Summer Reading Progress 2017

Total Books Read (since July 1st):: 6
10 Books of Summer Challenge:: 6/10 (see my book list here)
Classics Club Challenge:: 5/50     (see my book list here)

Since I didn’t finish too many books in July, I wanted to wait a little while longer to post an update. Now I’ve finished 6 novels since my last update in June, and I think that’s a good number.

The first book I finished in July was My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. This novel has become very popular in the last year or so because a movie adaptation was recently released which I have not seen. On the whole I am still not really sure what to think of it. It’s written in a way that kind of leaves certain plot points up for interpretation (which I’ve found I do not like very much!!). I read it as part of a book group read, and everyone else in the group seemed to interpret the events in a different way than I did (you can read more about it in my review here if you’re interested). I did enjoy it as I read because the writing is good, but after reading Rebecca I was just expecting a little bit more.

After that, I needed a little bit of a pallet cleanser, so I picked up a quick book called Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood, my review of which is here. I have been a lover of Ernest Hemingway since I first read A Farewell to Arms as a 17 year old, and I love reading anything by or about him. Mrs. Hemingway outlines the overlaps, beginnings, and endings of Hem’s four marriages. Each are given an equal piece of the story, and I learned a lot about some of his later marriages that I had not been familiar with. It is fiction though, not a history book ;-)

After that I dug back into my 10 Books of Summer Challenge and read The Fireman by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son, if you didn’t know). I don’t have a review of this up as of the time I am posting this (I am quite behind on writing them to be honest). I started this apocalyptic novel last summer after it had first come out and it fizzled out (by no fault of the story or writing), so I wanted to start it over and finish it this time. I really enjoyed it, and it had a lot of similarities to one of his dad’s most famous books, The Stand, especially in the beginning. It’s really long and it took me awhile to finish, but I felt satisfied at the end. There is nothing worse than investing a lot of time into a book that ends up being disappointing…

The next book I read was another short/palette cleanser type of novel called The Madwoman Upstairs. It’s a contemporary mystery/adventure story about the last Brontë descendant and a rumored secret Brontë inheritance. It was quick and entertaining, just as I was hoping for….because at the same time I was listening to…

Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Oh, my, goodness. I loved this novel, and I am working on a review. It was such a lovely story that surrounds several characters throughout the town of Middlemarch, many of which are youngsters who are looking for love and marriage. There are sooo many wholesome themes in this novel that I’m afraid I won’t do them justice even in my discussion of it in a dedicated post (that is bound to be about a million words), but what you should know about it is – you should read it! Yes, it’s super long, but it is worth it a thousand times (in my opinion). This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year!

And finally, just this week I finished reading Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. This was such a joy to read as well, in quite a different way. It was written at the turn of the 20th century and follows a little orphan girl who is adopted by some older folks who take her in and raise her right. She is a spirited young girl who lives so much within her imagination and touches the lives of everyone around her. It’s a beautiful coming of age story that most people probably read when they were much younger than 28 (ha), but as an adult I still enjoyed it very much and I plan to continue the series.

Right now I am reading a book called The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. The first of which I came across awhile ago and had to buy (I’m about halfway through at the moment and not entirely sure what to think of it), the second of which I just finished reading in January before my son was born and am reading again. I’m only a few chapters into it as a reread and already SO much is coming back to me about this incredible book. It is so complex and lovely…and I could probably read it again next year and enjoy it just as much again.

I am curious, all of you blog readers, which have been your favorite books this year? Leave a comment and let me know!

e.

 

Thoughts on My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelLast night I finished reading My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier. It had been at the top of my to read list for the past several years, but I never got past the first several pages until last week, which is strange, because the first several pages are almost as gripping as the first pages in Rebecca, one of my favorite classic novels.

My Cousin Rachel begins in a place similar to Rebecca, with an orphan and a gothic, almost sinister, undertone. If I hadn’t been expecting great things already judging by the woman who wrote it, I definitely was after the first chapter, and I think ultimately this is what led to my disappointment in the novel.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man named Phillip who was raised by his cousin Ambrose. When advised to winter away from his damp home in Cornwall by his doctor, Ambrose goes south to the continent of Europe. He goes to Italy where he meets and marries his cousin Rachel. Having been a bachelor all his life, this comes as a great surprise to Phillip and their friends in Cornwall. The marriage seems to suit him until Phillip begins to receive odd letters from his cousin, and before he is able to see Ambrose again, he is dead. Did his new wife have something to do with it? How will Phillip behave once he finally meets this mysterious cousin? What about this woman caused a lifelong bachelor to finally ‘take the plunge’?

This novel lacked the feeling of suspense that I adored in Rebecca. There were no twists, no shocking revelations, and honestly once I set it down for the last time I was left wondering what the point of the book had been. I’m not saying it wasn’t compelling or well written, because it was, but there was never the sense of satisfaction in the end for me. After such a kick ass beginning, I expected more. I gave it three stars on goodreads because it is quite an entertaining book, I just took issue with the ending – it left things unresolved for me. I’m having the same issue with the ending of Gone With the Wind (I am still working on a post for that one).

For those of you who have already read it, here is a little more detail of what I thought of the story::

The beginning is excellent. It sets the tone beautifully and anchors the story in a gothic mood. The plot set-up is also perfect – a man meets a woman, marries her, has a crisis that leads to his death, and his family is left to wonder/discover whether or not this mysterious woman had a hand in it. I mean, that’s got to be an excellent story, right?

Eh.

I felt like I was turning pages in order to find out if Rachel had really had any fault in Ambrose’s death or not. Since I still don’t know for sure it just feels unfinished. I feel like the story leaves off in exactly the same place as it was after the first few chapters of the book. In the end, none of the plot really changed anything in the character’s lives. I guess I was expecting something equally mysterious and scandalous to happen to Phillip once Rachel came to town, but the only thing that happened is Phillip absolutely losing his mind in love and sabotaging himself. And yet, he wasn’t really sabotaged after all. It’s like everything that happened had the ability to be a complete disaster, but in the end Phillip is left exactly as he was after Ambrose’s death, a wealthy bachelor.

There was a looming mystery as to what Rachel’s big fault was, and all it turned out to be was a shopping addiction (who doesn’t know someone like that?). There was the giving of the estate to Rachel, and what changed for Phillip? Not a thing, except Rachel’s attitude was a bit colder (but that’s because he is a fool who expects her to marry him). There was the death of Rachel, but even that was unsatisfying. Did Phillip intend to let her die that night, or was he so preoccupied with his own mission that night that he completely forgot there was any danger in the garden? For me, it seemed like the emphasis kept falling on things that didn’t matter, and the things I was really interested in were only briefly mentioned.

In my group on goodreads, everyone seemed to agree with the implications at the end, that Rachel had been innocent the whole time and that she had done nothing wrong. But how can that be? Did he not find the poisonous seeds in her drawer? …..hello!? Was that just another figment of his imagination? …or mine? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!

This story just wasn’t for me in the end. I still adore Rebecca, and I for sure haven’t sworn off du Maurier by any stretch, but this one just didn’t sit well with me. However, it will be lingering in the back of my mind for quite some time, I’m sure. And maybe that was the point after all.

If you’ve read My Cousin Rachel, please share your ideas with me in the comments about your theories. This is a book that begs to be discussed!

E.

What I’m Reading | Fall 2014

Today is the official beginning of my favorite season, Autumn. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to let you guys know what is on my To-Read List for the next few months.

I’ve always felt that there are certain books that were meant to be read in the cooler months, which is what has inspired all of the books on this list (although I’m always open to impulsive reads too!).

My Cousin Rachel

The first ‘autumn’ read I’ve chosen is My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne DuMaurier. Last year I read Rebecca, and I loved it so much I wanted to reread it this year, until I found My Cousin Rachel at the bookstore last month (how did I not know this existed before?!). What I loved about Rebecca was the suspense, the mystery/plot twists, the writing style, and the gothic elements of the story, and so far I’ve not been disappointed by this book either. DuMaurier seems to have a thing for beginnings that make you beg for more, while maintaining stylistic perfection. I’m hooked, and I can’t wait to sit down with it this weekend and read as much as I can.

Dracula

I’ve also started Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to reading this and simply chose it because it is ‘classic Halloween’, but even after only the first few pages, I knew my pre-conceived notions about this novel were dead wrong. This is a prime example of why you should not judge a book by its reputation! More about this to come in the ‘official’ review.

The Woman in White The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other books I have on order and should be here this week: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, and The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. I don’t know much about either of these books, but they both sound interesting and I think they’ll fit right into my autumn/spooky theme.

I’m hoping to finish these four novels before Halloween, so I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, but I’m up for the challenge!

In case you’re looking for some ideas for fall reading, here are some other seasonal favorites I’ve read in years past::

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Loch, by Steve Alten

The Loch, by Steve Alten

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

 

Thanks for reading,
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Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier

If you didn’t catch my Currently Reading post, then you don’t know the interesting circumstances surrounding my beginning to read this book.

So there we were, boy trying to make me watch sprint car videos on YouTube – when I struck a deal with him: I will watch your videos, if you pick a book for me to read. I was really hoping he’d peruse them for awhile, pulling certain volumes out and reading about them, or at least look at the covers, but no, he looked from a few feet away for about 38 seconds and settled on Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

I usually tell him to pick what movie we’ll watch, and then I’ll refuse to watch what he picked and we’ll watch what I want after all, so I had to read this book – especially because I instigated the whole thing. And luckily, I did.

I was struck by the writing right away. The beginning dream sequence is really exquisite. I didn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. I didn’t know that the first line of this novel is considered one of the greatest in classic literature, and actually, even now I’m not sure it is – I only saw that in one place, but I have to agree:

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Its pretty mesmerizing in itself. Where is Manderley? What kind of dream was it? How many times has she dreamt it? Does it occur every night? Is it a special place to her, is that why she’s dreaming of it? It’s a sentence that makes you beg for more – a fine example of du Maurier’s skillful and suspenseful writing throughout the novel.

I’m not sure why I’m so often surprised at how good classic literature is. Mesmerized is a good word, so I’ll use it again – it’s how I felt when reading this book. I don’t usually read books that are so…suspenseful. It’s hard to say what created the suspense here, after all, there’s not terribly much action – it’s set in high class England around the 30s (I assume), which is a period where high class English women didn’t really do a whole lot besides plan parties and keep their husband company when that was convenient. It was the beginning dream sequence, the description of the absolute abandonment of this place she apparently cherished…what could have happened to make them leave so completely and so abruptly? Was it terribly traumatic? What could it have been? I spent the duration of the novel waiting for any clues as to what it could have been – a small spark that festered…or something sudden and catastrophic? It created quite a bit of suspense that carried most of the way through the novel on its own.

Prepare yourself, Spoilers follow throughout the end of this post::

Our narrator, a ‘young’ girl, nearly a child still who marries Maxim de Winter – she is nameless and ageless. She is an introvert, like me, and harbors deep insecurities about her marriage because she is her husband’s second wife, and she knows very well that he was very happy with his first one before her sudden death the previous year. She is haunted by the thought of this woman, someone much older than her with the confidence and training of someone in the upper class. Her thoughts fill up with imaginations of what Rebecca, the first wife, would have done in every situation; what she smelled like, how she moved across a room, how she would have given orders to the servants, how she would have acted with Maxim…the thoughts often tormented her, and yet, her curiosity and insecurity drove them on. I believe it made her unhappy in her marriage, in which she would have been much more care-free, and Maxim would have been much more likely to fall in love with her. It was really quite sad to ‘hear’ the narrator’s thoughts as she was looking forward to their wedding, how she continually thought Maxim was ‘forgetting’ to mention that he loved her, that they would be terribly happy. I would continually wonder why this girl just let the house maids and women around town control her. She is the new Mrs. de Winter! She is now on equal status to Rebecca. I wanted to shout at her to rearrange the house, to throw out the old coats, to tell her husband, ‘Yes, I broke the Cupid figurine! It was an accident but I didn’t like it anyway. I would rather have my art books on the morning-room desk!’ The girl seriously needs to grow a backbone. How she sat and let people talk around her when at tea, whether she way calling on them or the other way round. She seems so nearly pathetic.

And then…

At the turning point in the novel, and I won’t spoil it for you, in case you’re still reading and haven’t read the book yet…the narrator really impresses me. It’s not because what she had felt was justified, or that her reaction to her husband’s confession was ‘right’ or even admirable, but because I’m a woman, and I’ve been insecure in love. I suddenly understood her. In fact, our unnamed narrator and I seem to have quite a bit in common. My only complaint about the whole thing is the beginning, which is supposed to be the end. She still sounds unhappy, although all of her fears are supposed to have been abolished, in the end. I can’t understand it.

Maxim himself is quite a mystery. To me, he was unpredictable. For someone so miserable, why does he even want to marry someone new? It seems like everyone was quite upset about Rebecca with him, and wouldn’t have minded if he died a widower. It’s not like he needed someone to spend his money for him, right? But then it is said that the pervious year he was close to break-down, and now that he’s married he looks much healthier – perhaps he married her to simply take his mind off of the past quite more than he was able to by himself? It baffles me that the narrator is objective enough to realize that he treats her in the same manor as the dog, Jasper; something to consider almost absent-mindedly, who at times it is inconvenient to be around, and at best can only offer a sense of companionship, nothing like equality or could possibly have something to teach him. It made me sad to read.

And then…

Everything changed in that one paragraph, didn’t it? I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that had such a twist before (Except perhaps the last page of Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult). Maxim turned out to be both much more sinister, more passionate, and more respectable all with one little word. I can understand people comparing him to Edward Fairfax de Rochester, and yet, it doesn’t fit with me. Rochester was more compassionate – less impulsive – more manipulative. But both he and Maxim de Winter are driven by the same mistake: marrying the wrong woman, and it leads them both to do dangerous and disastrous things. I am kind of repulsed by Maxim though, as much as I want to like him. How he had to lie and deceive for those ten months, to everyone around him. He went the opposite route, because of circumstances of course, Rochester had gone to his wife’s land, and Rebecca had gone to de Winter’s; it’s not as if he could have just fled his ancestor’s property that he had loved…

I literally gasped at the end of chapter 19 – the revelation frankly shocked me, and yet, as the narrator was, I was relieved.

Ah, the feeling you have after reading a good book. I haven’t compulsively read anything like that since Jane Eyre, and technically that was an audiobook. Good choice, my love.

See ya next time,
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Jane Eyre VS Rebecca – A Comparative Review

Today is the day, after reading two excellent books, that I bend my brain comparing the two to see what sort of connections I can draw between them. I should be honest and say that I haven’t read or heard really anything comparing the two, except simply that they often are. I’ve never done something like this, really, so I’m not sure where I’ll end up by the end of this…but hopefully for those of you who’ve read them both will find this interesting, and perhaps have some further insight on some points.

Jane Eyre VS Rebecca

Published 91 years apart, both are told through the eyes of a young and inexperienced woman in the first person. Although both novels are both technically ‘Gothic’, Rebecca had a much darker tone throughout. Because of the bleak opening describing an abandoned and desolate mansion, the tone was bleak straight away. Although many of the first events should have been happy, exciting moments, they were overshadowed by a future gloom. In Jane Eyre there is no such foreshadowing; we start in her childhood and only later find out she’s telling the story after the fact. Although Jane is faced with much cruelty and hardship in her young years, it is nothing compared to the looming shadow over the beginning of Rebecca.

To me, there are more differences than similarities between these two novels – the only major similarities I noticed on my first reading of Rebecca, is between Rochester and Maxim de Winter:

1) They both married the wrong woman first.

2) They both own glorious estates which they cherish, and then lose.

Rochester and de Winter have very different circumstances in their young adulthood::
Both are filthy rich; Rochester has to marry in order to maintain his status, because he has an older brother who inherits all the family fortune. His father finds a suitable woman for him to marry in the West Indies, and Rochester is sent off straight away. Wooed mostly by the woman’s family, not getting much alone time with the wife-to-be, he hastily proposes and the consequences soon become apparent.

de Winter is an only son in his family, and always knew he would inherit the family fortune and estate, and is only expected to marry a woman of high stature, is not in need of the match. Rebecca is incredibly popular and well loved by all who she meets, but after Maxim marries her, she shows him her true sinister qualities, and he is instantly and forever horrified by his mistake.

Edward was betrayed by his own family to marry someone they knew was insane, while Maxim came to Rebecca on his own with the support of his family, throughout his lifetime. With these things in mind, it is easy to see how the men end up when met by their new love interests; Rochester incredibly moody and grim when he meets Jane, and de Winter distracted and seemingly indifferent when he meets the unnamed narrator.

Jane and Rebecca’s narrator are also differ greatly::
Jane knows her own mind, she discovered her spirit when she was 10 years old, and never lost the confidence it gave her. Though she knew her place in the world and acted accordingly, she never let anyone push her around, nor anyone she loved.

Rebecca’s narrator had no backbone whatsoever. She, also coming from very bleak prospects, she has no self-confidence whatsoever, and is constantly pushed around and bullied by those around her.

The courtships themselves are vastly different as well::
When Rochester returns home, he finds that Jane is now a resident in his household, as the tutor to the child who has become his responsibility, Adele. Their relationship starts out conventionally, as a master and governess should be aquatinted, and then it grows in their hearts, slowly and torturously until neither one can deny it from themselves any longer. Although Rochester is a very confident fellow, he plays love games with his dear Jane, testing her admiration and quite how far she will go for his love without outright declaring it (as she could never do). As no one knows Rochester is married (besides perhaps a select few in his own house), there is nothing, memory or guilty conscience, to plague her mind – although if it was widely known that he was married and his wife yet alive, I’m sure Jane would not have fallen in love with him, at least not to the full extent she ends up doing. As in Rebecca, the proposal happens much earlier in the book as you might expect, although Jane Eyre is not quite as early as Rebecca. The proposal also doesn’t go quite as you’d expect – on Rochester’s part, he is entirely romantic – swoon worthy, really – and yet Jane can’t get out of her mind the other woman he tricked her into thinking he would marry. Some of my favorite lines in the book come from that scene :-)

The narrator and Maxim de Winter’s courtship wasn’t much of one, in my opinion. Basically they meet by chance because of the manipulation of the narrator’s employer for her own benefit. It is awkward then, as it was awkward on nearly every car ride we’re able to ‘see’ in the pages, and the proposal comes only because the shortness of time makes it necessary. Honestly I thought he did more to save the girl from an undesirable fate, as she would have had if she’d stayed with her employer, and it isn’t until nearly the end of the book that we find out that he really did love her. He makes almost no sign of it whatsoever – he is distracted and a little bit rude for most of the book, and although that is explained later on, it still doesn’t fully make up for it in my opinion. The innocence of the narrator alone would have let her love him despite himself.

Antagonists::
While Jane Eyre has several antagonists, non are quite so terrible as Mrs. Danvers, who is an absolutely wicked and haunting character in Rebecca. Jane Eyre faced a lot of hardships and social blockades (Mr. Brocklehurst, Aunt Reed, Blanch Ingram), but the narrator in Rebecca had someone who was really out to get her in revenge of her former mistress in Mrs. Danvers. Really, that book is quite dramatic – a perfect spooky read for October.

I absolutely loved both novels in different ways, and continue recommending them to everyone in sight, and although they’re not very similar at all, they’re both worth their weight in gold. If you’ve not read either or neither, then I suggest you get reading ;-)

Emma