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review 2018-08-20 04:39
The Solitary Summer
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

 

This was a buddy read with Themis Athena.

 

The Solitary Summer is a follow up to Elizabeth and Her German Gardenthey don't have to be read in any order, but Solitary Summer takes place in the same garden, about three years later.

 

I went into this book naively assuming that the "Solitary" in the title mean Elizabeth at home, alone, in her garden, for the entire summer.  While I made allowances for servants, I figured she'd sent Man of Wrath and her three children off somewhere for the summer, either together or separately. 

 

Shows what I know; the Solitary in the title means nothing of the sort.  It simply means Elizabeth and her husband agree that for one summer, May through August, there will be no guests descending on the house, expecting Elizabeth to perform hostess duties.  100 years ago, I suppose that would feel like a kind of solitude, but personally, if I were being subjected to the daily demands of husband and three daughters, I'd have long before whipped out my Sharpie pen and blacked out the entry for 'solitude' in all my dictionaries and been done with the concept.

 

Moving on from my luxurious pre-conceived notions, the book is ostensibly about Elizabeth spending the summer in her garden, free from hostessing duties, and therefore free to loll about in her garden all day, book in hand, alternately reading and soaking in the paradise surrounding anyone in a garden, wood, and field.  When she's not feeding her family, or handing out food to the servants, or entertaining her daughters.  The solitary moments do happen, in May and most of June, but after a spate of gales whip through, the tone of the book alters perceptibly; less garden, more musings on philosophy, reading, morality, class and village life.  

 

In my opinion, even though I picked this up in eager anticipation of the garden-geek-fest, it's the second half that should not be missed.  Elizabeth is a rare breed; she's able to stand apart from herself, to see herself and events around her with objectivity, brutal honesty, and wry wit.  She does not rationalise, she does not excuse or defend, she simply observes:  this is they way things/I should be, this is the way things/I are(am).  It's refreshing to hear this kind of voice, and if it doesn't make you think one way or the other, ... well, never mind.  But the issues she addresses in her musings are at least as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, with the exception of enforced quartering of troops and servant housing. 

 

From what little I know so far about Elizabeth von Arnim's background, her husband isn't what anyone today would call a gem; she calls him Man of Wrath for heaven's sake, and I doubt she's using the term ironically.  But there are moments of accord between the two, as well as many scenes of shared humour and witty banter that lead me to suspect their relationship was far more complex than history will likely remember it being, and I'm eager to find out more about them both to see if my suspicions stand up to available facts.

 

Either way, I like her.  I suspect, were we contemporaries and life brought us into each other's orbit, we'd be friends - or at least appreciate each other's love of nature, sarcasm, and our disdain for too many guests.

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text 2018-08-19 22:37
Reading progress update: I've read 23%. -wow, what a start
A Thousand Words for Stranger - Julie E. Czerneda

This is the first book in the Trade Pact series. It was published in 2012 but I only became aware of it this month. 

 

Stepping into was a bit like going to the first Star Wars movie when everything was new and unknown but it felt solid and it moved fast and you wanted more.

 

This is confident, complex, has a huge cast of characters but keeps the focus on people in the way the best Star Wars movies do.

 

My wife and I are reading it together. It's great fun.

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text 2018-08-19 21:00
Summer of Spies - Tracking Post
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes
Blowback - Valerie Plame Wilson,Sarah Lovett,Negin Farsad
The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth
The Spy - Paulo Coelho
Zoo Station - David Downing
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book - Simon Vance,Peter Finn,Petra Couvée
Night Soldiers - Alan Furst
Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government - Valerie Plame Wilson,Laura Rozen
I Will Repay - Emmuska Orczy,Johanna Ward
The Lifeline - Phyllis Bottome

Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018

 

Finished, to Date:

Fiction

Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***

Ian Fleming: Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2

Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2

Stella Rimington: Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal) ****

John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (audio, narrated by Jeremy Northam) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad (new / audio, narrated by Emilia Fox) ***1/2

Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new / audio, narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers) ***1/2

Len Deighton: Berlin Game (new / audio, narrated by James Lailey) ****

Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (new / print) ****

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new / print) ****1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson, Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new / audio, narrated by Negin Farsad) ***

Patricia Wentworth: The Traveller Returns (new / print) ****

Paulo Coelho: The Spy (new / English print version + German audio, narrated by Luise Helm and Sven Görtz) ***1/2

David Downing: Zoo Station (new / print) ****

Alan Furst: Night Soldiers (new / audio, narrated by George Guidall) ****1/2

 

 

Emmuska Orczy: Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2

I Will Repay (new / audio, narrated by Johanna Ward) ****

 

 

John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****

The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2

Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****

 

 

Nonfiction

Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition) ****

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair (new / audio, narrated by Simon Vance) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government  (new / audio, narrated by the author) ****

 
 

Currently Reading:

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline
 

 

 

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review 2018-08-19 18:18
I Am No One You Know ★★★☆☆
I am No One You Know - Joyce Carol Oates

This is my first experience with Joyce Carol Oates, so I’m not sure if this is typical of her work. I found it both compelling and frustrating. The stories were mostly character portraits, and those characters were usually damaged, isolated, seeking to explain or understand themselves. Pretty grim reading, in other words. As for frustrating, they were structured almost like flash fiction, where there is no narrative arc. Every story just… stops. I could have been okay with this through a handful of stories, but I was weary of the whole thing long before I got through all nineteen.   

 

eBook, purchased via kindle.

 

 

Previous Updates:

6/24/18 – 1%

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text 2018-08-19 17:03
Reading progress update: I've read 138 out of 260 pages.
The Professor - Charlotte Brontë

I'm glad we've got out of the school room.

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