18 March 2014


The dramatic Alice White.

Over the last few months, I managed to finish a few good books between watching way too much television (House of Cards, I'm talking about you). While I still have quite a few left on my nightstand to get through, the stack is slowing dwindling. In the meantime, here's the latest edition of Bookshelf.

Washington Square—Henry James
Shy and plain Catherine Sloper is content to lurk in the shadows until a dashing young man, Morris Townsend, starts to shower her with attention. Her protective father believes her new suitor is only after her money, and when Catherine announces their engagement, he insists that she either break off the affair with Morris or lose her inheritance. Torn between duty and love, Catherine must make a decision and in doing so, learns just how little freedom she has. A wonderful portrait of 19th-century New York with a deceptively strong-willed heroine.

I Await the Devil’s Coming
—Mary MacLane

This diary of a 19-year old girl growing up in Butte, Montana shocked readers upon its publication in 1902. Throughout the pages, the obviously intelligent young woman rages against her situation, writing about her beliefs (including the certainty of her genius), disdain for her family, her overwhelming boredom, an affinity for Napoleon, and her relationship with the devil. While it does get a bit repetitive, it is raw and honest; you can almost hear her screaming her frustration. And regarding this new edition, Melville House should be commended for the wonderful cover.

These are two early works by one of my favourite writers. In Christmas Pudding, family and friends descend upon a country house to spend the holiday, including a depressed novelist, a young woman with multiple suitors, and the horse-obsessed lady of the manor. There are broken engagements, false identities, and bratty youths; in other words, normal fodder for Mitford. In Pigeon Pie, Lady Sophia Garfield tries her best to do her part when Britain is on the brink of war while unable to see that a German spy ring is within her midst. It's hard at first to be supportive of the silly Sophia but once her French bulldog is kidnapped, the readers are on her side. These may not be Mitford’s best efforts but like most books by a beloved author, I’d take these over most other novels any day.  

Chocolates for Breakfast—Pamela Moore
After precocious 15-year old Courtney Farrell leaves boarding school unexpectedly, she finds herself dividing her time between her fading actress mother in Hollywood and her publisher father in New York. Along the way she tries smoking, drinking martinis, and sex, and learns the hard way about growing up. The book created a stir when it was first published in 1956, becoming a best seller. While maybe not as shocking today, it’s a frank look at a young woman’s coming of age and well written, which is especially notable when you learn that the author was just 18 at the time.

One of England’s most brilliant spies during World War II was a woman, Christine Granville. A Jewish Pole who thrived on danger, some of her exploits included skiing into occupied Poland, parachuting into France, and rescuing some colleagues from the Gestapo merely hours before their execution. Men everywhere fell in love with her and after the war one of them, a disturbed colleague, stabbed her to death. An interesting tale of a little known war hero who was reportedly Churchill’s favourite spy.

The Girl on the Cliff—Lucinda Riley
Recovering from a miscarriage, artist Grania Ryan returns to her family home in Ireland after living in America for years. There she encounters a strange but enchanting little girl whose family’s story, Grania discovers, is tragically intertwined with her own. The story moves back and forth in time between the present day and the early part of the 20th century. I found the passages set in the past to be the most interesting thing about the book, which otherwise is predictable at times and has some dialogue issues (authors take note: when you have characters from countries other than your own, someone will notice if you get the language wrong).

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