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text 2019-01-11 19:34
Proposed buddy read
Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Themis-Athena, Murder By Death & I are planning a Buddy Read of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women to tentatively begin on Friday, January 25.

 

Plot summary: 

 

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and died of breast cancer in 1980 and Excellent Women was originally published in 1952.

 

According to Wikipedia:

 

"several strong themes link the works in the Pym canon, which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, and comedies of manners, studying the social activities connected with the Anglican church (Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular.) (Pym attended several churches during her lifetime, including St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, where she served on the Parish Church Council.)

 

Pym closely examines many aspects of women's and men's relations, including unrequited feelings of women for men, based on her own experience. Pym was also one of the first popular novelists to write sympathetically about unambiguously gay characters (most notably in A Glass of Blessings).  She portrayed the layers of community and figures in the church seen through church functions. The dialogue is often deeply ironic. A tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died."

 

In 2013, The Telegraph published an interesting piece for Pym's centenary, which can be found here.

 

If any of this sounds interesting, feel free to join us!

 

Participants (so far):

 

Moonlight Reader

Themis-Athena

Murder By Death

BrokenTune

Lillelara

The Better To See You My Dear

Person of Interest

Peregrinations

 

Honorary participate: Mike Finn

 

Let's use "pymalong" and "excellent women" to tag our posts!

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text 2019-01-10 19:03
TBR Thursday: January 10, 2019

On my TBR cart for next week

 

A Wrinkle in Time (The Time Quintet #1) - Anna Quindlen,Madeleine L'Engle 

 

A Wrinkle in Time is my current read - I am about 25% finished. This is a reread of a book that I own in paperback, and is a beloved favorite from my childhood. I'm rebooting my L'Engleverse Read for 2019.

 

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym 

 

I have never read Barbara Pym before, although I have been meaning to for a long time. I checked this one out of my local library - it's the Plume edition. Once I finish my reread of A Wrinkle in Time, this is next.

 

 

Murder Must Advertise - Dorothy L. Sayers 

 

This is standing between me and Gaudy Night, so I'm reading it, although the plot summary is less than entrancing, and it apparently contains 100% less Harriet Vane, which is disappointing.

 

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay 

 

I just picked up this one for my Century of Women reading project. I am also thinking that it will fit into the Back to the Classics challenge, sliding it at just over 50 years old (published in 1967). I need to read something that qualifies as a tragedy, and the disappearance of three young women would seem to qualify. The plot summary and the reviews are intriguing.

 

 

 

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review 2019-01-10 15:45
Valdemar read: Arrow's Flight
Arrow's Flight - Mercedes Lackey

Continuing with my Valdemar read, I'm loosely planning on reading two or three books a  month. Arrow's Flight is the second of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy which focuses on Talia, Queen's Own Herald.

 

This was the Deathly Hallows of Valdemar, involving the longest camping trip of all time. I'm joking a little bit, but most of the book involves Talia and Kris, her training officer, doing rounds on the Borders dispensing queen's justice and overcoming obstacles. It's not particularly action packed, although that's fine with me - I'm not an action driven reader. 

 

Talia is struggling with controlling her Gift, so a lot of the book is focused on that, and on the moral and ethical dilemmas of using her Gift of mindspeaking. She struggles with trying to figure out when and how it's appropriate to bend others to her will by projection, ultiimately coming to what seems to be a reasonable decision that she will employ the Gift as a weapon in the same way that she would employ her hands in combat.

 

I enjoyed exploring the world of Valdemar and the Heralds. One of the things that I really do like about Lackey's writing is her very open and easy attitude towards sexuality. The Heralds are, generally, not monogamous and they become involved in healthy, friendly sexual relationships in a way that feels very organic and convincing. Especially for a book published in 1987, this is surprising. There are no "punishments" administered for girls/women who have a healthy and even lusty appetite for sex. It's refreshing. 

 

The next book in the trilogy is also planned for January - Arrow's Fall.

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review 2019-01-09 17:23
Welcome to the L'Engleverse: The Young Unicorns
The Young Unicorns - Madeleine L'Engle

A few years ago I started a Madeleine L'Engle project. I read some of her Chronos/Kairos series (which starts with A Wrinkle in Time and focuses on the Murry family) and then I asked for the Austin series for Christmas. I read through this book - so this is a reread for me.

 

The Young Unicorns is set in New York City, and is told from the perspective of a young man, Josiah Davidson, who has become close to the Austin's since their move away from the small town where their house, Thornhill, is located.

 

L'Engles books are difficult to describe and difficult to pigeonhole. There are generally strong religious themes, as well as elements of sci fi. Because they were, typically, written for a YA audience, some of the elements haven't worn well and seem extremely dated. In this book, that's true of both the central element of science - something that L'Engle refers to as a "Micro-Ray," which is basically a laser, and, also, the presence of the least threatening "gang" in the history of literature, the Alphabats, who hang around a church.

 

However, even though those elements of the story are dated, and even laughable at times, I enjoyed The Young Unicorns. I think that L'Engle writes families better than anyone - she perfectly captures the warmth and humanity of a family, but doesn't leave out the conflict. If I had to choose a fictional family to adopt, it would either be a L'Engle family - the Austins and the Murrys are both delightful, or the Weasleys, from Harry Potter. 

 

Reading The Young Unicorns reminded me why I love her books, flawed though they are - and inspired me to restart, and this time complete, my L'Engle project.

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review 2019-01-06 23:54
The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons
The Bachelor - Stella Gibbons

I had planned to read this one for a 1944 club on my blog but ran out of time. This is my second Gibbons, and I have not yet read her most celebrated work Cold Comfort Farm - the first one I read was called Nightingale Wood, which I read a couple of years ago.

I think I liked this one a tiny bit better than Nightingale Wood, although it has some of the same issues that I stumbled on in that one. It's set during WWII, so the characters are on the homefront during the active fighting, but they scarcely seem to notice that there is a war on. There is some talk about the blackout, and a bit during a barrage, and a couple of the characters have war work that they are engaged in, but for the most part the three main character's lives go on much as they do during peacetime. I'm not sure if this is an accurate depiction of the way that money can smooth all of the rough edges off the world, even during WWII, or if it is a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Gibbons. I tend to think the latter.

It is a bit of a romance, although not in the genre sense, with the characters coupling off all over the place. My issue with The Bachelor is that I found only one of the pairings even remotely appealing or plausible. Gibbons writes flawed characters, which isn't a problem for me, but also writes characters who need a swift kick in the ass. The only characters I particularly liked were Betty and Alicia, and I actively disliked Vartouhi and Constance and found them unconvincing. Richard and Kenneth (the titular bachelor, btw) were pleasant enough, if a bit wet.

The writing is a pleasure to read, however, and the descriptions of Sunglade, the home where most of the "action" takes place, are beautiful. I will definitely read more Gibbons, because no matter my issues with her novels, they are worth reading.
 

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