simon Vance in my earbuds. Have loved every page! Was planning on The Pallisers for 2016, but may take a break and read a few stand-alones instead.
I liked The Paying Guests, but it was not my favorite Waters. I listened to the audiobook and am sure Juliet Stevenson’s narration added to the experience. She is a favorite!
I recently read Elizabeth and Her German Garden for the first time, but had definitely built it up too much in my mind – I expected so much, given how successful it was, but it is actually quite far down the list of E von A books I’ve read.