Six Months Later...

...and I'm still not sure what I'm doing. I'm not yet able to go back to writing a post on every book I read, but I do hope to get to the point of having enough energy to write the occasional post at least. For now, I'll just use this blog to keep a record for myself of what I'm reading.

In the meantime I wish you all a Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving. :) 

Taking a break from blogging...

Hello, faithful readers. I know you are only a few but you have stuck around through thick and thin for several years now and I appreciate every one of you.

I feel it's time, now, for me to take a break from blogging due to certain life situations that I'm sure would bore you were I to talk about them here. I don't know how long the break will be, but I expect at least for the summer. Right now the stress of knowing I have to write a post on every book is taking all the joy out of reading, the one thing I have always relied on for relaxation and escape. It has become just one more pressure, one more chore. I want to get back to where reading was a help and not a hindrance. 

I will leave the blog up in hopes that things will change in a few weeks or months and I can come back to it. If, after a time, it seems I won't be able to get back to it at all then I guess I'll take it down and that will be the end of my blogging career. In the meantime I'll continue to add titles to my lists as I finish books but I won't be writing posts about them. 

Thank you all so much for spending time here and for your kindness and comments.

Here's to reading just for fun for awhile... 

Dianne
Ordinary Reader

"The Bishop's Man"

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre

On the first page of this novel I decided I like the way Linden MacIntyre writes. On the second page I decided I like Father Duncan MacAskill, the priest who tells his story with appealing humility and candor. Add to that the maritime location, and by the third page, I was hooked.

Father MacAskill is the priest the bishop calls on when there are uncomfortable confrontations to be made. He cleans up the mess made when a priest allows his baser urges to overpower his ideals. The bishop makes the decisions, but Father MacAskill does the dirty work, letting the guilty party know his activities have been discovered, in some cases accusations have been made, and where he's being banished to in consequence. He becomes known as the "Exorcist", a man most people are not happy to see on their doorsteps.

When his own name is mentioned in relation to a past scandal, the bishop decides to get him "out of the way" and sends him off to a small parish in Cape Breton near where MacAskill grew up. In the solitude of his empty nights, his own troubled family life comes to the forefront once again. Pushed to the brink by his loneliness and unanswered questions, both about his own family and those of his parishioners, he takes solace in drink and the friendship of a local woman.

The growing child molestation scandals in the church and his own apparent ineffectiveness in ministry cause him to question the very foundations of the beliefs he has built his life upon. Through his dark night of the soul he comes to understand that secrets never brought to light will never allow him to live in peace.  

As someone who is getting tired of books and movies that bash the people we most look up to, I was reluctant to read this. Fortunately the author is a good writer, the kind who exercises restraint and does not depend on sensationalism to tell his story. It is disturbing, but not disgusting. There's a subtlety to his storytelling that I very much appreciate and makes me want to find out what else he's written. This one is definitely worth the read.

"Blind Love" and "The Fairacre Festival"

Blind Love by Wilkie Collins and Sir Walter Besant

Wilkie Collins died during the writing of this novel but left instructions on how it was to be finished, the details of which Walter Besant was faithful to follow. The novel is set in the late 1880s and follows the story of Iris Henley, who is disinherited by her father when she marries bad boy Lord Harry Norland. I love the language of that age, but I'm finding many of the the stories I read quite similar in plot line. Unfortunately, I was reading Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady at the same time and I found myself getting the characters mixed up, what with both leading ladies marrying the wrong man and slowly coming to their senses later. It didn't help that one was Isabel and one was Iris but I probably shouldn't have been reading them at the same time anyway. I liked The Woman in White better than this one, but still, it wasn't bad.

The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

This is the seventh in the Fairacre books, which I've been kind of hoarding so I won't get to the end of them. I think I'm done doing that. If I wait too long I end up forgetting the details of the previous book and I hate that.

In this book a dramatic wind storm hits Fairacre village and blows over the top of the church that has been standing there for hundreds of years and which has long been the center of village life. The estimate for repairs is well beyond what is available or can be raised by a thrift sale or concert, so plans are made to hold a week long festival in the summer. They plan entertainments and sales of all kinds and the entire village will take part, as long as the weather and other circumstances go their way.

I love everything about these books: the village, the people, the way they all annoy one another but have each other's backs when it counts. And it's in rural England - how can you not love that? This is comfort reading at it's very best.  




"O Pioneers!"

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

In this, as in several other Cather novels, the desolate mid-western prairie land is the main character. It's a character so formidable that it seems to have a will and power well beyond that of the men and women who try to subdue it. Only time and perseverance can tame it, and even then only the hardiest of pioneers will thrive.

The story is set in Nebraska in the late 1800s. Alexandra Bergson's father is dying and he tells her brothers Oscar and Lou that their sister will inherit the farm he's been establishing since his emigration from Sweden. He has good reason to leave it in her hands - she's smarter, wiser, braver and stronger than either of her brothers. When drought has most of her neighbours selling and moving on, she buys more land and experiments with new farming methods because she believes the land will eventually begin to give back.

The story skips ahead 16 or so years to a point where Oscar and Lou are both married and living on their own farms. The youngest brother, Emil, who was a very young child when the story began, is away attending college, the first of the family to ever have that privilege. When he comes home he falls in love with a married woman and decides to flee the temptation by going to Mexico. A neighbour, Carl, who was Alexandra's best friend, returns after a long absence to renew their relationship.

Lou and Oscar become concerned that Alexandra might marry Carl, thus putting their children's inheritance of her farm in question, so they drive him away. Emil returns from Mexico to find he's still in love with Maria. Her husband, Frank, finds them together in the orchard, shooting and killing them both. Frank is sentenced to 10 years in a penitentiary.

In Cather's series of prairie novels human relationships seldom prosper. Alexandra finds a sort of contentment but it's her relationship with the land that is primary. She is kind and not a hard person, but there's little emotion in her character. Even her best relationships are lived out with a sort of resignation that suggests she expects little if anything from human beings; she is more stirred by the land and what it can offer her.

Willa Cather draws you straight into the heart of the land and compels you to accept it as a living, breathing, entity. When you turn the last page, you feel as if you've been there and experienced all the beauty and desolation, all the joy and the sorrow the land confers upon its settlers. You've breathed it, smelled it, loved it and feared it. It's almost addictive. It certainly keeps me coming back, which I will do until I come to the end of her books.

"The Portrait of a Lady"

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This is only my third Henry James, the two previous ones being Washington Square and The Turn of the Screw. I enjoyed both of those novels but had seen a number of reviews saying this one was long and boring. Well, it is long, and at times it got boring, but I have to admit I loved it.

To begin with, it has a wonderful opening. I collect first lines - a hobby odd even to me - and this one is lovely: "Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." It almost sounds like Jane Austen, but once you get a bit farther along it becomes painfully apparent that Mr. James is not a happily-ever-after kind of guy.

James does go on and on at times, but I like the language he goes on and on in, so I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience. I didn't get much invested in the characters until about half way through. At that point I began to care what happened to them and though I know it's at that point that many throw this book across the room, you couldn't have ripped it from my hands.

If you need action in a book, you'll have to look elsewhere. This is more of a psychological book, one where you spend a lot of time in people's heads. Once or twice I found myself thinking please, please get on with it, but only once or twice. Most of the time I liked knowing what the characters were thinking and following them through their decision-making processes.

The story, as most of you will already know, is about a young American woman called Isabel Archer. She is taken to England by her aunt where she meets a number of men who fall in love with her. One is her consumptive cousin, Ralph, who hides his feelings because he knows he is dying. Another is Lord Warburton, who is more or less perfect. Isabel is bored by perfection so she marries Gilbert Osmond instead, convinced he is brighter, nobler and more beautiful in every way than any man she has met before. We, of course, know she is badly mistaken but no amount of shouting "No, Isabel!" on the reader's part will make her change her mind. She marries him and the outcome is, inevitably, disastrous.

I knew something of this story before I read the book - I had deliberately avoided the movie till I could get the book read - but I didn't know how it ended. It was not happy and neither was I. I don't really need happy endings; I don't find them terribly realistic most of the time, but this was far worse than just un-happy. This one was so realistic it was horrifying. I realize more women than can be counted live like this, but still it chilled me to the bone. There was a choice to be made and it was made based on what were supposed to be Isabel's principles but I don't know if I'd call it a principled decision. I think it was a tragic mistake made on the appearance of principle but ignoring reality. And the most horrifying part is that I think Isabel made the decision fully aware of how awful it was, and would henceforth be. There's a morbid saying that goes "There are things worse than being dead, and one of them is living with the wish that you were." This is the first time the ending of a book has ever left me wondering if that might, in fact, be true.
 

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