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review 2018-10-04 23:59
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield  for Deadlands
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

[10/05/18  Edited to add: I managed to upload a bad picture of my bingo card.]

 

This is such a good book I want to be a better writer to do it justice in my review. Waiting longer for inspiration is just not on though: my memory will let the details blur and the experience fade. 

 

Setterfield is a writer who's greatest flaw is not being prolific. Actually, that may be the only flaw. She has once again crafted a work of fiction that has a convincing Victorian setting with a modern sensibility directing the reader's attention to characters and incidents that a true Victorian wouldn't, but logic suggests that they are all valid. She manages to tell quite a few stories and examples of the craft of storytelling within a greater story of amazing events. While many writers succeed at making a house a character within their fiction, Setterfield has made part of the Thames a character, nor was she stinting in permitting this character moods. Okay, on the winter solstice the usual group are sitting around drinking in the Swan, an inn distinguished by the storytelling within. The door opens, a man, his face a bloody mess staggers in clutching a large doll in his hands.

 

Over the course of one year we watch the repercussions of that moment: how it affects characters major and minor and also, this is the tricksy bit, we watch how those events become stories. Yes, many stories dependent on point of view, and skill, stories becoming more stories as that one event is observed (or not), in light of new events, and then, still later developments. The metaphor is well served: there is an attempt to trace the roots of the story back to the beginning, which you can't do any more than you can trace a river back, fractally there are always more branches feeding in.

 

There is so much: there are clever half-starved orphans, prosperous farmers, the family of innkeepers, the town midwife, the minister, servants and animals, wealthy distillery owners, thieves and blackguards, despite the extensive cast one never feels that the author is coasting by with stereotypes or with every character having the same voice. There is plot and pathos enough for Dickens, and despite the 21st century sensibility there's none of that business of giving a character clearly modern ideas.

 

There is, of course, a supernatural element as well as a few mysteries, dreadful crimes and moments of grace. Everything is here, told my a humanist in the Pratchett vein, but without the jokes and footnotes. It is a lovely, suspenseful book that I couldn't bear to put down in order to post updates. Read it soon: give it to yourself or someone you really like as a gift for one of the several solstice-adjacent holidays. Just the thing for long winter nights by the fire.

 

ARC from publisher

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-30 16:39
A Time for Healing and an Impromptu Family
Winter Solstice - Rosamunde Pilcher

I ended up enjoying the two books of Pilcher I read so much I decided to read this one and hang waiting until this Fall. "Winter Solstice" touched me a lot. I can see why Moonlight re-reads this one every year. I can see me re-reading this come December. It was a really delightful book and I have to say that everyone in it was fantastic. I am also glad that Pilcher didn't give the characters of Sam and Carrie a happily ever after with romance linked to it. If anything, I see these two as friends, and believe that is probably things will stay due to Carrie's job. I for one am thrilled we didn't have some mess with a woman giving up her sense of self and job for a man. 

 

I am going to give a word of warning here for those who think this is typical romance. There is adultery in this one, and even a situation where we have something going on between a recently widowed man and one of the main characters. I was a bit surprised at first, but rolled with it since it just worked. Moving on to the book now. 

 

Elfrida is a retired actress who has recently moved out of London and is determined to start over again for the last time. She has adopted a dog (Horace) and is determined to be more involved with her nephew and his family. She is taken in by a local family, the Blundell's anf feels a kinship with the father, Oscar, and his daughter, Francine. She realizes she is in danger of it turning into something more and goes away for a month in order to be with her family. When she returns, she finds out that Oscar's wife and daughter have been killed, and he is subsequently being turfed out of his home by his stepsons. Elfrida is taking into Oscar's uncle's confidence and is told about half a house he owns in Scotland. She decides that is where she and Oscar will go so that he can heal away from the village that has so many memories of his dead wife and child. 

 

The book then flips back and forth between Elfrida's nephew's daughter Carrie, a businessman named Sam, Oscar, and Carrie's niece Lucy. All of these people have something going on in their lives that will cause them to be in Scotland for Winter Solstice (and Christmas). 

 

Carrie is getting over a love affair that went south. Moving back to London has her realizing that her mother and sister are still selfish. She ends up taking the reigns on being there for her niece Lucy after her sister is insisted on going to the U.S. for the holidays and her mother refusing to cancel her holiday plans. When Carrie reaches out to her aunt to stay with for the holidays (they really have no place else to go) they join her and Oscar in Scotland with the promise that no one will be celebrating the holiday.


Lucy is a teenager and is frustrated that her father has pretty much disappeared into his new life with his new wife and no her mother is trying to do the same. Her Aunt Carrie coming to the rescue with them going to Scotland for the holidays is just what Lucy needs. She meets a boy named Rory Kennedy and finds herself getting some confidence and finally someone to champion her. 

 

Sam is English, but had lived in New York for years. Newly separated, he is back in England with the proposition of a new job that will have him living in Scotland. I was meh on Sam. He wasn't a bad character or anything. I just didn't find him as engaging as everyone else in this book. And I thought it was pretty bad taste for him to try things on a bit with Carrie. I am glad that got the needed push back it deserved. 

 

I loved each and every piece of this. I also loved Elfrida actually being frustrated with Oscar at times (it's believable) with him wanting to hide from the world and the church and being at first upset that Elfrida's nieces are forced to come to them for the holidays. 

 

The book's settings move from a village in England and then mainly to Scotland. The whole place seemed quite magical. We get to read some what about the inhabitants of the place, but not too much though. We get insights into the Kennedy clan, a widowed and ill man, and Elfrida's housekeeper and her husband. 

 

I do think that the ending made sense for this book. There are still troubles thrown characters way, but they are doing the best that they can with what they got. I would have loved a sequel to this just to see how Elfrida, Oscar, and Lucy end up with Elfrida and Oscar in essence deciding to raise Lucy cause her mother has pretty much abandoned her.  

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review 2017-12-11 23:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 9 Reads (Winter Solstice / Yaldā Night and Yuletide)
The Poetry - David Shaw-Parker,Christina Rossetti,Ghizela Rowe
Goblin Market - Christina Rossetti
A Christmas Visitor - Anne Perry
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh,Ric Jerrom
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book of poetry.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter.

 

Holiday Book Joker as Bonus Joker: A book set on Winter Solstice (or Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere)

 

  

 

Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night Read: Christina Rossetti: The Poetry

A wonderful reading of some of Christina Rossetti's best-known poems by David Shaw-Parker and Ghizela Rowe, including her long narrative The Goblin Market, which I also own (and reread, for the occasion) in a delightful hardcopy edition illustrated with images by Christina's elder brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Not holiday reading per se (and The Goblin Market is decidedly dark), but still very fitting poetic complementary material for the holiday season.  Highly recommended!

 

  

 

Yuletide Read: Anne Perry: A Christmas Visitor

Anne Perry's Christmas novellas are spin-offs of her major Victorian series (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt, and William Monk, respectively), featuring supporting characters from those series as their protagonists.  A Christmas Visitor is the second of those novellas, and its protagonist is Henry Stanhope, a mathematician friend of William Monk's.  Stanhope travels to the snow-laden Lake District to spend Christmas with the family of his longstanding friend Judah Dreghorn; only to discover that just prior to his arrival Judah has apparently slipped on a set of ice-sheeted stones crossing a brook on his estate.  What initially looked like an accident, at closer inspection is revealed to be murder, and while everybody's favorite and allegedly most likely suspect is soon found, it falls to Henry to find out what really happened.

 

Perry's writing is very atmospheric and captures the Lake District, 19th century rural society, and the Christmas spirit to perfection -- I loved this story right up until its very end, which (even for a Christmas book) struck me as overly moralizing and sentimental on the one hand, and just that decisive bit too neat on the other hand.  (Readers not enamored of mysteries hingeing on certain points of law might be turned off on those grounds)  Still, for a quick read to get into the spirit of the season (and be served up a nicely-plotted mystery into the bargain), I could hardly have done better -- and the stellar reading by Terrence Hardiman contributed greatly to my enjoyment.

 

  

 

Winter Solstice Book Joker Bonus Read: Ngaio Marsh: Colour Scheme

One of my favorite mysteries from Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, here served up in an unabridged reading by Ric Jerrom.  The story is set in Marsh's native New Zealand and begins on Summer Solstice, which is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and thus makes the book eligible for this particular holiday's book joker.

 

The mystery is set at a spa hotel near a hot springs / mud pot / small version of Yellowstone National Park type of area, where a gentleman who has made one enemy too many (i.e., your classic Golden Age murder victim) one day is found to have fallen into a boiling hot mud pot.  (He may or may not also have been a German spy -- the story is set in the 1940s -- but this is one of the rare exceptions of a Golden Age mystery with that kind of angle that is blessedly devoid of "5th column" shenanigans, and where the war background is actually used skillfully to demonstrate how WWII affected daily life even in seemingly remote New Zealand.)  Also present at the spa is, inter alia, a star of the British stage and screen (unabashedly based on Sir Laurence Olivier) -- secretary in tow -- as well as, arriving on the day after the "accidental" death that very probably wasn't an accident, a Mr. Septimus Small, whom none of the other denizens of the spa manage to figure out, and who soon inspires the wildest conjectures as to his identity and occupation.

 

Upon revisiting the mystery -- thanks in no small part to Ric Jerrom's excellent narration and portrayal of the characters -- I found the story's inner logic (and the path to the solution) decidedly more obvious than when I first read it a few years ago, but then again, this time I knew where the whole thing was headed and, consequently, I was not as distracted by minutiae as the first time around.

 

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review 2017-11-14 19:26
Winter Solstice ★★★★☆
Winter Solstice (Audio) - Rosamunde Pilcher,Carole Shelley

I was a little impatient with this slow-moving story at first, but in the end was glad that I stayed with it. It’s a warm, comfortable story of people who are adrift at the end of a relationship, who find one another and begin anew. It’s not a Romance, but it is a story of love in its many forms. It was a little like a book form of those sweet, staid BBC and PBS shows that seem to mostly feature nice people sitting and talking, or walking and talking, with just enough offscreen drama to keep it interesting. I can see why so many people enjoy this story as an annual holiday comfort read.

 

Audiobook, via Audible. Lynn Redgrave provides an okay performance – it’s possible that this book needed someone a little more lively to spark it up.

 

I read this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, and I will be using it as the Holiday Book Joker for Square 9 December 21st: Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, also known as Yaldā Night in Iran. The same day is the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere, giving them the longest day of the year.  This book takes place during the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, but the key turning point takes place on the evening of the winter solstice.

 

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text 2017-11-11 20:12
Winter Solstice - 11%
Winter Solstice (Audio) - Rosamunde Pilcher,Carole Shelley

Hmmmm. 40 minutes in and it's mostly old people sitting around and talking about their past lives and all their assorted relatives and friends. I hope the story picks up soon. 

 

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