New Read: North and South

As part of The Classics Club, I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Cranford Chronicles, which is made up of the novellas: Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confession and My Lady Ludlow. After them it seemed high time to read one of Gaskell’s full novels and it just so happened I had Gaskell’s 1854 novel North and South on my to-be-read shelf.

North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, a young, clever and spirited young woman who is to have her comfortable life turned upside down. Firstly, by the marriage of her close companion and cousin, Edith, then by the shock revelation that her father wishes to retire from the church. This means the family must leave their quiet, rural vicarage, their neighbours and all they know to settle in the smoggy, bustling northern industrial town of Milton. Immediately on arriving Margaret has a ready sympathy for the discontented mill workers and their cause, which will sit uneasily with her growing attraction to the charismatic mill owner, John Thornton.

What immediately struck me about the relationship between Margaret and Mr Thornton is its similarity to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Now I own they are very different as characters, however both pairs have in common that they are blinded by pride and led by their own prejudices. Margaret thinks he is cold, coarse and money driven, while Thornton believes she is haughty and misled. I actually liked both Margaret and Thornton, although I often found myself wanting to knock their heads together! So a delicious (if not sometimes infuriating) will they, won’t they narrative runs through out the novel.

But there is much more to North and South than a rocky love story. Within the story Gaskell also poses and explores fundamental questions about the nature of Victorian social authority and obedience: ranging from religious crises of conscience (Mr Hale); to the ethics of Naval Mutiny (Frederick Hale) and industrial action (Thornton and the mill workers). This is also an emotional rollercoaster which Gaskell so vividly and realistically portrays, that it made me feel I was right there alongside Margaret; as she fights her internal conflicts which mirror the turbulence that surrounds her.

For that reason this wasn’t a quick or easy read like Gaskell’s novellas were for me. I still enjoyed Gaskell’s detailed, meticulous and personable style with her eye for the small details, but I found this was less comforting than her previous stories. Instead with its hard-hitting issues, I found I needed to take my time to mull over and absorb it all. It actually took me from July to November to read three-quarters of this book, yet I whipped through the last quarter in a matter of days as the pace and drama really ramped up.

In conclusion, I thought North and South was a touching and important look into Victorian life, love and society, and the huge upheaval that arose from industrialisation. I suspect I will enjoy this even more on re-reading it. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 6/6 (a title with a compass direction)

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New Read: Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem

After enjoying several swashbuckling classics, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read another, Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari, by its translator Nico Lorenzutti. So I put it on my 10 Books of Summer 2017 list to make sure I got to it at last.

Sandokan, the feared “Tiger of Malaysia”, and his loyal band of rebel pirates are the scourge of the colonial powers of the Dutch and British empires in the South China sea. Mercilessly they roam the seas attacking ships and islands seeking vengeance, wealth and the destruction of their Western oppressors. Then return with their bounty to the safety of their fortified island of Mompracem, where they have lived happily and untouched for many years. But the fate and fortune of Sandokan and his “tigers” is to suddenly change when they learn of the lauded “Pearl of Labuan”.

While on the surface our protagonist Sandokan appears to just be a blood thirsty villain, as we read on we come to discover he is actually a prince, who was brought low to piracy after the British and their local allies murdered his family and stole his throne. Since then Sandokan has sailed the seas in righteous anger. With his faithful friend Yanez De Gomera, a Portuguese wanderer and adventurer, by his side. Yanez is a more charming and cool headed character, who is a more instantly likeable character. But the love and devotion Yanez and the “tigers” have for their leader helps to show a more likeable side to Sandokan.

However everything is to change when Sandokan hears of the extraordinary “Pearl of Labuan” and risks a trip with two of his ships to the island of Labuan in hopes of catching sight of her. Yes her, as the “Pearl” is not the type of treasure you may have first imagined, but instead she is a young Western woman; famed for her beauty, golden hair and her kindness to the natives of the island. Pretty much on first sight Sandokan falls in love with the “Pearl” and decides to move heaven and earth to obtain her. In the process selfishly risking the lives of all his men and their home of Mompracem, although if he didn’t we wouldn’t have an exciting story to read.

Apparently since Emilio Salgari wrote this adventure novel in 1900 it has been, for more than a century, Italy’s second most famous love story. As a modern reader though I couldn’t help thinking the love was all a bit quick and while we are assured it is a mutual feeling, we get to know little about how the lady thinks or feels. In fact she sadly proves to play a small, passive role in the adventure, except for crying and fainting quite a bit. This is a reflection of the time period is was written in though. Fortunately I didn’t pick this up for love. Instead I was looking for adventure and boy did Salgari give me that in spade loads. With battles at sea, deadly storms, jungle ambushes, clandestine meetings, disguises, sharks, faked deaths and impossible odds! And it is this that kept me wanting to read more.

Overall, I thought Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem was a rip-roaring adventure (and love story) that swept me back in time and across the seas to an exotic dangerous land. Good read.

Thank you to the translator for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Sandokan’s other adventures?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 4/10

The Classics Club: My Lady Ludlow

Last year, after having long wanted to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell, I read first the eponymous Cranford and then Mr Harrison’s Confessions. So it seemed appropriate that I should finish my Classics Club challenge with My Lady Ludlow, the final story in The Cranford Chronicles.

Similar to Cranford, we are introduced to a young woman, Miss Dawson, who after the loss of her father is invited to live at Hanbury Court by her charitable, distant relative Lady Ludlow. Through Dawson’s eyes we come to see how the Hanbury estate and the surrounding rural community are ruled over by this indomitable but beloved Lady, who eccentrically chooses to employ no servant who can read and write. However the winds of change are blowing through the community as the new vicar, Mr Gray, has the preposterous idea to open a school for the poor! Our Lady Ludlow has a rough time ahead but she is perhaps not as rigid as even she thought.

I must admit to be rather disappointed this was (again!) not set in Cranford, as the BBC’s 2007 TV adaptation had built me up by merging these novellas into one setting. However I can see how this has been placed in these chronicles because of the small rural setting and the dominate female presence. In this setting, men are neither feared or coveted but instead tolerated, with the larger-than-life personality of the matriarchal Lady Ludlow overruling their thoughts and beliefs. I fear I am making our Lady sound like a real horror, in fact I found her wonderful to read about – especially the French Revolution back story that explains many of her rigid views – and the power she holds really only comes from the fact she is so well loved.

This tale sees Gaskell returning to her steady, touching and meticulous style, that follows in detail the simple action and drama of a small Victorian community during a time of peaceful revolution. Before this, I had found Gaskell perhaps not as gripping or dramatic as some of her contemporaries, however the French Revolution section of this one really did grip me – I was desperate to find out what happened next!  While it also still retained a wonderfully comforting and personable style, stories and characters. Happily I picked this up and read a chapter or two a night, and just lost myself in this nostalgic world.

Overall, I thought My Lady Ludlow was a charming classic that made for a very comforting read, although Cranford is still definitely my favourite. Now I look forward to reading one of Gaskell’s full-length novels – I have North and South on my TBR read pile. Good read.

Have you read this? Or can you recommend anything else by Gaskell?

The Classics Club – 50/50

The Classics Club: Five Years Gone

My fellow bookworms  and classic clubbers. If you can believe it, I joined The Classics Club back on the 19th March 2012, which means today marks five years and the end of my challenge! Later in the month, I will do a top ten post for the whole challenge. For now though here is what I have read off my list in the last year:

Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Phoenix and the Carpet by Edith Nesbit

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Mr Harrison’s Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Gaskell


Which means I have completed…

50/50

I can’t really believe I have reached my goal and it is all over! If you had asked me five years ago, I probably would have said I am not sure I will actually read fifty books, however it would be great just to read more classics. Now I need to make the tough decision of whether I go for another fifty by making another list?! If I do it won’t be straight away as I think I deserve a little bit of a break first. For now, keep your eyes peeled for my top ten post which will be coming soon.

Have you read any of these? What classics have you enjoyed over the last year?

New Read: Flower Fables

flower-fables

Back in 2012, I read Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work Little Women, which I found to be an utterly charming and inspiring read – in fact it is still one of my favourite reads for The Classics Club. So I was thrilled when last year (2016) I got my hands on a copy of Flower Fables. Originally this collection of Alcott’s lesser known works was published in 1898 and they were brought back together, with thirty-four beautiful illustrations, in this 2015 edition.

I actually picked up this collection of nine magical tales during the Christmas holidays – hoping they would fit into those short moments of quietness between the general craziness of the festive period, which they did perfectly! Each tale takes the reader into a wild and imaginative world full of adventure, magic, nature, fairies, elves, and talking flowers and animals. Where kind fairies tend the flowers and animals; wayward children and naughty fairies learn important lessons; and great adventures are had by all.

There is an innocent and whimsical feel to these tales, but also a strong element of moralising that I realise will not to be everyone’s taste. Apparently this collection grew out of Alcott’s experience of telling stories to the children of her neighbours in Concord, Connecticut. In hindsight, knowing this I can understand and accept the moralising which is on the commendable themes of love, kindness, and responsibility; plus it was much milder than the heavy moralising in The Water Babies which was even a bit too much for me.

Overall I found Flower Fables to be a quick, easy escapist read. Sadly I didn’t love it anywhere near as much as Little Women – I think a big part of that was the lack of main characters to follow – however this was still an enjoyable read. Now I really must try Alcott’s more well known sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Alcott’s other works?

New Read: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

the-mysterious-affair-at-styles

Over the Christmas holiday I read the classic, cosy crime The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, which had been waiting patiently on my Kindle for some time. And, I am really glad I did because I found it the perfect antidote to all of the crazy busyness of the festive period.

This is actually the first mystery to feature Agatha Christie’s most famous and long-lived characters: Hercule Poirot. A small, eccentric Belgian detective who features in thirty-three of Christie’s novels and fifty of her short stories. Previously I have watched and loved many of the TV adaptations starring the wonderful David Suchet, but sadly I had only read one of the original novels Murder on the Orient Express, that was all the way back in 2013 if you can believe it. So I was thrilled to finally get round to reading another and luck would have it that it was the very first.

Poirot’s first mystery opens in England during World War I, when Arthur Hastings – a character we will come to know very well in this series – is invited by his good friend John Cavendish to Styles Court; the family seat out in the Essex countryside. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Hastings, an old friend Hercule Poirot has settled with a small group of other Belgian refugees in the village nearby, with the support of the wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. In fact Emily, the late Mr Cavendish’s second wife, inherited Styles for life as well as the majority of the fortune, trumping her stepsons John and Lawrence.

During his visit Hastings comes to meet all the eclectic inhabitants of Styles, which includes: Emily, her stepsons John and Lawrence, John’s glamorous wife Mary, Emily’s forthright companion Evelyn Howard, and finally Cynthia Murdoch, the poor relation. Things were well with the family but recently tensions and suspicions have risen since Emily chose to marry the much younger Alfred Inglethorp, and it no huge surprise for the reader when Emily dies in suspicious circumstances. With a locked room death and a list of possible suspects longer than his arm, Hastings calls upon Poirot to help solve the matter, before the family are all put through the rumour mill.

I found it really lovely to go back to where it all began for Poirot and Hastings – we are also introduced to Inspector Japp in this book too. It was interesting to see their slightly awkward chemistry as they muddled through their very first investigation together. And, what a good first case together too! I don’t believe I have ever watched a TV adaptation of this as all the clues, twists and turns were all new to me and I didn’t see the final solution coming at all. I think Christie did leave enough clues along the way for the reader to figure it out, however I was enjoying the unravelling tale too much to worry about figuring it out for myself. I daren’t share anymore as I fear spoiling something for you!

So overall, I found The Mysterious Affair at Styles to be a well-written and intriguing mystery, which drew me in and brought me welcome relief from the Christmas craziness around me. I look forward to reading more Christie/Poirot mysteries. Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite Poirot mystery?

The Women’s Classic Literature Event – #8

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

blog-2016-stats

Hello my fellow bookworms, it is time to say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017, and what better way to do that than with a few reading stats:

Books Read: 55           New Reads: 51              Re-Reads: 4

Fiction: 43                Non-Fiction: 12

In 2015 I finished 62 books so I am down this year. This might be because while my fiction reading is pretty much like for like my non-fiction reading has almost halved. However, I am still very pleased with the amount and the quality of books I read. Now for some fun meme categories to help me reflect on what I’ve been reading in 2016:

  • Best Fiction A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin
  • Best Non-Fiction The Romanovs by Virginia Cowles
  • Best Classic Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Best Re-ReadThe Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis
  • Best Series You Discovered Psammead by Edith Nesbit, Echo of the Ascended by Mark Gelineau and Joe King and Wendy Darling by Colleen Oakes.
  • Favourite New-To-Me Authors – Margaret Skea and Elizabeth Gaskell.
  • Most Memorable Character – The clever and hilarious Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir.
  • Most Read Genre – Fantasy (18), Classics (12), Mystery (10) and Historical Fiction (6)
  • Multiple Reads of an Author – M. C. Beaton (2), Elizabeth Gaskell (2), Mark Gelineau & Joe King (4), Deborah Harkness (2), Edith Nesbit (3), Colleen Oakes (2), Stormie Omartian (2), Gervase Phinn (2), Margaret Skea (2)
  • Ambitions for 2017 – I would really like to make more time for re-reading old favourites and reading new books by favourite authors.

What did you read in 2016? Any ambitions for 2017?