the miracle at speedy motors

Title :: The Miracle at Speedy Motors
Author :: Alexander McCall Smith
Completed :: Apr 17 2008
Challenges :: The Pub
Rating :: 4/5

Fat lady: you watch out! And you too, the one with the big glasses. You watch out too!

The calm morning which had begun with an obligatory cup of bush tea is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a threat and all Mme. Matsuki wants to know is how she should file it. Who's threatening the ladies of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency? They couldn't possibly be written by someone in house... could they? This and other mysteries keep Mme. Ramotswe busy but not quite busy enough to distract her from fretting over life's other little worries.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is blinded by the hope of a miracle for his adopted daughter, a miracle that a doctor has said is perhaps possible if he journeys to Johannesburg to see a team of specialists. Mme. Ramotswe is doubtful but hates to steal Mr. Matekoni's miracle especially when she realizes that it is so important to him that he has agreed with the bank to mortgage his garage in order to receive a loan. She steps in however, and secretly provides the money with the sale of her father's precious cattle.

Mme. Matsuki is busy herself dealing with pre-marital grief when the bed she and her fiance picked out is destroyed during a much needed rainfall. (Thank goodness too because a red velvet heart-shaped headboard sounded hideous!)

Once again Smith provides his readers with a novel about the simple things in life. This particular sequel in the series is a bit more laid back, it is less about action and more about enjoying life and being thankful. Everything in the end will be right as rain, Mme. Ramotswe realizes that the biggest miracles in life are often those that are quite small.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . with me tonight . the used . lies for the liars .


posted by Ashleigh @ 21:24, ,

the uncommon reader

Title :: The Uncommon Reader
Author :: Alan Bennett
Completed :: Apr 16 2008
Challenges :: Novella
Rating :: 5/5

Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

If you haven't read this book yet... what are you waiting for? Especially since it will only take you an hour or so to complete. It is deliciously delightful! If Her Majesty were to read a book, what would she read? Does she have time to read?
She'd never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn't have hobbies.
Bennett's novel introduces the Queen to a travelling library parked outside the gates of Buckingham Palace via her pesky barking dogs. In order to be polite the Queen feels that she must check out a book, and does so by selecting a book by Ivy Compton-Burnett that was last checked out in 1989. During the following week she gives the book a gander finding it slightly dull. She uses it as an excuse to skip out on a meeting because the book must be returned. Intending only to hand the book over and be on her way she walks away with Nancy Mitford's novel The Pursuit of Love (so totally bizarre since I myself had just checked this book out the week before this one). She immediately becomes enraptured by Mitford's novel (as I hope I will):
The truth was she didn't really want a book at all and certainly not another Ivy Compton-Burnett, which was too hard going altogether. So it was lucky that this time her eye happened to fall on a reissued volume of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. She picked it up. 'Now. Didn't her sister marry the Mosley man?"

'Then of course there was the rather sad sister who had the fling with Hitler. And one became a Communist. And I think there was another besides. But this is Nancy?"

The Pursuit of Love turned out to be a fortunate choice and in its way a momentous one. Had Her Majesty gone for another duff read, an early George Eliot, say, or a late Henry James, novice reader that she was she might have been put off reading for good and there would be no story to tell. Books, she would have thought, were work.
Having finished the Nancy Mitford sequel, Love in a Cold Climate, the Queen was delighted to see she had written others, and though some of them seemed to be history she put them on her (newly started) reading list, which she kept in her desk.
While her passion for books grows her queenly duties fall to the wayside. What is to become of her public? What does that matter when the Queen feels obligated to catch up with all the good reading she's missed?
'I think of literature', she wrote, 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.'
Books begin to follow her everywhere, she lives and breathes the written word and even hires an "amanuensis" (one who writes from dictation, copies manuscripts, a literary assistant) - I need me one of these! I think the Queen would seriously be interested in perusing and then tackling the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

When she finally had to give in and pay some attention to her public she looked for any chance she could to discuss literature. And it would appear Her Majesty is none too fond of the likes of Harry Potter...
... one of her subjects confessed to a fondness of Virgina Woolf or Dickens, both of which provoked a lively (and lengthy) discussion. There were many who hoped for a similar meeting of minds by saying they were reading Harry Potter, but to this the Queen (who had no time for fantasy) invariably said briskly, 'Yes. One is saving that for a rainy day,' and passed swiftly on.
I really enjoyed this little gem of a book and will definitely be adding it to my collection if and when I ever have a semi-permanent residence. Just a few last quotes that I could really sympathize with:
What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

Can there be any greater pleasure than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?

At it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed.

Other Thoughts ::
: 1 more chapter
: a striped armchair
: books please
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . disconnected (out of touch) . trapt . someone in control .


posted by Ashleigh @ 21:00, ,

the outsider

Title :: The Outsider
Author :: Albert Camus
Completed :: Apr 15 2008
Challenges :: 1001 Books
Rating :: 3/5

When a man commits a crime and is subsequently put on trial should his emotions, or rather his lack of emotions, in a previous unrelated incident - that of his mother's death take precedence in the eyes of those who judge him? Is Meursault truly an outsider, a stranger to society and the norms of human emotion?

Camus' tale begins with the death of Meursault's mother in a nursing home. He asks for time off from work but only just a day as that is all that is necessary to make the trip down to the nursing home and back. No extra time is requested for Meursault to grieve. During the overnight vigil he appears untouched while the rest of the residents gather to grieve, some crying openly.
It was at that point that I realized they were all sitting opposite me round the caretaker, nodding their heads. For a moment I had the ridiculous impression that they were there to judge me.
And perhaps they were, it is Meursault's lack of emotion in this scene that will come back to haunt him. It is also a reflection of what is to come when he will later be seated in court opposite judge and jury.

Since his day off fell on a Friday Meursault did have the weekend to recover only he spent it out and about, even flirting and later making love to a woman the very next day. It is in this relationship that the reader gets tiny hints that Meursault may have some feelings towards others. It is obvious that he's attracted to her, it is obvious that he likes making love to her, he even considers marrying her. But then one must consider whether or not these are merely physical satisfactions vs. an actual emotional investment. Meursault doesn't appear to be too bothered by her while he's in jail. I do however, have to wonder what it was that caused him to commit his crime. The internal dialogue leading up to the criminal act did seem to reflect some sort of emotional quandary. And perhaps this comes to a head at the very end when the chaplain is trying to get him to turn to God. He is annoyed and enraged by this and doesn't understand why indifference is an issue, but suddenly he realizes that the world is indifferent and he embraces that in his last thoughts.
As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . sooner or later . breaking benjamin . we are not alone .


posted by Ashleigh @ 20:34, ,

i'm a geek...

... a Weekly Geek! Instead of another book challenge, this is a blog challenge! Every week a new theme will be concocted, such as "redecorate your blog" or "organize your challenges" or "catch up on your library books". Although Weekly Geeks is centered around biblio-blogs, anyone can join in. And as an added bonus you don't have to participate every week only when you feel like it. To learn more and/or to sign up go here.

This week's challenge: meet your fellow Weekly Geeks by visiting the blogs of at least 5 members and leave a comment. These should be blogs you've never really visited before. These are the blogs I visited:

: everyday reads : Love the orange theme of the blog and absolutely love the fish graphic used in the heading!
: Karen's Book Nook : She's currently reading Wicked by Gregory Maguire after having seen the musical. I read the book when it first came out and really enjoyed it. I've been wanting to see the musical since it first debuted (I even know all the songs by heart). Hopefully if I can make it down to London before we leave for Rhodes I'll finally be able to see it!
: So Many Books, So Little Time : A fellow book challenge-aholic! Will definitely be checking out their book reviews!
: Table Talk : I liked their post on changing the endings of books. I learned that Jeanette Winterson's mother used to change the ending of Jane Eyre when she read it aloud because she didn't like the original. I suggested that they should read Winterson's Sexing the Cherry where she includes an alternate ending for the tale of the 12 Dancing Princesses.
: That's the Book! : They're reading The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers - I loved that book! It's definitely on my list to reread.

Woo! I finished Les Misérables late last night! It was... epic. I have to say it really pulled my emotions back and forth. I'm so glad I decided to join Danielle in reading it. Proper review coming soon, to be posted here and on the Into the Parisian Underworld read-along blog. It's not too late to join, there's no deadline for reading the book, we only ask that if you join you agree to read the unabridged version. Now what massive book should I read next? I've been eyeballing Samuel Richardson's Clarissa in the library... but that will have to wait until I get back from my trip.

Well I'm off to tuck into Forster's A Room With a View. Ciao!

. listening . little star . stina nordenstam . romeo + juliet .

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posted by Ashleigh @ 13:16, ,

paper faces on parade

Masquerade Queen
Masquerade Queen

Well the Masquerade Ball was a blast! Everyone looked fantastic, the majority of the outfits were red and black, mine included. The party was held on a private floor at a swank little club called Modo. Foo foo cocktails were served 2 for 1 at the bar, yay I love cocktails! There wasn't a lot of dancing, mostly lounging in dark corners under the red lights chatting about this and that, then swirling across the floor to chat with someone else. A lot of picture taking! We're all obsessed with collecting photos for facebook, got to snap the best profile pic. There was dancing however in the fabulous co-ed loo! And would you believe it? I was crowned Masquerade Queen! Some girls get their crowns later in life. I was also presented with a pretty bouquet of pink carnations - sweet! my favorite flower!

Phantom Anna & Tanya's Masquerade Ball Happy Birthday Anna & Tanya Black & Red Waiting for a Taxi

So this weekend's book plans are to finish Les Misérables, perhaps The Lonely Londoners and start Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. I've got quite a bit of proofreading to do as well. I volunteered to look over and correct a fellow scholar's dissertation, it's taking a bit longer than I expected and it's got to be done by the 10th of May. Thankfully I'm getting paid!

Wow! Last night's Lost was fantastic! I just love that show so very much!

. listening . heroine . from first to last . heroine .

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posted by Ashleigh @ 12:47, ,

lost in 4:24

For all you Lost fans there's a great clip called Everything About Lost in 4:24 on the show's website. Get it - 4:24 - show returns 4/24! It's fab! So excited, can't wait! Luckily that 5 week hiatus went by pretty quickly.

. listening . fragile heart . jewel . 0304


posted by Ashleigh @ 20:36, ,

a literary conversation

Today two friends and I met up with an old friend visiting from London who we haven't seen since we did the MA together a few years ago, so it was like a mini reunion. Anyway once we got through the 'what have you been up to' and caught up on gossip our conversation turned to books. For the first time I felt like I could hold my ground after having recently read so many of the great classics. I could spout titles, authors, characters and plots. It felt great and oh so intellectual! I've always been an avid reader but it wasn't until I made the decision to redefine my reading and strike out from my comfort zone that I felt I could take part in conversations about the great cornerstones of literature. And to top it off it was another bright and sunny day! Big smile here!

Happy St. George's Day!

. listening . all the king's horses . joss stone . soul sessions .


posted by Ashleigh @ 17:58, ,

what to read on an island

Finally a beautiful spring day here in Liverpool! Bright sunshine and we broke 63F/17C! I even wore my flip flops out to the post office. I hope tomorrow is a repeat, and the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and you get the idea.

Popped into Waterstones today to get my dad a birthday card and I mulled over all the new books. A few caught my eye (well more than a few) but I scribbled these titles down and as luck would have it they are available at the library!

: Sea of Poppies . Amitav Ghosh
: The Enchantress of Florence . Salman Rushdie
: Shadowmarch . Tad Williams (will probably use this to substitue one of the other OUT2 books I haven't been able to locate) and its sequel Shadowplay
: Un Lun Dun . China Miéville (another possible substitute for OUT2)

I've been in discussions lately with one of my fellow Rhodes travellers about what books we're going to pack. The idea is to bring a few each so we can swap. So far he's decided to bring Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I've decided to bring Robinson Crusoe (perfect reading for an island, no?), possibly Mansfield Park and a couple unknowns that I'll choose from the library. Ah, Miss Pettigrew... may possibly be joining us as I may very well pick her up in London before we take off. It would appear thus far from our selections that we'll be lounging on the beach desperately trying to finish books that we must read before we die... Any other ideas for island reads?

. listening . she's a rebel . green day . american idiot .


posted by Ashleigh @ 23:03, ,

the plot against america

Title :: The Plot Against America
Author :: Philip Roth
Completed :: Apr 11 2008
Challenges :: 888 : 1001 Books
Rating :: 3/5

In The Plot Against America Roth creates an alternative history to 1940s America. In the 1940 election American favorite Franklin Roosevelt is beat out by aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh. Roth portrays the disappointment and fear of American Jews at Lindbergh's inauguration and the effects his fictional presidency have on American attitudes towards the Jewish population. Although none of the actions in the book can be compared with how the Jewish were treated in Europe, Roth does create a slow penetrating hate. He also hints at America's path towards Jewish concentration camps, used not to murder them but to break them up from the concentrated neighborhoods they lived in, as if perhaps something more sinister was in store for them in the future.

Historically Lindbergh appears to have been an isolationist and believed that the United States had no business involving itself in World War II. Many thought him to be a Nazi sympathizer because of his scientific expeditions to Germany. In a speech titled Who are the War Agitators? given on September 11 1941 at an America First rally, Lindbergh states:
I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.
Although Lindbergh would say that "no person with a sense of dignity of mankind can condone such treatment" when referring to how the Jewish population were being treated in Europe he also in that same speech provided a hint at his true feelings when he said, "Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government." A statement such as that may lead to the conclusion that Lindbergh feared the power Jewish Americans had and that he was perhaps uncomfortable with it.

Roth uses these speeches in his fictional tale, he also curiously uses himself and his family as the central characters of his book. This gives the reader the feeling that they're actually reading Roth's autobiography and how his Jewish family dealt with America's plunge into isolation. I was unimpressed however, with the way the book ended. I was left with the feeling that the author grew bored and decided to quickly finish so he could move on to something else. A lot of the book as well moves at a fairly slow pace. The plot had real potential if only the pace had been sped up a bit and the conclusion was a bit more well-rounded.

Other Thoughts ::
: puss reboots
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . wake up . alanis morrissette . jagged little pill .


posted by Ashleigh @ 13:58, ,


Title :: Saturday
Author :: Ian McEwan
Completed :: Apr 09 2008
Challenges :: 888 : 1001 Books
Rating :: 3/5

Please don't let it happen again. But let me see it all the same, as it's happening and from every angle, and let me be among the first to know.

In a London on the brink of joining the US in a war against terror, Henry Perowne wakes early on a Saturday. Unable to get back to sleep he stands at his window and looks out over a still dark London. In the distant sky he can see a plane coming in, as it grows closer Perowne can see that something is wrong with the plane, one of its engines is on fire and his immediate thought is that terrorists are in action. At a loss as to what to do Perowne continues to watch the plane as it descends towards Heathrow. The sight of the plane will haunt the rest of his day as he goes through it desperate to catch news of it on either radio or TV.

But Perowne has plans for his Saturday, make love to his wife before she goes off to prepare for an upcoming court case, hit the gym and play squash with a fellow neurosurgeon, visit the fishmonger to collect various goods from the sea in order to prepare dinner for his daughter an father in-law who are both visiting from France. The landscape of London is troubled however, a massive rally is scheduled to take place in the streets as protesters gather to voice their opinion about Iraq. Navigating through the streets on his way to the gym, Perowne is suddenly involved in a minor car accident. Little damage is done to either car, Perowne is fine, the passengers in the other vehicle are fine, but what about the other driver? He appears to be fine but is he?

Perowne's encounter with Baxter is on the cusp of becoming violent when Perowne suddenly recognizes symptoms of an oncoming disease in Baxter. He is able to use his knowledge to get him out one tight situation but will it save him later when Baxter pays a visit to the Perowne household?

McEwan draws a wordy yet thoughtful portrayal of one man's thought processes throughout an entire day. I didn't like his choice of narration at first but as the novel moved forward I couldn't imagine it any other way. Perowne's thoughts give the reader a mixture of simple pleasures and the conundrum of facing the state of the world today. I liked the bit with Perowne's daughter, Daisy trying to get her father to read more. She feels that he spent so much time going through medical school that he never had the opportunity to read the classics. During the story he is trying to work his way through Lord Jim and Darwin's Origin of the Species.
Though he's been diligent over the years and tries to read almost everything she puts his way, he knows she thinks he's a coarse, unredeemable materialist. She thinks he lacks an imagination. Perhaps it's so, but she hasn't quite given up on him yet. The books are piled at his bedside, and she'll be arriving with more tonight.
Made me think of all the books I've tried to push on my mom. My mom's a reader too, but we both have very different reading tastes and only agree on the occasional book. She surprised me the other day when she said she picked up a copy of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities - perhaps after having read my review. I was tickled pink, I hope she finishes it though I know she's put it down for awhile.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . perfect lie . sheryl crow . wildflower .


posted by Ashleigh @ 12:56, ,

monday blehs, inspiring craftiness and new books

*warning - a bit of a whine, scroll down till you see 'Wow!' to read the fun bit*

It's just been one of those Mondays... productivity was at an all-time low, the intention was there but I was seriously lacking the ooomph. Maybe it's because I felt my weekend was stolen from me, it went by way too fast. But really I haven't wanted to do anything work-wise for a long time. I poke at my books, flip through the pages, jot a note here or there but really I'm just a lazy ass - major sloth action going on up in here! I've decided to check out of Liverpool at the end of July (what a great time of year to return to Phoenix...), which makes me realize that I have about 14 weeks left, deduct 4 weeks for London/Rhodes action and that leaves me with very little time to get stuff done. But what is it that I'm meant to be doing? I don't even know anymore!! I'm so confused!!

The only thing I do know is that I've been spending probably way too much time between the sheets (of books that is!). But I can't help it, I love reading (fiction), I have an obsessive nature and right now reading is the only thing I feel I'm good at.

I need inspiration and this certainly is not the environment for that. I just feel like I'm in a cesspool of disappointment and false hope. Why couldn't I make it work here? I know I said I didn't believe it before but I lied, I do feel like I failed. I shouldn't feel that way though because it isn't really the truth, it just feels that way. Arizona is going to be a much better situation (inshallah!). I guess I'm just jealous of everyone who's able to continue on their merry little way and produce fabulous work.

It's too bad we're not working in Egypt this summer, I sure do need to get out into the field. I love it there, and I'm happy working in the dirt, finding and learning things.

I don't think the school thing would bother me as much if everything else in my life was great, but really everything is miserable... but I won't go into that. Like my profile to the right says, I'm a dreamer always wishing to be someone else, somewhere else. I wonder if I'll ever find myself in a happy spot in a happy frame of mind...

Wow! That was depressing...

Anyway... here's some cool things I've come across recently on the web:

:: First spotted on Carl's blog, I fell in love with the talented artwork of Anne-Julie (blog : Ma Petite Théière). It's so sweet, soft and colorful and full of emotion. Definitely will be making some purchases at her shop: Anne-Julie's Garden when I've got a job. Her blog is in French (good practice for me) but if you scroll down she includes an English translation for each post.

:: Over at Du Buh Du Designs (blog) (store) you can find charming unique dolls. I want one!

:: Emily at Inside a Black Apple whips up fun little plush dolls and is also a very talented artist. I want a doll, some prints and definitely some note cards! You can buy some too at her shop: The Black Apple. She also has great style, something I wish I could achieve (yes I hate the way I dress too...). Check out her awesome duds on her fashion blog Some Girls Wander.

All this crafty goodness has given me a major itch to do some crafting myself! But that will all have to wait until I can get back to my craft boxes I left at home.

Picked up some new books at the library today (quick short reads):
: The Postman Always Rings Twice . James M. Cain
: A Room With a View . E.M. Forster
: The Thirty-Nine Steps . John Buchan
: The Lonely Londoners . Sam Selvon

Hope everyone else has/had a better Monday! I feel a bit better, think I'll grab myself a cheeseburger & chips I mean salad... forget it I'm eating the cheeseburger & chips and I'm watching Marie Antoinette, there's a masquerade ball scene and I'm so looking forward to Thursday night's ball. Cheers!

. listening . better that we break . maroon 5 . it won't be soon before long .

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posted by Ashleigh @ 18:17, ,

peeps party

Peeps Party
Peeps Party Part Two

Campbell and the PeepsA post that has nothing to do with books! In my birthday package last month my mom included a box of yellow bunny Peeps. Peeps are unheard of here, they just cannot be found so it was a funny thing that she had sent them because I had just been complaining to my friends Campbell and Gina about how much I was going to miss them this Easter. So being the generous person I am, upon their surprise arrival I decided to share them... Oh dear! Peeps took Britain by storm! They were hooked! We had a wee little tea party, smacked those bunnies on top of Nice biscuits (from Tesco 29p - score!) and popped them in the microwave. Suddenly those two were like kids all giddy over this delectable American treat. (What are Peeps?)

I just had to put in a request for more. So my dear mom sent two boxes of Peeps (the original bird) in their flashy new colors of green and purple. And Peeps Party Part Two was quickly arranged and all the birds save one were devoured yesterday. Fun times!

Shopping in LiverpoolToday we all met up to do very important mask shopping for Thursday's masquerade ball. The picture to the left was my lame attempt to catch us walking around Liverpool naturally as if we were totally used to having our photo taken. Didn't really work since Campbell's not even in the photo, I've been nearly cut out and Gina looks like she's singing a song. Guess next time we'll have to hire a professional to catch the moment. Anyway we visited Lili's Bizarre on Hardman Street and walked away with 1 rented white jacket, 3 masks, 1 fan and 1 pair of gloves. Luckily Gina had a pair of black opera gloves too big for her that I was able to borrow. I ended up getting a red, black and gold mask on a wand... not really what I was looking for (remember this is the one I wanted) but it'll do. The important thing is to have fun! I'll definitely post picks when we're all dressed up.

Hope everyone else is having a good weekend! Now I must get back to those books!

Lili Bizarre

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posted by Ashleigh @ 21:15, ,

my little book soapbox

Just a few book related things I want to get off my chest...

I'm a little disappointed in all the comments I've seen on various blogs and comments heard in person about skipping parts of books. What's the point in reading a book if you're going to skip over a section because it might be boring? Most recently I've seen lots of comments about skipping the 'Waterloo' chapters in Hugo's Les Misérables. Now I'll admit it was a tad bit boring, but that's part of the challenge of reading a book right? I mean if the reader is only interested in reading about Jean Valjean and Cosette then read the abridged version because I'm sure most of the 'boring' sections have been left out. Hugo included them in his novel because he felt they were important to the story, they give the reader the background of what's happening in France at that time. I mean I didn't know much about Waterloo other then there was a battle there involving Napoleon and Wellington. After making my way through Hugo's portrayal I felt like I understood more about the fighting styles of the French and English and how that particular battle effected the local population. Hugo casts a gritty veil over the battle instead of glorifying it. His descriptions place the reader there on the field amongst the killings and then later amongst the looters who picked over the corpses. And sure only the very last little bit makes any sort of link to the actual plot but Hugo felt it was important and therefore I feel it's important to read.

Of course I realize everyone is allowed to read in whatever way they see fit. I'm just saying I don't understand it nor do I agree with selective reading when it comes to novels.

Gender bias seems to be a theme in a number of books I've been reading recently. The First Century After Beatrice (reviewed here) embraced the argument of gender bias and looked at what might happen if female births became rare or altogether impossible. I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan which also includes quite a few passages about the importance of male births:
Sons are the foundation of a woman's self. They give woman her identity, as well as dignity, protection, and economic value. They create the link between her husband and his ancestors. This is the one accomplishment a man cannot achieve without the aid of his wife. Only she can guarantee the perpetuation of the family line, which, in turn, is the ultimate duty of every son. This is the supreme way he completes his filial duty, while sons are a woman's crowning glory.
Female births are shunned in this tale of early 1800s China. Sons were not only important to continue the family line but they guaranteed security in the home for the women who gave birth to them. While the birth of a daughter was looked down upon, a daughter was useless and worth less than a dog. I've never been able to understand this viewpoint in any society because surely it is obvious that women are necessary to give birth to these desired sons. Didn't they ever stop to think that if every woman got her wish for the birth of a son (and this isn't just a wish for one son, it is a wish that every pregnancy will bring a son) the bloodline would die out? The same sacred blood that runs in a son also runs in a daughter and when she marries out she carries that bloodline and joins it to another. Same with the son he's married to a woman of a different bloodline and the family's bloodlines are mixed.

My dad is the last male in his family and since he only had 2 daughters does this mean that the family dies? No, I have his blood, my sister has his blood and if and when we ever have children they will carry the family blood. And let's not forget that my dad's 3 sisters also carry the same blood as do their children. As for the last name, I've decided to keep mine no matter what, because it's a good one and I like it and because I don't want it to disappear with my dad, not to mention the fact that it will look great after the prefix Dr.

I'm currently reading Haggard's She and finally these characters have seen the light:
'Does the lady go with us, my father?' I asked of Billali, as he stood superintending things generally.

He shrugged his shoulders as he answered -

'If she wills. In this country the women do what they please. We worship them, and give them their way, because without them the world could not go on; they are the source of life.'

'Ah,' I said, the matter never having struck me quite in that light before.
Anyway sorry just a few bookish irks that I needed to share. Have you read anything recently that confuses you or makes you a bit angry?

. listening . consequence . incubus . make yourself .


posted by Ashleigh @ 15:41, ,

a wednesday book haul

Yay 4 more reviews completed (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Voyage Out, The First Century After Beatrice and The Female Quixote) and I picked up 4 new books today!

Two of my reserves came in. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - a fictional tale of a travelling library's weekly visits to the palace and the Queen's passion for reading. Tiny little book, should be cute! And The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, the 9th in the Ladies' Detective series. I'm looking forward to that one, I was starting to miss Mma Ramotswe and her wily adventures.

When I first arrived at the library today I was distracted by the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction display of shiny new clean books. Hadn't planned on checking anything out that wasn't on some list of mine, but I decided to give The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani a try. Also a very helpful librarian helped me locate a copy of The Princesse de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette. I've been looking for it for awhile now but couldn't figure out if it was shelved under de, la, la fayette or lafayette - it wasn't in any of those locations and yet it said it was checked in. Anyway we located a copy upstairs in the call numbers and she checked it out to me even though I was over my limit of 12 books! Score!

Lots and lots of reading planned this weekend. I have 3 books due on Monday and I'd like to get through some of the shorter ones I brought home last week. Plus have to get to pg 1200 of Les Misérables - wow almost done! Should finish next weekend. Hmmm... that reminds me that I had better get on top of those reviews too...

. listening . quasimodo . lifehouse . no name face .


posted by Ashleigh @ 16:55, ,

the female quixote

Title :: The Female Quixote
Author :: Charlotte Lennox
Completed :: Apr 07 2008
Challenges :: 888 : 1001 Books
Rating :: 5/5

From her earliest Youth she had discovered a Fondness for Reading, which extremely delighted the Marquis; he permitted her therefore the Use of the Library, in which, unfortunately for her, were great Store of Romances, and, what was still more unfortunate, not in the original French, but very bad Translations.

Dear me I absolutely loved this book! So very in the style of Don Quixote, Lennox endows the protagonist, Arabella, with such imagination and such a desire to live in a world and time when men spouted poetry and fell on their swords for the women they loved... only it's not imagination and not a desire... it's real...

Arabella has grown up in the countryside away from the bustle of the crowded streets of London. She spends her days enraptured in the books of romance once belonging to her mother. It is here she learns the great lengths a man must go to for the woman he loves. And don't you dare tell her differently because Arabella is learned and can list countless examples of the trials and tribulations of the great lovers of a long ago generation. She is appalled when a man thinks he can approach her and speak in her presence without first having written a glorious letter, or lie on his death bed awaiting for her to give permission to live.

The adventure really takes off when her cousin Glanville comes to visit. It is made clear by the Marquis that it's his wish for Glanville to marry Arabella and inherit his land. But poor unfortunate Glanville who did not study the great romances makes the ultimate blunder by greeting his cousin with a kiss on the cheek and proclaiming her beauty. How dare he! He is quickly banished from her sight and must jump through hoops to gain back her good graces. In the meantime Sir George Bellmour having seen Arabella's great beauty and learning of her inheritance upon her father's death is determined to win the lady. Bellmour has read the romances, but ignores the fact that they are fiction and uses them to create an outrageous life history of his own which at first intrigues Arabella. Only he makes the mistake of adding one too many love stories and Arabella is appalled by his neglect of his former loves. Bellmour quickly resolves this by involving a young lass to play act a scandal that will throw Glanville into shadow.

I have to give it to Arabella, her life appears far from boring and actually quite tiring. She can barely step out her door without fear of being insulted, repulsed, loved, longed for, ravished or other miscellaneous mishaps. Arabella is virtuous, her speech is flowery and her romantic knowledge knows no bounds. Oh woes me! I'll copy here a little dialogue between Arabella and another poor soul mistakenly identified as a potential lover.
As for Parthenissa, Madam, said he, neither have I heard of her; nor do I remember to have heard of any more than one Cleopatra: But she was never ravished, I am certain; for she was too willing.

How! Sir, said Arabella: Was Cleopatra ever willing to run away with her Ravisher?

Cleopatra was a Whore, was she not, Madam? said he.

Hold thy Peace, unworthy Man, said Arabella; and profane not the Memory of that fair and glorious Queen, by such injurious Language: That Queen, I say, whose Courage was equal to her Beauty; and her Virtue surpassed by neither. Good Heavens! What a black Defamer have I chosen for my Protector!
This discussion so reminded me of one I had at the Benefit make-up counter so long ago in Macy's. I used to work at the visitor center at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix and spent many breaks wandering around the shops. I believe on this occasion I was needing to buy a new Dr. Feel Good (love the stuff) and the cashier and I got to talking. Anyway I must have said something about being an Egyptologist and he totally threw his arms in the air and went "Oh!" and then leaned across the counter with his chin in his hand, batted his eyes and said, "So, was Cleopatra as big of a whore as they say she was?" I about died laughing. Usually people ask me if aliens built the pyramids (which is SO stupid by the way). Ha! Ha!

Anyway please read this book because it is a riot, and definitely read it if you loved Don Quixote!

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . real love . david gray . a new day at midnight .


posted by Ashleigh @ 16:50, ,

the first century after beatrice

Title :: A Century After Beatrice
Author :: Amin Maalouf
Completed :: Apr 06 2008
Challenges :: Novella
Rating :: 4/5

May your name live forever and a son be born to you. - Ancient Egyptian proverb

What would happen if mankind became just that... mankind? Maalouf creates for us a world where the birth of a male heir has become so important that the population of women is dwindling and the world is about to suffer emotional, economical and political repercussions. The title character, Beatrice is born just before the turn of the 21st century and it is her father, an entomologist and nameless narrator, who weaves the tale of how a 'magical' scarab bean begins a worldwide debate on gender bias.

The novel opens with the entomologist being invited to Cairo to present a paper on the scarab beetle at an Egyptology conference. The Egyptologist that speaks after him talks about how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the scarab beetle with its links to reproduction, regeneration, and the journey of the sun across the sky. He mentions the Ancient Egyptian proverb, May your name live forever and a son be born to you and says that even to this day this is a wish of modern Egyptians. He then presents a small wooden box to the audience, its contents contain scarab beans which guarantee the purchaser that if consumed they will give birth to a son. He jokingly adds that the beans cost him $100 and that he wasn't sure if he would be able to claim them as a conference expense. The entomologist is curious and goes to the market, when he finds the beans he is able to purchase them for $10. With a smile he returns to the hotel believing his bargaining skills to be top notch only to realize that his wallet is missing. Annoyed by this blunder he hides the scarab beans in his desk back in France and forgets about them.

It is not until he meets Clarence, a journalist that he falls in love with, that the scarab beans are remembered. While she is away on assignment in India he receives a strange call from her asking to compare the instructions with his scarab beans to those that she has found in a market in India. Her research into small Indian villages as well as Indian hospitals does seem to show proof that female births are declining. The entomologist contacts an old friend and they begin looking into the demographics of several countries. They eventually involve a scientist into their research and it is then that they learn that a company had successfully created a drug to be used in animals to provide male births.

It becomes clear that this drug has been spread across countries such as China, India, Mexico, Africa, and other poorer countries that are over-populated. Eventually these countries begin to collapse economically and their men grow frustrated sexually and are deprived of family life. Violence and rioting break out and there is a veritable scare of girl children being kidnapped.

Maalouf's tale on the surface may seem unbelievable but I was surprised by how easily something of this nature could come about. He mentions high abortion rates in countries such as China, where people are allowed only one child as well as places where male offspring are viewed as important to help with manual labor such as farming. The writing is beautiful and poignant and the arguments for and against gender bias are amazing. I am so glad I snagged this book up and I definitely will be keeping my eye out for more of Maalouf's work.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . simple kind of life . no doubt . return of saturn .


posted by Ashleigh @ 16:07, ,

the voyage out

Title :: The Voyage Out
Author :: Virginia Woolf
Completed :: Apr 06 2008
Challenges :: Decades : 1001 Books
Rating :: 3/5

The works of Woolf have so far been hit and miss with me, I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway but couldn't really get into To The Lighthouse. This novel however, her first, was fun in the beginning especially when the Dalloways make an entrance and stir things up upon the ship of Edwardians heading for South America. But once the Dalloways stepped off the boat before the final destination my interest started to slip. The novel became this void, something was missing, the dialogue was dry and sometimes confusing. There was this monotony of everyday life for the Edwardians staying at the hotel. And there was this complex 'thing' going on between Rachel Vinrace and Terence Hewet. I feel like Woolf was trying to convey something profound and that I just wasn't getting it. So upon finishing I felt relieved but was feeling less than intelligent.

E.M. Forster praised The Voyage Out calling it "a book which attains unity as surely as Wuthering Heights, though by a different path." I'd say quite a different path since I loved Wuthering Heights and felt that the themes were rather clear in that book. Rachel Vinrace came across to me as a person with a deep unhappiness, completely unsure of herself and unwilling to accept that joy and love were things that she could attain. Here Rachel is staring at herself in the looking glass:
In the glass she wore an expression of tense melancholy, for she had come to the depressing conclusion, since the arrival of the Dalloways, that her face was not the face she wanted, and in all probability never would be.
This is exactly the kind of attitude that she persists in carrying throughout the novel, she made me feel miserable. What is it that Woolf is trying to portray in this character? Rachel feels an attraction towards Terence and she engages herself to him but then is very wishy-washy about her feelings. Does she actually love him? Does she even understand what love is? I just couldn't seem to find a clear answer in the narrative.

The only thing I can think of is that Rachel was anxious and jumped into a situation that she felt was normal and expected of her. Surely she knew something of love, having been raised by her aunts while her father was out to sea. Her reading however doesn't seem to involve much about love, especially since she is not fan of Austen and has never read her work. Mrs. Dalloway gives her a copy of Persuasion but she ignores it. There's also the weird incident on the ship where Rachel seems to be attracted to Mr. Dalloway or at least his knowledge of the world. Mr. Dalloway picks up on this and following Rachel to her quarters takes her by surprise by kissing her full on the mouth. It is clear that Rachel enjoyed the kiss and I'm made to wonder if she was trying to find that joy again in Terence and became frustrated because it wasn't quite the same.

Well in any case I must give the novel bonus points because in one scene Mrs. Flushing is telling Rachel about the men that used to visit Chillingley, "very clever men interested in Egyptology". Ha! And Hirst's little outburst upon their tour of a South American village, "what an ass I was not to bring my Kodak!" reminded me of all the times I've regretted not having my camera.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . fall line . jack johnson . on and on .


posted by Ashleigh @ 15:16, ,

miss pettigrew lives for a day

Title :: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Author :: Winifred Watson
Completed :: Apr 05 2008
Challenges :: 1001 Books
Rating :: 5/5

Ok I waited and I waited and I finally got my hands on the only copy available in all of Liverpool! Definitely worth the wait. When I'm down in London I am visiting the Persephone store and I am walking away with my very own copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Now my only beef is why oh why are they not showing the movie here in the UK? It seems it's being released in Australia next month and Finland gets it in June but no sign of a UK release date. Poo! Guess I'll have to catch it on DVD when I get home and until then I can just read it again!

Miss Pettigrew is a veritable Cinderella with drab clothing, mousy brown hair and not a speck of make-up. The world has been cruel to her and she is alone and unloved. The day she knocked on Delysia Lafosse's door was the day Miss Pettigrew would finally open up to the world and become a beautiful sharp-witted blossom. Expecting to be interviewed as a nanny, Miss Pettigrew's quick thinking soon gets her the unofficial job of Miss Lafosse's social secretary. Within the next few hours Miss Pettigrew has rid Delysia of two pesky lovers, cooked breakfast, drank a few sherries and comforts the salon empress Mrs Dubarry. Miss Lafosse and Mrs Dubarry are over the moon and think Miss Pettigrew has to be the most brilliant woman ever and they are utterly convinced that Miss Pettigrew will be able to bring Mrs Dubarry's quarrelling lover back to his senses. But first, a makeover is a must and new clothes borrowed from Miss Lafosse. Shining and dazzling Miss Pettigrew sweeps through the evening charming everyone she meets, gets a bit tipsy, is a little mischievous and perhaps finds romance.

Absolutely brilliant and a shame that Watson's editor first turned the manuscript down since it was too frothy (I love this word, ever since Danielle used I keep seeing it everywhere) and not nearly as serious as her other books. Thank you Persephone for republishing it and allowing Miss Pettigrew to live one more day!

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . smother me . the used . lies for the liars .


posted by Ashleigh @ 13:54, ,

there's no place like home

ruby slippers
click click

Well I did it! I told Liverpool that I've decided to finish my degree back in Arizona. Yes I was nervous, yes I laid awake last night trying to formulate a speech, yes I didn't want to get out of bed this morning and no I didn't eat any breakfast. But it wasn't bad, in fact they were sorry that things didn't work out here but at the same time they understood and were supportive. I also took the opportunity to squash some rumors I've been hearing, I kept hearing myself being quoted as saying things I never did. I am still amazed that adults can be so petty. I don't know about the rest of them but I graduated high school. Anyway I apologized for the mess that surrounded my situation and thanked them for giving me the opportunity to come to Liverpool again. Overall the whole thing went well, and I feel like it ended on a good note, which was important to me because you never know when you may need to call on them for something.

I feel loads better, really like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now I can just sit back and relax, do my work, and enjoy what time I have left here. I'm not sure when exactly I'll be leaving that all depends on my budgeting skills next month. Plus any traveling I do will reduce the length I'm able to stay and I do want to do a bit of traveling while I can.

I love my super cheap ruby slippers I picked up at Primark awhile back. I bought them to wear to Wicked but it turns out that they stuck to Baum's book and used silver slippers... oh well they're still shiny and pretty! Looks like we'll be spending a few days in London next month before we head off to Rhodes. So I will finally get to see Wicked, can't wait!

. listening . try again . keane . under the iron sea .

Labels: ,

posted by Ashleigh @ 19:35, ,

catching up

Phew! I feel a little better, pumped out 5 book reviews today! Now I want to get back to She by H. Rider Haggard. I have a feeling this book's going to be an adventure! So far, a dying man has entrusted his 5 year old boy to a school friend telling him that he must train his boy in Ancient Greek, advanced maths and Arabic. On the boy's 25th birthday he is to give him the key to open a casket whose contents will present the boy with a challenge. This dying man insists that his sixty-fifth or sixty-sixth lineal ancestor was an Egyptian priest of Isis of Grecian extraction, named Kallikrates. This priest breaks his vows of celibacy and flees from Egypt with a Princess of royal blood. Sounds exciting!

I've just gotten to the part where Leo Vincey has opened the casket and among pieces of translated parchment was a pottery sherd with a Greek inscription, a miniature of his mother, a letter from his father and a scarab bearing the words '(royal) Son of Ra': bit of a mistranslation here actually, the scarab bears the -sw plant, a duck and a sun disc. Normally for son of Ra just the duck and sun disc would be necessary, transliterated as s3-rc or sa-re. Being that this is an epithet used only for royalty the -sw plant is unnecessary. Besides to use the -sw plant to mean royal or king you would need to transliterate it as nsw - but this was written in the 1800s so I'll cut him some slack. Ha!

I believe this adventure is going to lead him to Africa where according to the back of the book Leo will have to endure shipwreck, fever and cannibal attacks, before coming face to face with Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed: the beautiful, tyrannical ruler of a lost civilization. She's been waiting hundreds of years for the true descendant of her dead lover to arrive. Fabulous! And a 1001!

I have a meeting tomorrow at noon with my new supervisor to break the news of my departure! Wish me luck!


posted by Ashleigh @ 23:39, ,

the prime of miss jean brodie

Title :: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Author :: Muriel Spark
Completed :: Apr 01 2008
Challenges :: Novella : 1001 Books
Rating :: 4/5

Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.

So says Miss Jean Brodie, a woman and teacher in her prime willing to lead her girls out in an attempt to make them the crème de la crème. I like that phrase 'to lead out' as a definition of the word education, which Miss Brodie insists that based on its latin roots (and I can't argue since I have yet to learn latin) education means to lead out, as in to bring out what a person already knows. She is adamantly against the headmistress Miss MacKay's idea of education, which is is to put in or as Miss Brodie views it, an intrusion.

Instead of spending their school days learning history, geography, arithmetic and all those other important subjects, Miss Brodie shares with her students tales of her love life, her admiration for Mussolini and art. Because above all she loves art, and she loves the art teacher, Mr. Lloyd. But as he is married he is not perfectly suited for a paramour and so Miss Brodie turns to the music teacher, Mr. Lowther. While carrying on an affair with Lowther and keeping him well fed she begins planning an affair between Mr. Lloyd and Rose, one of the Brodie Set. Rose is a girl known for sex, although I think they mean here sex appeal because she was never described as a hussy running around the town. Rose spends the summer posing for Mr. Lloyd who begins painting a series featuring her, although it is Miss Brodie's profile that graces each frame. Sandy however, another of the Brodie Set sees through these paintings and ends up shocking Miss Brodie when it is she that instigates an affair with Mr. Lloyd. For Miss Brodie was sure that while Rose had the instinct to start an affair it was Sandy that had insight to avoid one.

From the very beginning the reader is aware that at one point Miss Brodie had been betrayed by one of the girls in her set. Miss MacKay was constantly cornering the girls in an attempt to get them to spill some gossip or confession about Miss Brodie that would give her the opportunity to sack her. When that information finally becomes available Miss MacKay confesses to Miss Brodie that it was indeed one of her girls that gave her up. Miss Brodie is shocked but believes that it could have been no other than Mary who was slightly dim-witted and was often used as a scapegoat. But was it she?

I liked how the book was written in a series of flash forwards (sort of like Lost this season) where the reader is aware of the future but is given back history to make sense of the whole picture with bits from the future being revealed here and there. It was nice to know where the girls of the Brodie Set ended up in their adulthood and I have to wonder if they really did become the crème de la crème. I think of all the girls it was probably Sandy that reached that level. She was really 'led out' devoting herself to her religion, becoming a nun and using what knowledge she learned from Miss Brodie to write a book on psychology and psychoanalysis. And yet I still got the feeling that she in the end Sandy was trapped.

I can't help but wonder now if being in one's prime is obvious to a person at the moment it's happening or is it only something you realize once it's regrettably over? Miss Brodie was certain she was in hers, but was she?

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . emotional drought . chevelle . this type of thinking could do us in .


posted by Ashleigh @ 22:55, ,

the yellow wallpaper

Title :: The Yellow Wallpaper
Author :: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Completed :: Mar 31 2008
Challenges :: 1001 Books
Rating :: 3/5

I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

Gilman's short story is based on the journal entries of an American woman in the 19th century. She is brought to live temporarily in a house while she rests from what is diagnosed as a temporary nervous depression but more than likely is postpartum depression resulting from the recent birth of her child. For various reason she and her husband occupy the upstairs nursery and it is here where she is faced with a wallpaper that repulses her and yet draws her into its madness.

The description of the wallpaper is altogether poetic, the language used to describe the protaganist's enticement and fear of this peeling wallpaper, its smell, its allure and its motion is fairly creepy. Is it any wonder under the stress that she was under that she was led to believe that things were trying to come out of the wallpaper? That in the end she went 'mad'? I think what's really creepy is that this is something that really could have happened when women's health was not understood as it is today (or more so anyway). Many women probably suffered from these types of delusions. The mind is very powerful and can create all kinds of scenarios especially when its lonely and misunderstood. It is outrageous to think that it was believed she should rest instead of work, that she should remain isolated instead of engaging in society or that she should be separated from her child instead of trying to be a mother. These things don't lead to recuperation if anything they would make anyone crazier.

My bedroom wall at home has a texturized pattern and I can remember lying awake at times visualizing shapes from the texture. Some shapes were comforting, puppies, pyramids, a teddy bear and then there were some that were frightening - aliens! But luckily for me I didn't go crazy and I was able to remedy those (that I could see) by easily covering them with pillows. Its amazing what the mind's eye can see when it wants to.

Other Thoughts ::
: a striped armchair
: a work in progress
: you're next - leave a comment!

. listening . writing to reach you . travis . the man who .


posted by Ashleigh @ 18:55, ,

the diary of a nobody

Title :: Diary of a Nobody
Author :: George & Weedon Grossmith
Completed :: Mar 31 2008
Challenges :: 1001 Books
Rating :: 5/5

Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see — because I do not happen to be a 'Somebody' — why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.

This was a fantastic read and really made my day! As you may recall I finally stumbled upon a copy the day I decided to make a trek around Liverpool. Sitting at Starbucks on Castle Street I devoured 50 some odd pages and drank a too sweet too spicy iced chai tea latte (I don't think drinking it iced here is a big thing because they never seem to get it quite right). I was giggling and completely unaware if anyone was giving me funny looks not that I would care because it was that good!

Originally appearing as a serial in Punch magazine in 1888 and 1889, George Grossmith provides the witty dialogue of Charles Pooter's diary while his brother Weedon complements it with his drawings. Yes a grown up book with drawings! Love it! So why would anyone want to read the diary of a nobody? Well because that diary of a 'nobody' could very well be filled with witticisms and mocking commentary making the everyday life of a lower middle class man seem extraordinary and filled with moments of delight. In his various ramblings Pooter also displays his social insecurity and how he goes about trying to remedy the view his peers may or may not have of him. Awhile ago I stumbled upon a review that unfortunately I can't find but I wrote down a quote that I liked : "Diary of a Nobody now seems like a startlingly prescient mickey-take of the self-importance of today's bloggers."

Charles Pooter is a loveable character, his mannerisms are quirky and very realistic. I loved his little obsession with buying various pots of paint to beautify or change the things around him. For example one day he bought a pot of red paint and decided to repaint some terracotta pots, his wife's approval of the change led him to enter the house and begin changing the color of other various furniture. He entered the maid's quarters and decided to paint her bureau red even though she was quite happy with its original shade. Upon entering the bathroom Pooter believed the bathtub to be too white and so decided to paint it red, a mistake he realized later while taking a hot bath. This scene is illustrated on the cover pictured above. He made the mistake of painting his friend's cane black to give it the look of ebony, which made his friend livid after first believing the painted cane to have been a family heirloom. It just little things like these that make this book such a giggle fest.

I also enjoyed the chapter leaders that gave a brief preview of the giggling to come. Here's the leader into chapter 11 as an example :
We have a dose of Irving imitations. Make the acquaintance of a Mr. Padge. Don't care for him. Mr. Burwin-Fosselton becomes a nuisance.
and chapter 18:
Trouble with a stylographic pen. We go to a Volunteer Ball, where I am let in for an expensive supper. Grossly insulted by a cabman. An odd invitation to Southend.

Apparently the book has spawned the word "Pooterish" to describe a tendency to take oneself excessively seriously. I see that the book was adapted by BBC twice, the second having only aired last April! I would have loved to have seen this and wonder if it's available on DVD. There's an online weblog version of the diary that pretends 2008 is 1888 and publishes the days accordingly. It might be a fun way to read Pooter's diary although there will be a few days and weeks missing because there were times when Pooter didn't write, and then there were the pages ripped out of his diary and stolen, a mystery to his great frustration never resolved.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . american baby . dave matthews band . stand up .


posted by Ashleigh @ 18:21, ,

the ladies of grace adieu

Title :: The Ladies of Grace Adieu
Author :: Susanna Clarke
Completed :: Mar 29 2008
Challenges :: OUT II
Rating :: 3/5

It's been awhile since I've read anything involving faeries, haven't run into any books that fall under that genre in my quest to conquer the 1001. That's why Carl's challenge is so perfect, it inspires me to break from the 'normal' once in awhile and to pick up some of these fantastic books. Doesn't hurt that prizes are involved too! Although I own a copy of Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell ($5 for the hardback at Borders!) I have yet to read it. I bought it at a time when I had a leaning tower of library books to get through before moving to Liverpool and since the book is rather weighty there was no way it was going to fit in the suitcase. But after reading Ladies of Grace Adieu I definitely want to pick it up when I get home, especially since some of the characters popped up in the pages of these short stories.

I liked how each story was different in its speech. I feel that the accent of a character and the spelling of a piece can really help the reader to imagine the setting. The dialect of On Lickerish Hill took some getting used to but it wasn't hard to eventually fall into the rhythm, the eye learns quickly to gloss over those 'spelling mistakes'. The Suffolk dialect really helped to place oneself in that area of the country, away from the 'proper speech' of London.

I enjoyed the title piece The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which apparently was inspired by a footnote from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Three ladies, Cassandra Parbringer, Miss Tobias and Mrs. Field are close friends who in their spare time study magic and have become magicians despite its being a mostly male occupation. When Captain Winbright comes to visit his nieces who are governed by Miss Tobias, it becomes clear that being a loving uncle is not high on his list and that he arrived solely to look into the inheritence involved. The ladies join forces and cause a bit of mischief of their own in order to ensure that the young girls will be safe and that life will contine in Grace Adieu as it always has.

Mrs. Mabb was a charming tale of deception involving a very fine veil between this world and the world of faerie. Venetia returns from a trip to Manchester to find that her beloved Captain Fox is soon to be engaged to another beauty. She becomes determined to see this person for herself and everytime she's given directions (to a different location) she never makes it and ends up badly bruised and cut. It would appear that Venetia is suffering either from dementia or a mischevious faerie has cast a spell over Captian Fox and the eyes of Venetia. I especially loved the episode where she is confronted by what appears to everyone else to be little green butterflies but to Venetia are small little faeries that she becomes determined to squish.

Mr. Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower was another tale involving deception. Alessandro Simonelli is a poor country rector new to Allhope. Upon his arrival he is faced with the task of delivering the baby of John Hollyshoes. Simonelli is repulsed by the shape of the house, it is filthy and utterly disgusting. It soon becomes obvious that he is the only one who can see the truth as others view the house and everything in it as rich and beautiful. Who is this man that wallows in filth and yet appears to be bedecked in jewels? He is a faerie of course and is convinced that he is related in some way to Simonelli and is determined to get to the bottom of it. Written as if from the pages of Simonelli's diary we learn how he tries to save the beautiful ladies of his parish from the dirty Hollyshoes.

Antickes and Frets involves a fictional twist on the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots. When Mary learns that her guardian Bess murdered her first husband through her talent of embroidery, Mary is determined to learn the skill in order to do the same to Queen Elizabeth. This is the second story in the collection involving mischevious embroidery, the first being The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse. This tale takes place in the world created by Neil Gaiman in Stardust. The Duke of Wellington follows his runaway horse through the gap in the wall into the world of faerie. In a cottage he meets a young woman busily at work over her embroidery, which turns out to be blocks portraying everything Wellington did once passing through the wall up to the future which reveals that he will be attacked by a knight who is even now on his way to the cottage. Luckily for Wellington, a pair of embroidery scissors are there to save the day.

Overall a very delightful collection which has put me into the mood of the challenge. Now if only I could located Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, I seem only to be able to find the graphic novel. Is it the same as the novel?

Other Thoughts ::
: a work in progress
: you're next - leave a comment!

. listening . satellite . dave matthews band . under the table and dreaming .


posted by Ashleigh @ 11:57, ,


Title :: Middlemarch
Author :: George Eliot
Completed :: Mar 29 2008
Challenges :: 888 : 1001 Books
Rating :: 4/5

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

What did Virginia Woolf mean when she described Middlemarch as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people"? At first I was confused by that statement when I first saw it on the back of the book and still after having read it. But I think what Woolf means is that this isn't a novel full of young headstrong will do anything for love woes me characters. It is a slow potrayal of real life in the 1830s that unfolds at a pace that allows the reader to really get involved in the lives of Eliot's cast. In fact the book's subtitle is A Study in Provincial Life and that's exactly what it is. This book was subject to my post-it method (plotting out how many pages were to be read daily) and thus it became a kind of soap opera for me, minus all the overdramatics. Every day before picking it up I would ask myself, "I wonder what will happen in Middlemarch today". At 838 pages you do become attached and you become sincerely interested in their fates.

There's much too much to summarize here so I will only touch on a few things. I really liked the character of Dorothea Brooke, her devotion to everything she involved herself in was very inspring. Although she had wealth she didn't allow it to blind her to the plight of the farmers living on her uncle's land. She was very interested in redesigning cottages to allow ample space and comfort for these families. She also desired to learn and do great work, though she understood the pains of knowledge, "But it is very difficult to be learned; it seems as if people were worn out on the way to great thoughts, and can never enjoy them because they are too tired" (Amen sister). Unfortunately not many people took her seriously and when a marriage proposal was presented to her that would allow her to aid a clergyman in his scholarly research she accepted even though he was old enough to be her father (and maybe then some). Although her marriage soon became impossible and loveless she stayed utterly devoted to her husband. I think my nerves would have been shot long before her's were. Dorothea is also loyal to her friends and her family. I was especially moved by her desire to help Lydgate remove himself from a scandalous rumor. "People are usually better than their neighbors think they are." I am glad that in the end she received the love and returned devotion she definitely deserved.

I enjoyed the character of Mrs. Garth and the challenges she faced to keep her children educated, something that was very important to her.
She thought it good for them to see that she could make an excellent lather while she corrected their blunder 'without looking' - that a woman with her sleeves tucked up above her elbows might know all about the subjunctive mood or the Torrid Zone - that, in short, she might possess 'education' and other other good things ending in 'tion', and worthy to be pronounced emphatically, without being a useless doll.
A lot of Eliot's female characters in this book were strong. It would have been very easy to make Mary Garth into one of those young lovey dovey types but instead Eliot chose to make her practical. She refused to encourage Fred's love for her until he could prove to her that he could be serious and responsible. Although at times I wanted to shout, "would you just tell him you love him already!". I think it was important to Eliot to have all her female characters keep a cool-head and obtain a forceful presence. Even though Rosamond Vincy was a bit narcissistic and headstrong she still kept her head held high through her husband's financial difficulties, she knew what was needed to do to survive.

Upon finishing I felt content, everything was right as rain. It was a satisfying ending with everything resolved and life continuing beyond the pages. I'm curious if being described as an Italian with white mice is a sort of insult. Well I know it was meant as one when it was used by another character to define Ladislaw, and it made me think of Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. He was an Italian with white mice, well rats, but he was a crooked character so that must have something to do with it. I also still get a kick out of the prices given in Victorian novels. For example, Lydgate's house cost £90 a year, where my little square of a room cost me about £75 a week! Prices sure have gone up, up, up! The following is a Spanish proverb used to open one of the chapters, I really liked it:
Pues no podemos haber aquello que queremos, queramos aquello que podremos (Since we cannot get what we like, let us like what we can get)

Oh and it seems they're taking Middlemarch to the big screen to be released sometime next year. More info here.

Other Thoughts ::
: a striped armchair
: beastmomma
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . i miss you now . stereophonics . you gotta go there to come back .


posted by Ashleigh @ 00:07, ,

it's still friday right?

What happened to the weekend? Poof! It's nearly gone! And once again I didn't accomplish everything on my list. I swear I have become the LAZIEST person ever! I never used to be this bad. I just don't want to do anything except for read, sleep, eat and occasionaly blog. I did get a chance to finish Saturday and The Plot Against America before the weekend started and I did get caught up on Les Misérables (pg 960) but I only posted 2 book reviews!

There was a good quote from Les Misérables about laziness that for different reasons scarily resembles my current status. One of the characters, Marius is lovesick and out of sorts.
During all these torments, and for a long time now, he had stopped his work, and nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labor; it is a habit lost. A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.

I was busy this weekend doing a favor for a friend, major scanning sessions. I think I clocked about 7 hours so far, still have more to do. I hope this builds karma in case I ever need someone to do the same for me. To help pass the time I started listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I've read of course but I like all the voices that Jim Dale does. It's been a long time since I've read it and I think my memory was based on the film and boy howdy did they skip over a lot when they made that. Oh well they still did a pretty decent job and I look forward to #6 later this year.

I finally emailed my "supervisors", not sure at the time if that's what they were or not, but I wanted to touch base and see if they've come up with a solution to my dilemma since our last meeting 5 weeks ago. I received an email back apologizing for the delay and saying that everything had been worked out. Well thanks for telling me sooner... Anyway I still need to meet with them to tell that I've decided to return home. I'm so not looking forward to it. I know I could just email them back to tell them but I really think it should be something said in person. Oh my stomach is just in knots about it, I hate confrontation and I hate problems. I prefer to just ignore them in the hopes that they will just go away but of course they never do.

Now I'm nervous about going home, I mean what if I'm not admitted into the program? What if it's a mistake? I know it's the right thing for me to do and all I need to do is remember how unhappy I've been here but it's scary and Liverpool has seduced me. It's also embarassing because a lot of people (friends included) don't understand, they think I'm coming home because I couldn't make it here and that's absolutely not the case. The program here is the wrong fit and there really isn't anyone to supervise me. Sure they've solved it for now but the person they chose goes on sabbatical all of next year so once again I'll be tossed up into the air. And they mentioned shifting people to make room for me and I don't feel right about that. That's not fair to the other student. I tried, they tried, we all tried but it didn't work out. Arizona will take me back, inshallah, it will be hello hard but in the end worth it, right?

On a high note, I've been invited to a masquerade ball on the 24th! I've got a black cocktail dress that hopefully still fits (major treadmill/eliptical sessions in the very near future) and a black shawl and heels. Hopefully I can find some inexpensive black opera gloves and I really would like to buy this mask. It should be a really fun night!


Have a good week!

. listening . bring me up . lisa loeb . cake and pie .

Labels: ,

posted by Ashleigh @ 23:01, ,


Title :: Crash
Author :: J.G. Ballard
Completed :: Mar 27 2008
Challenges :: Decade : 1001 Books
Rating :: 2/5 extreme measure for an extreme situation...

Wow! Well I'm sure this is not a book I would have picked up on my own after reading the back cover. I only read it of course because it's on the 1001 List. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post it was a bit difficult to get through because it is pretty graphic and more than a bit pornographic. I don't think the pornographic bit would have bothered me much (not that I usually read that sort of thing mind you... although those Anita Blake novels tend to get a bit dirty...) but it was mixing it with the element of gruesome deaths and injuries that made it squemish. The element of someone getting off basically while imagining a car crash doesn't do it for me and frankly is a bit frightening. I will say though however, the writing is so graphic that it definitely achieves the picture it is trying to draw. Ballard definitely has a way with words and as this was my first Ballard novel I'm curious to see how his writing style would effect another book of a different nature, since there are a few of his works listed as 1001 contenders.

I thought I would share a bit from the author's note to hopefully give you a better idea of what the novel is about. Mind you the successful movie, Crash starring Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock and several other actors is not based on this book although there was a movie of the same title released some time in the 90s starring James Spader.

...I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.

Throughout Crash I have used the car not only as a sexual image, but as a total metaphor for man's life in today's society. As such the novel has a political role quite apart from it sexual content, but I would still like to think that Crash is the first pornographic novel based on technology. In a sense, pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other, in the most urgent and ruthless way.

Needless to say, the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . me, my yoke and i . damien rice . 9 .


posted by Ashleigh @ 22:07, ,

a passage to india

Title :: A Passage to India
Author :: E.M. Forster
Completed :: Mar 24 2008
Challenges :: Decades Challenge : 1001 Books
Rating :: 4/5

My heart is for my own people henceforward.

Another brilliant Forster, makes me wonder why I haven't read any of his work before now! Prejudices and racism are alive and well and are running rampant in this tale of British India. The three main characters, Adela Quested, Dr. Aziz and Cyril Fielding represent very different social circles that weave together the social stratosphere of the time.

Adela Quested arrives in India escorted by Mrs. Moore, both desire to see the real India by escaping the confines of the British commune and Mrs. Moore also hopes to engage Adela to her son, Ronny. Mrs. Moore first meets Dr. Aziz, a native, when she is visiting a mosque at night. Dr. Aziz takes to Mrs. Moore immediately and sees that she's a woman who understands and truly appreciates the local color and isn't afraid to embrace it. A trip to the Marabar Caves is arranged so that Dr. Aziz can show Mrs. Moore and Adela the real India they've been longing to see. Once on the train the ladies find that they are bereft of their male British escorts who incidentally missed the train. They decide to continue as planned hoping they'll catch up. While visiting one of the caves Mrs. Moore is overwhelmed by the sound of the echo and begins to feel a bit claustrophobic causing her to sit out on the rest of the cave exploring. Adela goes off with Dr. Aziz and the local guide to visit a second set of caves. It is here where a set of events takes place that will leave the reader quite confused as to what really happened...

Dr. Aziz is a respected doctor among his Muslim friends. Upon meeting Mrs. Moore in the mosque he becomes interested in getting to know her more as well as act as a guide to his country. He's the kind of man that makes friends easily and wants to be the perfect host. He is adamant about providing a glimpse into the real India and showing Mrs. Moore and Adela around the Marabar Caves even though he himself has never been there. It becomes clear that Dr. Aziz prefers the company of Mrs. Moore over that of Adela who he finds to be a little closed off or as Fielding calls her, a prig. So when Mrs. Moore is unable to continue the tour Dr. Aziz is less than thrilled to continue with Adela, especially when she so boldly asks him whether he has more than one wife. Annoyed by her audacity he sits down to have a cigarette while she explores the caves. When he finishes and goes off to look for Adela, he can't find her until he realizes that she's climbed down the hill to greet a friend in her car.

Whereas Adela represents British society and Dr. Aziz Indian, Fielding provides a type of balance between the two. He sees and understands although doesn't always approve of attitudes on both sides of the rope. I think Fielding's character displays the difficulties that can arise from trying to fit in with the locals when they already have this idea of what 'your people' are like. And on the flip side 'your people' begin questioning your loyalty or your motives. I'd like to think that this is something unique to that time period and situation but I'm afraid it's not. So long as people continue to group people and view them as unavoidably different instead of seeing them as a person like themselves then there will always be these type of feelings.

But what really happened in those caves??? I think I do but I don't want to share it here in case it gives anything away. If you've read the book and have an idea I'd like to hear it.

Other Thoughts ::
: a girl walks into a bookstore...
: my own little reading room
: so many precious books, so little time
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!


posted by Ashleigh @ 21:45, ,

you knew it, i knew it...

... we all knew that I couldn't resist going to the library right? So weak! I ran over there really quick during my lunch break and scored some short reads but most importantly I got my hands on the Nancy Mitford novels I was talking about yesterday. I had hoped that Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana would still be on the shelf but alas someone snagged it before me. I have a feeling most of The Pub challenge is going to have to be completed when I get back home because the libraries here don't seem to a) order enough copies of a new release or b) don't order them at all.

Anyway here's my new borrowed stash :: (descriptions paraphrased/summarized from the backs of the books)

  • The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate . Nancy Mitford : Both novels follow the fortunes of three well-bred girls as they pursue love in their own ways. Fanny Logan (narrator) finds love a simple matter while Linda Radlett is looking for perfection but ricochets between decidedly imperfect husbands before finding love where she least expects it. Ice cold Polly Hampton is her mother's despair. Lady Montdore has trained her for marriage and cannot understand why her daughter snubs her nose at all the young men. The man Polly eventually chooses shocks her mother to the core.

  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich . Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn : This brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Enter a world of incarceration, brutality, hard manual labor and freezing cold - and participate in the struggle of men to survive both the terrible rigours of nature and the inhumanity of the system that defines their condition of life.

  • The Reader . Bernhard Schlink : In post-war Germany a schoolboy, Michael collapses in the street and is helped by Hanna, a woman in her thirties. By his mother's insistence he visits Hanna bringing her flowers to thank her but becomes fascinated by this older woman and begins a secretive affair. Throughout their relationship Hanna is harsh and domineering and not forthcoming about her background. Michael grows frustrated but then is shocked when Hanna suddenly disappears from his life. Years later as a law student, Michael recognizes Hanna as the defendent in a major trial. Her attitude is bizarre and she seems to be purposely mishandling her defense. Michael suddenly understands that her behavior, both now and in the past, conceals a secret buried deeper even than her terrible crimes. The past erupts into the present and traps Michael for the rest of his life, haunted by the memories of a relationship that he cannot move beyond - and by the dilemma of an entire generation. The book is supposed to be a profound exploration of modern Germany's relationship with its past.

  • The Sorrows of Young Werther . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : Listed as one of the first great 'confessional' novels. Upon visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive and romantic young man, meets and falls in love with Lotte, however Lotte is already promised to another man. Werther is unable to subdue his passion for her and his infatuation torments him to the point of absolute despair.

  • The Outsider . Albert Camus : After the death of his mother, everyone is shocked when Meursault shows no sadness. And when he commits a random act of violence in Algiers, society is baffled. Why would such a law-abiding bachelor do such a thing? And why does he show no remorse, even when it could save his own life? His refusal to satisfy the feelings of others only increases his guilt in the eyes of the law. It becomes obvious that Meursault is not only being tried for his crime but his lack of emotion condeming him as an outsider.

    Yum! Yum! Good books!

    . listening . zzyzx rd . stone sour . come what(ever) may .


    posted by Ashleigh @ 12:49, ,

  • random field notes

      ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
      1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
      2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
      3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
      4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos and videos from random field notes. Make your own badge here.

    :: reading ::
    : Ivanhoe . Walter Scott
    : Schindler's Ark . Thomas Keneally
    : The Amber Spyglass . Philip Pullman
    : The Red Queen . Margaret Drabble
    : Un Lun Dun . China Miéville
    : A Handful of Dust . Evelyn Waugh
    : Adjunct: An Undigest . Peter Manson
    : A Kestral for a Knave . Barry Hines

    :: recently finished ::
    : Falling Man . Don DeLillo
    : Written on the Body . Jeanette Winterson
    : The Bell Jar . Sylvia Plath
    : No One Writes to the Colonel . Gabriel García Márquez
    : The Subtle Knife . Philip Pullman

    :: book rating ::
    5 : True Love
    4 : Like
    3 : Good
    2 : Ok
    1 : Why did I read this?

    :: challenges ::
    : 1% Well Read
    : 888 Challenge
    : Chunkster Challenge
    : Decades Challenge 2008
    : Novella Challenge
    : Once Upon A Time II
    : The Parisian Underworld
    : The Pub

    :: creating ::
    : sadly nothing at the moment

    :: recent posts ::
    : so what have you done since your last post?
    : 1001 books you must read before you die (2008 edit...
    : a longer break
    : bon voyage
    : six random things & childhood favorites
    : hmm what to call this
    : catch up
    : collecting book review links
    : 1% well read
    : fairy tale friday

    :: labels ::
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    :: archives ::
    : 2008
    01 :: 02 :: 03 :: 04 :: 05 :: 06

    :: blogroll ::

    :: bookish
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    : a striped armchair
    : a work in progress
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    :: crafty
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    :: special
    : idyll thoughts