Category Archives: Favorite authors

Most Secret

I am such a Nevil Shute fan! He was a wonderful storyteller/writer, and his books always completely immerse me in another life and time. Most Secret is the 17th book I’ve read by him. I’m slowing working my way through all his works, and it’s a fun project. And since today is his birthday, I celebrate him by sharing this review with you.  But to start, I’ve copied this short biography for you from the Powell’s Books website:

NEVIL SHUTE NORWAY was born on January 17, 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on January 12, 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

Most Secret, from the publisher:

In their trusty fishing boat, Genevieve, armed with only a flame thrower and limited ammunition, a small group of officers and men take a stand against the might of the German army after the fall of France in World War II.

What armament would you propose to give her for the job?” He said: “A flame-thrower—one of the big ones. A flame-thrower and a few Tommy-guns.”

…I paused before replying, wondering how to put it when I saw him. I had to tell my admiral that the Army had proposed a naval expedition, to be commanded by a pseudo-Army officer of curious past history, sailing in a fishing-boat manned principally by foreigners, armed with an unconventional and utterly disgusting weapon, with the object of stiffening morale over on the other side. It was certainly an unusual proposal.

The Germans had used flame throwers during the war, but the British had never used them. The men of this ragtag crew, each with his own backstory which led him to this historic mission, all had reasons to embrace this unusual idea of a young man who desperately wanted to make a difference in the war effort. As usual, Nevil Shute took his time telling this story, carefully building the backgrounds of each character so that we would understand them well at that significant moment in history. It’s a story that shows what a difference one person, or each person, can make in any given circumstance, especially during war. I found it fascinating!

The Enchanted April

 

The Enchanted April, by Elizaberth von Arnim, is my first book read in 2021. It was a reread of a book I love, so it was a comforting and enjoyable way to start this new reading year. It is a lovely book to read in the dead of winter. It is so full of color and the warmth of the sun. In a time of continuing quarantine, it’s revives the spirit and quenches the thirst for travel to warmer climes.

Synopsis from the publisher:

A discreet advertisement in The Times, addressed to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine,” is the prelude to a revelatory month for four very different women. High above a bay on the Italian Riviera stands the medieval castle San Salvatore. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs. Arbuthnot, Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the gentle spirit of the Mediterranean, they gradually shed their public skins, discovering a harmony each of them has longed for but none has ever known. First published in 1922, this captivating novel is imbued with the descriptive power and lighthearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnim is renowned.

Favorite descriptions from the book:

“All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in color, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose-colors of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.

She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light.”

“All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wistaria. Wistaria and sunshine . . . she remembered the advertisement. Here indeed were both in profusion. The wistaria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. The ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea, each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on trellises, and fig-trees, and peach-trees, and cherry-trees.

The story is not all sunshine and light, however. The four women brought together by that wonderful advertisement, have complicated lives, marriages, relationships. We get to know each of their stories very well. It’s quite fascinating to see the profound effect such a month away from their usual lives has on each of them.

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

Kindred

I actually read Kindred, by Octavia Butler, last year, but did not review it when I finished it because there was so much from the story to process and absorb. What I’ve discovered in the months that have passed since I finished it, is that it was a powerfully haunting experience to read it. I’ve thought a lot about it and don’t know when a book has stuck with me, haunted me, quite like this one. It was a powerful reading experience because Octavia Butler, being such a gifted writer/storyteller, makes you feel as if you are right there with her main character, Dana, throughout all her experiences, in the past and in the present. Those experiences were profoundly life-changing. Experiencing firsthand the life of her enslaved ancestors, being catapulted back and forth to the time of her ancestors and then back to her life in present times brought an incredible depth to Dana’s understanding of her own life experience. And it had a powerful impact on those of us who traveled with her. It is definitely a book I would highly recommend, although it is not an easy story. And for anyone wanting to gain more understanding of the black experience in this country, this is a creative and fascinating book to read.

from the publisher:

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Author Octavia E. Butler skillfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Maryland.

The Solitary Summer

“In the Garden”, by Helen Allingham (British, 1848-1926)

The Solitary Summer, by Elizabeth von Arnim is a short and lovely summer read. It is a sequel to her famous book, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, which I read years ago and loved. Click here to read my review. Elizabeth’s idea for her solitary summer is described in the quote below from the book:

May 2nd.

Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I’ll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me. Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace.”

She did indeed have her solitary summer, even though husband and family were there at home with her. But she spent her days outdoors in the gardens and reading, and she had the freedom she so desired. Her ruminations on the books she read, and the flowers and plants she loves, are life-affirming. Her descriptions are lovely, and I felt as though I was there with her savoring that magical summer. All the way through the book I kept thinking of the saying: “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.”  And she said it even more eloquently in the book:

What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.

 

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, WANDERLUST: Reading the World,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the countries of the world. This book took place in Germany.

 

…painting by Sally Rosenbaum

 

This book is also part of My Garden Reading.

 

 

Classics Club Spin #23: Excellent Women

I read Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym, many years ago. It was the first book I read by her and I remember liking it very much. Since then, I have read many of her other books, but it had been so long since I read this one that I decided to include it on my list of 50 books to read in 5 years for The Classics Club. Last month, it came up as my “Classics Club Spin” book for May. I’m glad I reread it, and I’m happy to spend time reading anything written by Barbara Pym.

Excellent Women” is a term referring to unmarried women who are considered spinsters. In this story, which takes place in the 1950s, the main character, Mildred Lathbury, is just over 30, and well established in the community as a spinster. As the daughter of a clergyman, she devotes much of her time to helping at her church, and just helping people in general. She is capable and independent, and quite satisfied with her life as a single person. But new neighbors, a married couple, complicate her predictable daily existence, and she gets drawn in to the drama of their lives. She is good friends with the pastor of her church and his sister, (who has always taken good care of him), but when he gets engaged to the widow of another clergyman, that further complicates Mildred’s ordered life.

Throughout this story, I felt that Mildred was the only “adult in the room.” Everyone else was needy in one way or another, or selfish and unable to really care about others. I felt sorry for Mildred because of the demands placed on her, and when others took advantage of her I wanted her to stand up to them and just say “No.”  It took her quite awhile to be able to do that, but she weathers all the demands and drama, and in the end appreciates her single life, her solitude, and her independence even more than before.

I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business, and if she is also a clergyman’s daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.

There is always a lot of subtle humor in Barbara Pym’s novels, which is very entertaining. I liked the main character, Mildred Lathbury, more and more as the book progressed and appreciated her intelligence and her insightfulness into the humans around her. This was a novel well worth re-reading.

 

Excellent Women was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Kim Stafford: Poems for the Pandemic

Kim Stafford is the Poet Laureate of Oregon. He’s a wonderful poet, as was his father, William Stafford. He’s been publishing on InstaGram a series of poems during this pandemic and time of quarantine, and I’ve looked forward to reading each one.

Here is his poem that greeted me this morning. He introduces it by saying, “In the web of our connections now, there are no random strangers. All become kin in our mutual concern.

His work is another one of the beautifully creative endeavors that are helping us get through this crazy time with compassion and understanding.

CLICK HERE to visit his project POEMS FOR THE PANDEMIC at The Oregonian online site.

CLICK HERE to visit his own website.

CLICK HERE to visit his InstaGram page.