Monday, September 1, 2008

Back to Blogging

I've been gone for a long time. No good reason, certainly no excuse. Just busy, bronchitis, business travel, technology issues - the usual stuff. But I had lots of time to read, so here's a partial list with a comment or two:

Rossetti Letters

by Christi Phillips
A modern Renaissance scholar travels to Venice to attend a conference and complete research for her dissertation (and serve as a companion to the daughter of a wealthy family). During her research she finds
  • a letter written by the courtesan who is the subject of her dissertation
  • a handsome Italian dinner companion
  • an academic adversary
The novel moves between modern Venice and the Venice of the courtesan, telling the story of the two women. Both stories were well written, an accomplishment for the author, since too many double stories have one strong and one weaker storyline. Ms. Phillips is writing another novel about the scholar which I definitely will read. I give the book 4/5.

The Shop on Blossom Street
A Good Yarn
Back to Blossom Street
by Debbie Macomber
These are the first three books in the Blossom Street series. (I've requested the fourth book from my library.) I was hesitant to read Debbie Macomber - the book covers suggested saccharine stories, but I was seriously wrong. Each book revolves around group of three women who are taking knitting lessons. They are normal woman with normal issues managing their situations, the men in their lives, their families, their jobs. I could identify with some of the issues and understand the rest. In the second and third books, characters and story lines continue from the previous books - you know, like real life, no clear-cut "they lived happily ever after and that's all you need to know" endings. The women learn to like themselves and each other, as well as how to knit. And they don't hate men or see them as the cause of all their problems! I've read a few of Ms. Macomber's earlier works and found them less satisfying, a bit predictable, but I'll still read anything she writes. I give these books 5/5.

Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell
I've found a new name to add to my favorite authors list. I loved this book! It's a large book - 648 pages in my Penguin Classics Edition, not counting the numerous explanatory footnotes. My only disappointment is that Mrs. Gaskell died before she finished it. (Her editor wrote a Note to wrap up the loose ends, based on what he knew of her.)
Set in the early nineteenth century, it's the story of a young girl coming of age. Molly Gibson's mother died when she was young and she has been living happily with her father, the local doctor. Her father decides that, since she is becoming a young lady, she needs the influence and supervision of a woman. He rectifies the situation by marrying the former governess of the local gentry, a widow with a daughter Molly's age. Complications ensue in true nineteen century literary fashion. I'll be reading more of Mrs. Gaskell soon. I give this book 5/5.

And Only to Deceive
by Tasha Alexander
I kept reading about Tasha Alexander on the many book blogs I read, so, when I found this book for 50% off, I snapped it up. I'm really glad I did. I love the historical romance/mystery genre and this is an excellent example. A strong-willed young woman marries the least objectionable man she has met - to keep her parents happy and end their nagging. When her new husband dies on a safari in Africa soon after the wedding, she is not overly unhappy. Now she can lead the life of the wealthy young widow with more freedom then she had as a wealthy single woman. As she learns more and more about her late husband, however, she realizes he led a very different life than what she thought. She comes, too late, to love him as much as he loved her. As she discovers this other side of him, she also discovers a mystery (of course), a possible romance (also, of course) and new interests for herself. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. I give the book 4.5/5.

The Custom of the Country
by Edith Wharton
I've read a number of Mrs. Wharton's books and enjoyed them all. Her women are strong but often misguided by their own ambitions. Undine Sprague could have been a horrible character. She always wants more of everything. She may have begun her life as the daughter of a small town Mid-Western self-made man, but she plans on ending up in High Society. She doesn't take "no" for an answer from anyone and doesn't care who she tramples in her pursuit of what she wants. Yet the book is enjoyable. Undine was not a pleasant person but she was persistent. Mrs. Wharton draws a detailed picture picture of society's leaders and want-to-be leaders without hiding their foibles and failures. I give the book 4/5.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World
by Thomas Cahill
This has got to be one of the most beautiful non-art paperback books I have ever seen. The calligraphy and medieval art are stunning. Whoever did the book design should be congratulated. The content and the "look" perfectly complement each other.
This is the fifth book in Mr. Cahill's Hinges of History series and an excellent addition. The lives that he profiles provide a quick glimpse of the so-called Dark Ages that were anything but dark.
Having said that, I have one major quibble - why did he have to insert his own personal political hatred of George Bush into the narrative? It was totally inappropriate and disrupted the flow of what he was saying because it wasn't pertinent. He is welcome to his opinions but they didn't belong in this book. (He did the same thing in Sailing the Wine-Dark Seas so often that I stopped reading it.)
I give the book only 3.5/5 primarily because of the political commentary. ( has a number of reviews of this book that also mentioned the reviewer's objections to Mr. Cahill's political statements in an otherwise excellent history of the Middle Ages.)

Since it's the last day of the three-day Labor Day holiday, I'm going to end my labor (I know, corny) and relax with, what else, a good book.

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