Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Quick Quotes: The Crystal Cave

Arthurian Mary Stewart Merlin
"But there's nothing in this world that I'm not ready to see and learn, and no god that I'm not ready to approach in his own fashion. I told you that truth was the shadow of God. If I am to use it, I must know who He is. Do you understand me?"

"How could I? What god are you talking about?"

"I think there is only one. Oh, there are gods everywhere, in the hollow hills, in the wind and the sea, in the very grass we walk on and the air we breathe, and in the bloodstained shadows where men like Belasius wait for them. But I believe there must be one who is God Himself, like the great sea, and all the rest of us, small gods and men and all, like rivers, we all come to Him in the end."

Merlin, to his servant Cadal
in The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart

Monday, September 15, 2014

Suspense with Style: Four by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting (Morrow, 1959)

Mary Stewart, The Ivy Tree (Morrow, 1962)

Mary Stewart, The Moon-Spinners (Morrow, 1963)

Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic (Morrow, 1964) 

Mary Stewart romantic suspense
It's always a great pleasure to discover an author whose books have somehow passed you by, especially if there are plenty of them. Such is the case with Mary Stewart, whose romantic suspense novels just never swam into my ken until now.

Fortunately, good books never go out of date. This summer I read four Stewarts in quick succession and found them effortlessly readable yet refreshingly literate. With exotic settings, independent heroines, and tricky plots, they make perfect vacation reading. And in honor of Mary Stewart Reading Week, hosted by Gudrun's Tights, here are some thoughts that I hope will interest those who haven't yet discovered this wonderful author, as well as those who know and love her.

Each of these four books starts with a young woman, usually alone, making a journey to some beautiful, rather remote spot (Corfu, Northumberland, Alpine France, Crete) where she expects to settle into a holiday or a new job. She then finds that there is something unsavory going on (smuggling, treason, identity theft, attempted murder, kidnapping) and becomes involved in trying to defeat the villain(s). Serious dangers to life and limb ensue, as she tries to rescue the victim/find the treasure/puzzle out the crime, but naturally she comes through in the end, with a new love interest with whom she has made a connection in the midst of all the mayhem.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two from the Trail: A Walk in the Woods and Wild

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Broadway Books, 1998)


Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf, 2012)

At about the same time in the mid-nineties, two very different people -- a successful, 44-year-old author and family man, and a 26-year-old aspiring writer "with a hole in her heart" -- decided to take a hike: a long hike, using two of the longest footpaths in the country. Through their accounts, published almost 15 years apart, we learn about the transformative power of simply taking a walk. By relinquishing the possessions that usually weigh us down, we have an chance to experience nature and ourselves without intermediaries. Even in our tech-obsessed culture, this is clearly a topic that fascinates us -- both books were bestsellers and are currently being made into Hollywood movies. What's the draw?

Bryson is well known as a humorist, and A Walk in the Woods is most often remembered and recommended as a funny book. There are indeed many hilarious moments, often involving his not-exactly-fit friend Stephen Katz. Katz is not perhaps the person one would choose to take along on such an adventure, being prone to throwing away important items from his pack to lighten it, getting lost, and being completely dismissive of the serious danger of bear trouble, but as he bumbles along he becomes dear to us. In his struggle to throw off an addiction, he reminds us that small acts of bravery can be meaningful, and that sometimes facing our demons means just putting one foot in front of the other. Since these are two middle-aged men traveling together, this emotional subtext is not overtly displayed, and never becomes annoyingly maudlin, but it adds poignancy and purpose to the book. (Bryson dedicated it "To Katz, of course.")

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Library Loot: September 10

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire of The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share books they've checked out from the library. 

If you'd like to participate, check out those blogs on Wednesdays to link up your post.

Here's what I picked up this week:

 My Brother Michael, Airs Above the Ground, and The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart, all for Mary Stewart Reading Week. Will I devour them all during the week? It's very possible!

Last Friends by Jane Gardam. I re-read Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat in the summer, but I ran out of time for the third in the trilogy before I went off on a hiking trip. Now I've checked it out again and am hopeful I'll make it through this time.

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell, the only one of the Barsetshire novels my library seems to have. I hear it's a good one.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, a book I've been meaning to read forever and that I put on my Classics Club list so I might finally get around to it.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. This has been getting great reviews and I love literary memoirs.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Witch Week 2014: A Week of Magical Reading

Calling all fantasy lovers! I'm excited to announce that from October 31 to November 6 I'll be hosting Witch Week, a chance to read and discuss our favorite books and authors, and discover some that may be new to us.

This year the focus will be on the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones, author of so many fantastic books and (as far as I know) the originator of the term "Witch Week." As we learn from her novel of that name, starting on Halloween we enter a special time "when there is so much magic about in the world that all sorts of peculiar things happen," and when stories carry a particular power. What better time to celebrate and share the magic of reading?

Our "official" read-along book will be Witch Week (naturally), with a discussion on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5. Don't know what Guy Fawkes Day is? Read the book, and you'll find out!

On other days there will be a post focusing on a particular book, chosen from among my personal favorites but also representing the range and variety of this remarkably versatile author's work. These particular books share a running theme of the power of words, language, and story, which seems quite appropriate. You might want to read one or more of my choices and join the conversation in the comments, but please feel free to read and discuss whatever you wish. There will be an opportunity for bloggers to link up their own posts for further interaction.

Some wonderful bloggers will be contributing guest posts, and I'll also be hosting a giveaway during the week. If you would like to host a giveaway on your own blog, please let me know.
Projected schedule of the week:
Preview: October 30 - Master post with link-up and giveaway
Day 1, October 31 - Fire and Hemlock
Day 2, November 1 - Power of Three
Day 3, November 2 - Howl's Moving Castle
Day 4, November 3 - The Spellcoats
Day 5, November 4 - Deep Secret
Day 6, November 5 - Witch Week (Readalong)
Day 7, November 6 - Honorable mentions and wrap-up
To sign up, just leave a comment on this post indicating what you'd like to do during the week -- whether there are any particular books you want to read or reread, or you just want to follow along and see what happens. Of course, you don't have to sign up here to enjoy the event, but you can earn extra points in the giveaway by making yourself official.

Otherwise, you can grab the button above and proudly display it -- please link back to this post -- while waiting for the fun to begin. Whether you are a longtime DWJ fan or a new reader, I do hope you'll join us.

A Google Doodle that appeared on Diana's 80th birthday this year

Linked in

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Austen in August Wrap-up

Coming from Abbeville: Austen's notebooks
Well, my blog "vacation" ended up being pretty busy. Participating in Austen in August hosted by Lost Generation Reader kept me quite occupied with reading and writing about Austen-related books, and reading other people's posts. You can see the summary of my own posts here, and here are some others that I especially enjoyed:
I was honored to be able to contribute a guest post on Illustrating Jane Austen. The other guest posts  were excellent:
I even won one of the giveaways, and I never win! So I'm sure I'll be back next year for this very enjoyable event. I'll just have to plan my vacation for another time.

This Friday, I'll be back to my regular schedule of posting once a week (plus additional random times), with an exciting announcement! I hope you'll join me to find out what's in store this fall.

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