Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Lady Audley's Secret by M.E. Braddon

This book was read for the Brontë Reading Group. We met yesterday to discuss this classic tale of bigamy, deceit and murder. And what a discussion! Ms Braddon might have been devastated of all the things the group read into the characters and the events, or proud that she has managed to write a story which is so captivating, with its many tricks and turns.

Lucy Graham is a governess with the local doctor when Sir Michael Audley, a middle aged local gentry, falls head over heels in love with her. She is the prettiest thing of earth, good tempered and too good to be true. She is loved by everyone, except Alicia, the daughter of Sir Michael from his first marriage. They marry and all is well until Sir Michael's nephew, Robert Audley, comes to visit with his friend George Talboys. George has been in Australia for several years to seek his luck in the gold industry. He comes back a rich man. On his return he finds that his wife is dead and has left their son with her father. George is devastated, and Robert takes care of him and tries to nurse him back to life. They decide to vist his uncle and his new wife and enjoy the refreshing country life. The situation becomes somewhat tight when Lady Audley, hear the name of Robert's friend and try by all means to avoid meeting him.  Now starts a cat and mouse game with avoidance, disappearance, mystery, deceit and murder. It is very well done and it is not until the very end that you know how the story will end. We deal with a cunning lady, maybe with a streak of madness, but definitely one who manages to manipulate her surroundings.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by A.J. Pollard

The first book I read about Richard III was after they found his grave. That was Philippa Langley’s and Michael Jones’ book The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. One part is about the search for the grave and one part an overview of the history of Richard III. This book opened up a whole new part of English history, and led me to take an on-line course with Future Learn about England in the Time of Richard III. During the course, fellow students left recommendations of books, historical documentaries and the likes. One was a recommendation to read Pollard’s book.

It is an excellent, academic account of Richard III’s life. It is objectively written as it should be when a historian takes pen to paper. Anthony James Pollard is a British medieval historian and has written several books on the Wars of the Roses, and is considered a leading authority on the subject. He writes in an accessible way and makes even facts, one way or the other, into something thrilling, and leaves you with the option to make your own decisions.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle

This book came into my hands as a direct link to the Poldark series. I was looking at youtube and found this BBC drama from 2009 via Aidan Turner (Ross in Poldark). It is about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, their lives and deeds in 19th century England. I had never heard about this group, but as is usual, once you hear about something it pops up everywhere. I downloaded the book and found a fantastic, real life story of passion, love, fanatism and a quest for the perfect painting.

The group consisted of seven English painters, poets and critics who formed the initial "brotherhood", and the aim was to reform the art. They did not agree with the teachings of academic art at the time, and wanted to go back to older ways of painting, where much more detail was shown, the colours were more intense and more complex compositions from the Quattrocento Italian art.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

On Tour with History and Literature

It has been rather quiet on the blog for the last week. That is because I have been to England and was too busy with sightseeing. The aim for the trip was to pursue my interests in history and literature. I had such a great time and it was all so interesting that I have hardly come back to the 21st century yet. Still lingering in the border land of historical events and writer houses and books.

During the next couple of weeks I will be sharing glimpses of my tour, and thoughts about what I have been seeing. Here a short itinerary of the trip.

  • The Tower of London (with a history since 1066 there is a lot to see)
  • Kensington Palace (Victoria Revealed, The Queen’s and King’s State Rooms)
  • Leicester in the footsteps of Richard III (very interesting)
  • Brighton (just enjoying a sunny day and a little bit of rest from sightseeing)
  • Dorchester in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy (both the cottage where he was born and Max Gate which he built and where he lived most of his life)
  • The Templar Church (beautiful; we have to see what Dan Brown wrote and what the Master of the Templar says about it)
  • Tate Britain (main aim to see the Pre-Raphaelites)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

Some years ago I read a biography on E.M. Forster; A New Life by Wendy Moffat. Excellent The Sleepless Reader' and she had a review of the book.
biography. There is the first time I encountered the name of the above book and the name of Elizabeth von Arnim. Forster was, at a time, tutor to her children. Just a little bit later I was checking the blog of my friend Alex '

As so often happens, once you hear about someone or something, it usually pops up everywhere. So when I ventured down to the local library, which book screamed "take me, take me" if not Elizabeth and Her German Garden. It has got fantastic reviews wherever you read about it. You are just to encounter another one!

This is such a charming book, that you are totally drawn in from the first page. It is a funny, witty account on how Elizabeth, an English lady that married the German Count von Arnim. After some years of socialising in Berlin, they went to visit the 'summerhouse'. From the first moment Elizabeth was lost to the derelict and wildly grown garden. She decided that from now on she would live here and put the garden in order. The book tells in a hilarious way of her efforts.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Path to the Silent Country by Lynne Reid Banks

I recently read and reviewed Dark Quartet: The Story of the Brontës, which is the first of the two books Lynne Reid Banks has written about the Brontë family. The first book covers all of the siblings and ends when all of them, except Charlotte, are dead. This second book is about Charlotte and how she is coping on her own.

It is historical fiction, but as with the first book, the characters are very well depicted, and, as far as I can tell, Lynne Reid Banks follow well the history of the family, as we know it. Charlotte, who has been used to have her siblings around her, and, mind you, for most of her life they have been the only social contact she had, feels the solitude heavy on her shoulders. However, there are highlights. Her fame, and that of her sisters, are rising and she is now much sought after.

Her publisher Mr Smith, of which she has a crush, although she is quite aware that nothing can come out of it, is trying to include her in his social circles when she is in London. She meets her favourite author Thackeray, although his behaviour is not to her approval and that puts her off. She manages, although it seems to be very difficult, to somehow enjoy herself while in London.

Her fame also put her in contact with other female writers like Elizabeth Gaskell (who were to write the first biography of Charlotte) and Harriet Martineau (considered as one of the first female sociologists) and whom Charlotte admired. At least until she gave an unfavourable opinion on one of her books!

Lynne Reid Banks manages to visualise the rather depressing character of Charlotte, as well has her father Patrick. It can not have been a happy house to live in during those years. Arthur Bell Nichols, her father’s curate, is deeply in love with Charlotte. His first marriage proposal is refused, we can imagine, probably more because the father does not like him, than Charlotte’s own feelings. He has to leave for another parish but keeps a correspondence with Charlotte. In the end it pays out and they marry.

This seems to have been the most happy time of Charlotte’s life. They visit his family in Ireland and are well received. Charlotte becomes pregnant which makes her very happy. Alas, happiness does not seem to be for her and her family and she dies before the child is born.

This books is a must if you are into the Brontë family. Historical fiction (I know not all love this kind of freedom with the lives of famous people), but I really love it. Especially when it is so well written and with a lot of respect to the real persons and their stories as in Lynne Reid Banks version. She makes these remarkable people come alive.

Thank you to Endeavour Press for the review copy. The views put forward are my own, personal ones.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

New interesting books published in April

Here some new books that will be published in April. As usual I tend to go towards history (fiction Silence of the Grave and Voices. Excellent.
and non-fiction) but here are also a few thrillers. One from one of my favourite authors, the Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason. If you have not read anything by him, you just must do that. I have read
Arnaldur Inddridason

As you see there are also two books about Paris. I am already thinking ahead for the fantastic Paris in July month organised by Eat Live Travel and others.  

THE BEEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Santa Montefiore (Romance)
Internationally bestselling author Santa Montefiore has written her first book set in America. THE BEEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER is the story of a mother and daughter searching for love and happiness, unaware of the secrets that bind them. To find what they are longing for, they must confront the past and unravel the lies told long ago.
Simon & Schuster * 9781476735412

SHOCKING PARIS: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse by Stanley Meisler (History)
For a couple of decades before World War II, a group of immigrant painters and sculptors, including Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine and Jules Pascin, dominated the new art scene of Montparnasse in Paris. Modigliani and Chagall eventually attained enormous worldwide popularity, but in those earlier days, most School of Paris painters looked on Soutine as their most talented contemporary. In constant fear of the French police and the German Gestapo, plagued by poor health and bouts of depression, Soutine was the epitome of the tortured artist.
Palgrave Macmillan Trade * 9781137278807

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Suburban life in the spring!

A magnificent Magnolia tree
Another sunny, lovely, spring day, so I decided to go for a bike ride. It is always good to combine 'work' with pleasure, so I decided to bike over to Wezembeek Oppem to buy tennis socks for my son. Our sport shop closed last year, and nothing new has popped up. Went through our lovely forest down to Tervuren, past the African museum and on to Wezembeek. 10 km later I spot the shop and... ouch! I had forgotten that it has turned into a fitness centre. Nothing to do but turn around.

Once back in Tervuren, I pass a bike shop, where I stop to see if they have any nice biking clothes for the summer. They did not! Anyway, asked them if there is a sport shop around. Yes, in Stockel, another suburb around 4-5 km from where I am. All right, no problem for me. On my bike I go again, turn it around and head towards Stockel.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

This is the famous opening lines of this famous book, which, in spite of the theme, became a classic. Why is that? I think because it is so very well written, and in the way Nabokov has dealt with the theme. 
Nabokov was born in St Petersburg in 1899. The family left Russia as the Bolsheviks seized power and went first to London and then to Berlin. He completed his studies in Cambridge, and had a very successful academic career alongside his writing. In 1940 he and his wife and son moved to America.

“In the words of one critic Nabokov is ‘one of the most strikingly original novelist to emerge since Proust and Joyce…Not only did he gain a magnificent command of his second language, English and develop an extraordinary narrative and descriptive skill, but he brought to his task a visionary insight, a romantic verve and a grasp of human character that seem peculiarly his own.”

Sunday bliss

Finally a sunny day during the weekend. Perfect for taking out the bikes. This Sunday we went to
Leuven, around 25 km from us. We revived old memories when we stopped over at tennis club Stade Leuven to drink some water. We used to come here with our son when he participated in tournaments.

We covered all in all 47 km! Was I tired afterwords? Yes, indeed, but as always it feels good.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read until book 7, An Echo in the Bone, don't read this.

Apart from all the very thick books in the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon has also written shorter novels, which give us the opportunity to further follow some of the characters that inhabit her books. Most of them follow Lord John Grey. However, in this one it is Joan MacKimmie, Marsali's younger sister, that we follow on her way to become a nun in France. Michael Murray, young Ian's elder brother, accompany her there. He is working in the family wine business, and is in a mourning mood since both his wife and father died recently.

Having arrived in Paris, Comte St. Germain has returned from somewhere in history. His aim this time is to find the source for youth. He is looking for the apothecary Raymond, but when he finally meets him, Raymond is not what he used to be. Does he not look younger? How come he can come and disappear in a cloud of dust? Has he found the source?

We meet again some of the characters from Dragonfly in Amber; Comte St. Germain, Mother Hildegarde, and a few more interesting persons. What is then the space between? Well, not surprisingly it deals with the 'other' world, if it exists. A time travelling space? A space where you can keep your youth? Literature is full of books, playing with the idea of eternal life, being young forever.

Obviously, it is teasing people's imagination. Just look at all the popular vampire books, films and TV-series. Personally, I think that it is not as nice as you think. Here we are not dealing with vampires, but with persons who still sees the eternal youth as something achievable.

Diana Gabaldon is a storyteller of great proportions. You get right into the story, and it is difficult to put it down. The description of people, places, actions and historical hints is absolutely fantastic. I just love everything she writes.

Friday, 10 April 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Another book blog I read recently, related that the person having read this book did not know what to say about it. She/he had to think the book over before writing a review. I agree totally. It is always difficult to read a modern classic, and especially one that has received such raving reviews as this one.  A prize winner, a once in a life-time book, etc, etc. Can it live up to your expectations?

Well, it did. That does not mean that it is easy to review it. It is not at all what I expected, but it is a wonderful book. Written from the view of Scout,  her brother Jem and friend Dill. The story relates three years of their life, and what is happening in their small, southern town in Alabama. The father Atticus Finch, is a lawyer and a widower. He is given a case where a black person is accused of raping and violated a white girl. This is no easy thing in the south in the 1930s.

The trial takes up a large part of the story, although not always in the court room. It lingers over their lives. The terrible thing is that we all know that Tom is innocent, and like the children we all hope that this time justice will prevail.

The story is told with a wonderful sense of humour, describing through the children, the quiet town life, where everybody has an eye out on what is happening, and a view as well. Through the eager eyes of the youngsters you are showed all the prejudices and hypocrisies of their society, and how difficult it is to change the views, even when you are trying. One of their neighbours, Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley, is a recluse and never shows himself outside the house. Of course this is too much of a challenge for the youngsters, since it causes curiosity beyond the imagination. They try different things to make him come out of the house. However, they could not in their wildest fantasy imagine what would draw him out in the end. This is also where finally Atticus are forced into being flexible with his own sense of justice.

I can imagine that it was a controversial book when it came out. Now times have moved forward a little bit, but maybe not much, when you just look at recent news. It is always a sad thing when people are judged by how they look, rather than who they are. Atticus tried to be non-prejudiced and set a good example for his children. It was a brave thing to do, and I think he was very successful.

One think I could not understand though, is why the children called him Atticus instead of dad? Anybody who has a thought?

The book was made into a film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

Harper Lee will soon publish her second book, Go Set a Watchman, which seems she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird. Mysteriously, the script was recently found. Looking forward to another book by Harper Lee.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Say it with pictures!

From Mallorca to Brussels.
Among the minerals!


Half way up is as far as I got!

Late spring but here it comes!

Back in Brussels, spring is also late. But, here are a few signs that it is on it way. The sun has also favoured us with its presence.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Middle Ages by R.J. Coote

While cleaning my book cases in Mallorca, I found this book about the Middle Ages. It is always
good to dust the books from time to time. I, at least, usually find an interesting book, I forgot I had. Since I have recently found myself in the Middle Ages, it seemed like an omen.  Being a book for secondary students, it was very easy to read, very pedagogic (it even explains very simple things that you think one would know in general), and very interesting.

The book covers all areas of the society like; Monks and Missionaries, Byzantines, Arabs and Franks, Saxons and Vikings, England United - and Conquered, Norman and Plantagenet, The Sword and the Cross, Kings and Rebellious Lords, Village and Town, The Break-up of Feudal Society. It ends around the mid-15th century, just before Richard III times' which I studied lately.

Here some 'tit-bits' of information that I found interesting.

The Anglo-Saxons, or English, came from the continent of Europe which is today part of Denmark and Germany. Originating from three different barbarian tribes (barbarians is the word the Romans used for all foreigners, and not the meaning we put into it today which is a brutal, uncivilised person) - Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The Frisians, who also migrated to England, lived in an area which is now the Netherlands. There is a link between the language spoken by the English settlers and those spoken by the Frisians, so the experts know that they intermingled and the modern English language has developed from the different peoples and dialects.