New Read: Howards End

After watching the BBC’s delightful 2017 adaptation, starring the brilliant Hayley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen, I was inspired to put E. M. Forster’s turn-of-the-century classic, Howards End onto my new list for The Classics Club. Then in March, I picked this up thinking it would be perfect for spring.

Howards End is considered by many to be Forster’s masterpiece, in which the author explores the slowly changing landscape, social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. He does this with humour and pathos through the lives and interactions of three very different London families: the bohemian Schlegels; the rich, capitalist Wilcoxes and the impoverished Basts. The meeting of individuals with such polarised social status, world outlook and economic situation makes for some positive effects, comical blunders but also some disastrous consequences.

What, or should I saw who, really made this novel for me was the engaging Margaret Schlegel, an intelligent, idealistic and independent woman, with a love of the Arts, nature, travelling and social justice. Who, in a time when there were still many constrictions on women, is courageous enough to live the life and be who she wants to be, whilst also lovingly accepting others for who they are. Highlighted in her unwavering love for her rather irritating younger siblings: the flighty Helen and the pompously philosophical Tibby.

Similar it is with her love and compassion that Margaret draws many of the other main characters into the story and drives the plot along. First she befriends Ruth Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, who is sick and alone, and in Margaret, Ruth believes she has met a kindred spirit. This later leads to the blossoming romance between Margaret and the widowed Henry Wilcox, who is a kind, practical and unsentimental businessman. Margaret also encourages and tries to help Leonard Bast, a poor Bank clerk with a passion for literature and music, after Helen accidentally takes his umbrella.

A lot of the story takes place in London, a little on the coast and in the country, however in the air always hangs Howards End… This house was the prized possession of Ruth Wilcox, which she wished to bequeath to Margaret, however even though her family don’t feel the same about the place, yet they can’t bare to part with it either. I could so easily picture the old, rambling house set in its semi-wild gardens, surrounded by fields out in the suburbs; that have yet to be swallowed up by London’s gradual expansion. For much of the book the house lies empty and it is Margaret who unintentionally brings life back to it. Forster creates a beautiful symmetry: beginning and ending the story with Howards End.

Oh I could go on, but I will stop. Overall I thought Howards End was a touching, humorous and masterful tale of family, society and change in the early 20th century, with vibrant characters and vivid descriptions of place. This did turn out to be a perfect read for Spring. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by E. M. Forster?

This is book 8/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

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Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2019

The sun is shining and we seem to be hurtling towards summer! So it is with much pleasure that I announce Cathy is hosting her brilliant 20 Books of Summer challenge (with the option of 15 or 10 levels too) again this year. As usual I am aiming for the lower goal and here are the 10 books I hope to read:

  1. Cold Fire by Dean Koontz
  2. The Dragon’s Blade: The Last Guardian by Michael R. Miller
  3. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
  4. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
  5. The Moor by Laurie R. King
  6. Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien
  7. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
  8. River Rising by John A. Heldt
  9. Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris
  10. Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The challenge runs from the 3rd June to the 3rd September, so just after that I will check back in with you all to discuss what I manage to read!

Are you taking part in this summer challenge? Are there any of these books you think I should read first?

The Classics Club: Spin #20 Result

Last week, The Classics Club announced their 20th Spin event. The idea for which is to list 20 books remaining on our Classics Club lists, numbered 1-20, and the number announced today is the book we have to read by the 31st May 2019. So the results are in and our spin number is…

19

Which means I will be reading The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, which I think it a great result for me. I have long wanted to read this but just don’t seem to be getting round to it – in fact The Time Machine is left over from my first list – so this will finally give me the push I need. Not sure I will make the deadline though, as I have Howards End by E. M. Forster to finish before I start this.

Have you read this? If you also took part, what was your result?

The Classics Club: Spin #20

It’s time for The Classic Club’s 20th Spin! To join in simply list any 20 books that remain on your Classics Club list before Monday, 22nd April. On that day, the club will announce the winning number and then all you have to do is read the corresponding book by Friday, 31st May 2019. Here is my list:

  1. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
  2. Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen
  3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [re-read]
  4. Persuasion by Jane Austen [re-read]
  5. The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L Baum
  6. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  7. The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
  8. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  9. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  10. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  11. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  12. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  13. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy [re-read]
  14. The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
  15. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. The Black Corsair by Emilio Salgari
  17. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  18. Heidi by Johann Spyri
  19. The Time Machine by H G Wells
  20. War of the Worlds by H G Wells

I have changed my list dramatically from the last spin, where I wanted to take advantage of the longer time period to tackle one of the more imposing tomes, however I made a slow start to my new list last year. So now I have replaced the tomes with all the children’s classics and other shorter classics on my list to make my life and reading a little easier.

Are you taking part in the Spin too? What book do you think would be good for me to get?

New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble

Over the crazy-busyness of Christmas, I escaped, when I found a few quiet moments, away into Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble by M. C. Beaton, a festive e-short from Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.

At home alone for the holidays, our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin decides to show her generous side by inviting over six lonely, local ‘crumblies’ for a slap up Christmas dinner… Only problem is Agatha can’t cook! While she employs swanky caterers to prepare her starter and main, she mistakenly decides to make the pudding herself. And, when her monstrous creation is unceremoniously dumped on lecherous, 85-year-old Len Leech’s head – killing him instantly – the mysteries start to mount up higher than the season’s snowfall.

While only short, I thought this was a well-rounded mystery and our formerly sharp, bossy and cajoling Agatha is on top form. First, as she tries to be kind, softer and homely, but for all her heart being in the right place it all goes horribly wrong, of course! Which is perfect for us, because it means plenty of laughs and it sets Agatha off on another eccentric, bumbling amateur investigation. Along the way she is helped, hindered and warned off by several of the regular cast from the series, including my personal favourites: the lovely vicar’s wife, Mrs Bloxby and the funny Detective Constable Wong.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed another trip to the charming village of Carsely in Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Pudding for a quick, fun cosy mystery. Nothing ground-breaking here, but a perfect book to enjoy snuggled up in a blanket, when I had chance over the Christmas period. I now look forward even more to reading the next full-length book from the series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other cosy-crime recently?

This also ticked off a title with a season in it and so completed my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (6/6)

Goodbye January, Hello February 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? According to the Media and many people I work with this was a long, miserable month, but it simply wasn’t true for me! I celebrated my birthday;  attended a fascinating talk by Professor Alice Roberts; had an uplifting weekend away in Kent; and threw myself into my church’s year of exploration by joining a new house group and attending a weeknight vision service.. All in all I think a great month!  With all this excitement, here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 2      Non-Fiction: 0

Firstly, I finished reading the newest dual narrative novel, Bellewether by, one of my favourite authors, Susanna Kearsley, which swept me back to 1759 to experience how the Seven Year War between Britain and France impacted on the regular American colonists. Lastly, I finished a comforting, fun re-read of the charmingly witty Emma by Jane Austen, my result for The Classic Club‘s last Spin event. Now I need to confess I didn’t technically finish Emma till a day into February, however as I read the vast majority of it in January I hope you understand me counting it here.

Pick of the Month: Bellewether and Emma

Altogether that is only two books read – a perfectly reasonable amount for me normally. However I do find myself rather disheartened, because I actually read a lot more but just didn’t seem to finish much. During the month, I was actually also reading non-fictions: Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley and The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl. On the other hand, I am still behind on my reviews, so actually not finishing too much should help me catch up.

Compared to January, February looks like it is going to be relatively quiet, as I don’t have much planned. Except I am looking forward to the school’s half term break. So hopefully it will be a month of reading and catching up with reviews.

What did you do and read in January? What are your plans for February?

New Read: Frenchman’s Creek

In 2018, I was lucky enough to read two of the gothic queen, Daphne du Maurier’s novels. First, in June, I read the superb, time-travelling horror, The House on the Strand and then, at the end of the year, Frenchman’s Creek.

Restless with the pomp, ritual and debauchery of London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona St Columb takes her children and retreats to the hidden creeks and secret woods of her husband’s family estate of Navron, in Cornwall. The peace Lady Dona craves, however, eludes her from the moment she stumbles across the hidden mooring place for a white-sailed ship, known to plunder the Cornish coast. And once she has met its captain: the daring, French philosopher-pirate, Jean Aubrey, she finds her heart besieged and her person embroiled in a quest fraught with danger and glory.

Our protagonist, Dona is a beautiful, headstrong woman; a loving mother; an unhappy wife and a prisoner of her own making. Flightily she married her husband, Henry because he had a charming smile, so now she finds herself trapped with a man she feels she’s outgrown and finds herself increasing her daring, gossip-inducing behaviour to relieve her boredom. Which culminates in her taking part in a cruel, drunken prank, that finally shames her into breaking out of the vicious circle by leaving London, Henry and his insidious friend, Lord Rockingham behind.

Once at Navron, Dona spends her long, summer days of freedom sleeping in late; frolicking and picnicking with the children and walking along the coast; which is where she first catches sight of the white-sailed ship that is to turn her life upside down. As one would expect, du Maurier brings the stately but neglected estate of Navron, on her native Cornwall’s coast, beautifully to life. As the windows are unshuttered and thrown wide-open, light and the fresh sea breeze re-awaken the large, musty rooms, and from her room Dona has a view straight down to the sea.

Later in the novel, du Maurier actually takes us out to sea – with the dashing Jean Aubrey and his crew – showing us at its calm, serene best, but also at its turbulent, thrashing worst. While I am a self-confessed landlubber, I couldn’t help finding myself swept away with the beauty, adventure and romance of it all. Likewise, on meeting Jean, Dona finds herself swept away – selfishly abandoning her children to their maid – to read poetry, fish, dine and maraud with this charismatic man. However things come to a head, after their plans go terribly awry and Henry arrives unexpectedly to reclaim his wife. Will Dona return to her husband and children or risk it all for her pirate lover?!

Overall I thought Frenchman’s Creek was a beautifully written, sweeping romance. Quite a few of my fellow du Maurier fans have told me this is one of their least favourite of her novels, and on finishing it, I can understand why, because there is little to no gothic influence and Dona is not the most likable of characters. But while it pales in comparison to the stunning Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel it is still a… Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite of Du Maurier’s novels?

This also ticked off a title with a nationality in it for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (5/6)