Destination Unknown.

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Have you ever read a book that should be terrifying, but generally isn’t, because of the author’s treatment of the subject?

This Cold-War mystery novel was published in 1954, and does not feature either Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, so it’s a little different than most of the Agatha Christie novels I’ve read. Instead, we encounter first a very serious secret service/security agent, Mr. Jessop. Then, in grave distress (which initially belies her resilient spirit), Hilary Craven. Her personality adds some welcome highlights to an otherwise disturbingly plotted narrative.

I really appreciate the funny little twist that happens fairly early on; when Jessop and Hilary first meet in Casablanca. Things are almost never as bad as they seem, and even when they are as bad as they seem, they won’t always be that way. Somehow, sometime; definitely worth holding on.

Reading this story made me want to travel to ancient faraway places, in a touring group, with a safe and professional guide, and in the protective company of my husband.

#yikes #AgathaChristie #books #reading #unexpected

 

The False Prince

My 12-year old niece, Hayley loves to read as much as her Aunty Leah does… This fall, she put her head together with another aunt, and came up with a bright idea; a family book club.

We are a family of bibliophiles, and while we dont live near to each other, we have the lovely convenience of iphones! With the latest update, group FaceTiming became an available option.

The first book chosen was Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince. It’s considered juvenile fantasy, and the first in the Ascendance Trilogy. It happens in a make-believe kingdom, in a time of horses and wagons and swords and castles, but doesn’t involve any actual magic or invented species, such as elves or fairies.

Kirby and I had started listening to it as an audiobook during a road trip last month. Then, hooked on the story, I requested a copy from the library. There are several in the system, so it didn’t take long for one to arrive here in town for me. And then it didn’t take long to devour it!

One night I took it to bed to ‘read myself to sleep’ (my standard operating procedure). Let me just say that it didn’t have a soporific affect on me. At all. At about 1am I got up and swallowed a lavender capsule, to no avail. At about 3:45 I finished reading the last page. Wide awake.

What I liked most about the story was the unexpected plot twist near the end. It made me think about who we are, who we seem to be, and who we can become. And why we create chaos around those three points in our lives.

#bookworms #bookclub #family #reading

South Riding.

When I read Vera Brittain’s autobiographical book about the impact of World War One on her generation, I met another literary figure I liked right away… Winifred Holtby. She became Vera’s closest friend and another literary woman of her age. Naturally, I had to read some of her writing.

My friendly local librarians managed to find me a copy through an interlibrary loan. Love librarians. They rock my world.

South Riding was her last and best novel, written before her death due to kidney disease, and published posthumouslay by her great friend, Vera Brittain.

Winifred Holtby’s mother was the first alderwoman on their local county council in Yorkshire, and this seems to have resulted in Winifred’s large awareness of and familiarity with the kinds of concerns addressed by such organizations of local government. Not only was she interested in these public works, she was inspired by them and their impact on ‘human happiness’.

It’s a clever structure for a novel, and one I’ve not encountered before. The author lays out her framework in the table of contents:

I am interested in the story historically, as this was an era of major social changes; between the wars in England. It’s a period that never fails to fascinate me in either books or films. But I’m really enjoying her characters, and I like the style of her writing. She clearly means exactly what she writes, no more and no less. It’s vivid, and a fascinating story so far.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winifred_Holtby

#WinifredHoltby #SouthRiding #history #socialchange #literature #English #writing #books

Closed Casket.

Last week I read another of Agatha Christie’s Poirot follow-on novels, by Sophie Hannah. I can see why the estate/ family of the ‘queen of crime’ appreciates- and authorizes- this author’s literary offerings.

https://sophiehannah.com/more-poirot/

I don’t know how many of Agatha Christie’s own books I’ve devoured, but there are never enough of them, are there? Hercule Poirot’s moustaches, Miss Marple’s knitting needles, Tommy and Tuppence’s quirky relationship… I sometimes crave an Agatha Christie novel as one would crave chocolate.

(aside: Netflix! Please put the TV adaptations back on…. Please.)

In Closed Casket, we meet Michael Gathercole, a grown up orphan, for whom Athelinda Playford’s Shrimp Seddon books had been a lifeline during his unhappy childhood. How many of us bibliophiles can recall certain books (or series of books) which captivated our youthful imaginations?

(Some of my favourite childhood series were the Little House books, Anne of Green Gables stories, and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.) Yours…?

Furthermore, I am a witness that clever, engaging books can add depth and variety of experience, flavour and interest, to any day — or night- in the life of a busy adult. There’s nothing to compare with a hot bath or cozy bed with a favourite novel…

I appreciated this particular novel’s exploration of such issues as compulsive lying, the need to always have scientific proof, childhood neglect and its long term consequences on adult character and mental health, unconditional love in the face of awful behaviour, and character vs. personality.

One aspect of Agatha Christie’s detective novels, which Sophie Hannah carries on delightfully, is Poirot’s genius being bearable due to his foibles (such as vanity about his facial hair, and fastidiousness about order and method)… Just like in real life, I find it a lot easier to enjoy the company of flawed characters.

In my high school literature class, reading T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock, I first discovered the pleasure of making connections via literary references. Closed Casket is laced with Shakespeare references (especially King John), including the book title itself. It’s a perfect example of the ‘sommelier effect’, making me want to read this particular play by the Bard to further appreciate the precision of each such quotation inserted into her mystery story.

The House Of Unexpected Sisters

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Do you ever find a literary character so well-written that s/he seems almost as real to you as an actual person? Do you ever miss ‘spending time with’ this figment of some intrepid author’s imagination?

As I mentioned a few days ago, I went to the library to pick up a copy of Alexander McCall Smith’s newest No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel.  Naturally, I’ve been reading myself to sleep with this fine book each night since then. Precious Ramotswe, the main character in this beautiful series, is my favourite literary character to spend time with. If only he could write these books as fast as I read them…

Last night I read a part that embodies the gentle humanity I find so delightful in the pages of Alexander McCall Smith’s books… Precious (a private detective) has been conversing with a man who requires some sensitivity as he is a bit short on confidence. As they discussed a small matter relating to her business, she kindly refrained from laughing at him and instead behaved with a measure of grace most of us could learn from, thus helping him to save face while altering his course a little for professional purposes. After this brief exchange, she reflected (as she often does in these stories).

“She was relieved, and as she drove away, leaving him to his task, she thought of how important it was to go halfway in any disagreement- to see the other person’s point of view and to find the positive side of it…. if you expressed their viewpoint rather than your own, then you found that they often came round to seeing things as you saw them.”

I’m positive that with this kind of empathy and effort to get along, life would be better for all of us. I’ve had several experiences with this in my personal life as I’ve become more aware of empathy and its earth-shaking role in positive human relations. It’s amazing how much more open we tend to feel toward someone who is trying to understand us, even when that takes some imagination.  It’s the caring that counts.

I appreciate Mma Ramotswe’s positive influence on me. Every single time I pass a little time in her company.

#AlexanderMcCallSmith #PreciousRamotswe #empathy #humanity #communication #understanding #No.1Ladies’DetectiveAgency #stories #reading #books

Vera Brittain

This fall I read an autobiographical book called Testament of Youth, written by Vera Brittain. I first learned of her, and this book, by watching the film of the same title on Netflix. Only 100 years have passed since WW1 ended, and our world has changed; in some ways, almost beyond recognition.

For example,in 1914  Vera was a young woman just beginning to see her long-cherished dream of studying at Oxford coming true. While a small number of women were students there (at women’s colleges), no woman could actually obtain a degree! (Eventually that changed, and she did obtain the degree she had earned.) It’s a little hard to wrap my head around, but that’s how progress goes, isn’t it? Some struggle and sacrifice to bring about change which is thereafter taken for granted by so many who would have otherwise been without it.

I also really appreciated reading the story of those years of her life because of how she threw herself into whatever purpose each season demanded of her. I am at a seasonal change in my own life in a few ways, and I am not referring to the fact that autumn has suddenly changed to cold snowy winter already! No. I don’t want to talk about this abysmal weather. I mean that, like Vera, I started my university degree as a young woman. Also like her, I stopped it to do other work (nursing soldiers in her case, mothering children in my case) that seemed more urgent and pressing at the time. And, like Miss Brittain, I am on the cusp of falling back into the delightful world of college and university, to eventually finish earning my degree.

For anyone who appreciates period dramas (especially those based on true events), I highly recommend Testament of Youth. And for those who are a bit ‘hard-core’ about books, read this one.

#VeraBrittain #TestamentofYouth #autobiography #book #movie #inspiring #appreciation #history

Testament of Youth book cover