‘The Magic Toyshop’ by Angela Carter

My rating: 4 stars

Originally published in 1967, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter occasionally reads like a Victorian novel sprinkled with Ancient Greek mythology influences. As the story progresses, it’s impossible not to start drawing comparisons with the work of Charles Dickens. The book features children who became orphans, a haunting wedding dress, a Christmas day that is not as it should be, and people living in meagre conditions. However, it is also a coming-of-age novel that explores the sexual awakening of a young woman.

Fifteen-year-old Melanie is the main character in this novel. She has two younger siblings – Jonathon and Victoria. They are being looked after by their housekeeper, Mrs Rundle, since their parents are away in America. One day a telegram arrives. Their parents have died in an accident. While Jonathon and Victoria don’t seem to realise how their lives are about to change, Melanie feels that her entire world is falling apart. To make matters worse, she believes that there must be a connection between her having worn her mother’s wedding dress and the death of her parents. It haunts her.

Soon they learn that they are to live with their mother’s brother from then on. Uncle Philip, whom Melanie is only aware of thanks to a photo of her parents’ wedding, is a toymaker in London. It’s not him who is waiting for them at the train station, though. Instead, they are picked up by Finn and Francie, who are their aunt’s brothers. Continue reading

‘Mrs Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 4 stars

Stream of consciousness is not always the most appealing of writing styles. When authors are not successful in captivating readers from the outset, our attention can irredeemably drift away. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is a good example of how to employ such a challenging writing style to good effect. The third-person narration of the characters’ thoughts and interactions with those around them mirrors closely our intimate daily contemplations, while also painting an enthralling picture of London and its inhabitants.

On a warm day in the month of June, 52-year-old Clarissa Dalloway goes out to buy flowers. She is going to host a party that same night. When she returns home, she learns that her husband, Richard Dalloway, has been invited to lunch with Lady Bruton. That leads to a reflection on how she once fell in love with Sally Seton and on how she chose to marry her husband, with whom she has a daughter called Elizabeth, instead of Peter Walsh.

The book is not only about Mrs Dalloway, who is not as content as she once was. Something is missing in her life. It also focuses on what is happening around her, her friends and some of the people she crosses paths with, while she is concerned about her party. Peter Walsh, who was once in love with Clarissa and may well still be, has just returned from India. Septimus Warren Smith, who fought in the First World War, is showing worrying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Their emotions come to life seemingly without effort and their gestures are easy to imagine, thanks to a precise choice of words, which are put together in sentences that play with rhythm. Continue reading

2022 Mid-year Resolutions’ Evaluation

Back in January, I listed the five bookish resolutions that I have for this year. The second half of June is the perfect time to evaluate whether I’m on track to fulfil those goals or not. Spoiler alert: I’ve already failed one of them!

Let’s start with one resolution regarding which there’s still hope, though. I want to read 35 books until the end of the year. So far, I’ve only read 10 books, which would be worrying if I didn’t plan to read far more books in the second half of the year, thanks to the reading challenge 20 Books of Summer.

Taking part in more reading challenges or initiatives is another of my goals. Not only am I participating in 20 Books of Summer at the moment (I’ve only finished one book so far, mainly because almost two years and a half later COVID got me and I felt poorly), but I also took part in Reading Ireland Month, during which I read One by One in the Darknessby Deirdre Madden and DNFed Normal People by Sally Rooney, and Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, having started reading at the time The Flight of the Falcon, a novel I ended up only finishing some days later.
The time hasn’t yet come for me to try to fulfil my third resolution, though. Continue reading

Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

The mid of the year is just around the corner, so this is the perfect time to start reflecting on our reading year. I’ve recently watched Lauren from the YouTube channel Lauren and the Books doing the Mid-year Freak Out Tag and decided to answer the questions as well, although, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll read more books in the second half of the year than in the first and, therefore, the best may well be still to come.

 

  1. Best book you have read so far this year

One by One in the Darkness by Deirdre Madden is probably the best book I’ve read this year so far. Through a story of a grieving family, it paints a picture of the Northern Irish society during the Troubles. As the book goes back and forth in time, the fascinating characters come to life.

 

  1. Best sequel you’ve read so far this year

I’ve only read one sequel so far – The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. It is the second book in The Liveship Traders Trilogy, which is set in a world where the figureheads of ships become alive, because they are made of wood with magical properties. Continue reading

‘Memento Mori’ by Muriel Spark

My rating: 2 stars

The premise of Memento Mori by Muriel Spark can lead readers to expect an enthralling dark mystery. This is not the case, however. The book is most of all a tale about old age, the fear of dying, the inevitability of death, and how elderly people can have their concerns dismissed by society. If these matters are not without interest, the execution turned the story into a fragmented, dull and characterless book.

Seventy-nine-year-old Dame Lettie Colston has been receiving anonymous calls. When she lifts the receiver, the male caller only says “remember you must die”. After one of those occurrences, she calls her brother Godfrey. He decides to pick her up to stay at his home for a while. His wife Charmian was a well-regarded novelist. Although she suffers from dementia and her memory is failing her, she still has some moments of lucidity.

While attending the funeral of Lisa Brooke, Dame Lettie becomes convinced that Godfrey has to hire Mrs Pettigrew to look after Charmian. The only problem is that she is thought to be the beneficiary of Lisa’s will and, therefore, is probably not willing to continue to work. Soon they learn that Lisa Brooke had a secret husband, though. Since Mrs Pettigrew, who thinks herself exceedingly cunning, doesn’t inherit anything to her great displeasure, she ends up working at Godfrey and Charmian’s house. Continue reading

‘The Flight of the Falcon’ by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 4 stars

Daphne du Maurier employed a variety of writing tones in The Flight of the Falcon, showing how versatile she could be. If the first chapters are characterised by a funny undertone, in the rest of the book the first-person narration assumes a much more introspective, mysterious and tense quality. As past and present start to mingle, the story becomes puzzling and even confusing at times. In order to keep a secret alive, one of the characters is not as explored as his backstory and mental state asked for.

Armino, the narrator of the novel, is a tour guide in Italy. He works for Sunshine Tours, a company that organises visits around the country. At the beginning of the book, he is with a group of English and American tourists in Rome. While at the hotel, one of the tourists invites him to his room. Although the narrator clearly refuses the offer, the man still slips a 10 thousand lire note into his hand trying to convince him. Armino decides to give the money to a woman they saw sleeping at the door of a church early on. When she holds his hand, he has a strange feeling and runs away.

The following day, a piece in the newspaper says that the same woman was killed and nothing was found in her possession besides a few coins. The moment he sees her body, Armino realises that the woman is Marta, who worked for his family when he was a child. That realisation makes him want to return to Ruffano, his hometown, a place he left with his mother when he was just eleven years old. Both his father, who was the superintendent of the town’s palace, and his brother Aldo died during the German occupation. Continue reading

20 Books of Summer 2022 – Reading Plans

Summer is coming and with it a reading challenge that I’ve never taken part in, but that I have been tempted to try for a while – the 20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy of the blog 746 Books. The goal is to read 20 books (or fewer) from our TBR during three months. This year’s edition runs from 1 June to 1 September, and I’m joining in! Besides endeavouring to read 20 books, it’s also possible to choose to read “only” 10 or 15 books. So why have I, as a slow reader who only finishes around two or three books per month, decided to read 20 books? There’s no reasonable explanation!

I do have a plan to try to be successful in this challenge, though. I’m not reading any books a few days before the beginning of 20 Books of Summer. The reasoning behind this is that I hope I’ll miss reading so much that I’ll feel like reading more pages a day than usual. Moreover, when making the list of books I plan to read during this period, I only selected short ones. I don’t think any of them is longer than 250 pages.

Although I don’t have a huge pile of unread books to pick from, since I’ve only been buying books as I read them, I do have more than 200 books on my wish list. From the ones that have been on that list for more than a year, I selected various short novels (some may even be classed as novellas), a graphic novel, plus short story and poetry collections. Four of them are translations of books written by women, because I also want to participate for the first time in Women in Translation month during August. Continue reading

‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

My rating: 4 stars

In the hands of other authors, The Enchanted April could have been a fiasco. Elizabeth Von Arnim, however, managed to turn a very simple plot into a pleasant book, whose most valuable asset is a subtle ironic tone. Set in a place that has almost magical properties, this is a story about the restoring power of holidays and how four women start to look at their lives differently after less than a month in Italy.

On a February afternoon, Mrs Wilkins was at a woman’s club reading a newspaper when an advertisement about a small medieval castle for rent during the month of April in Italy caught her attention. She started daydreaming about the possibility of going there. When she was about to leave the club, she saw Mrs Arbuthnot, whom she had never spoken to before, but whom she was aware of because of her work with the poor. She decided to speak with her about the advertisement, as she was also reading the newspaper, and try to convince her that they should rent the place. How wonderful would it be to spend some time there? It would improve their boring lives and they could be happy for a while.

Mrs Arbuthnot ended up agreeing on sending a letter asking for further details about the castle, although she tried to hide, even from herself, how keen she was to go to Italy. Their main interest was the price. As the rent was much higher than they expected, they decided to put an advertisement on the same newspaper to find other two companions. Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher were the only two applicants for joining them. Continue reading

Favourite Books by Daphne du Maurier

The time has finally come to enjoy another Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, hosted by Ali. As I still haven’t managed to start reading my choice for this year, The Flight of the Falcon, nothing better than to share with you my favourite books by Daphne du Maurier. So far, I’ve read a total of nine books, including seven novels and two short story collections. They are: Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The King’s General, Jamaica Inn, The House on the Strand, The Birds and Other Stories, The Scapegoat, Frenchman’s Creek and Don’t Look Now: Short Stories.

Are you curious to discover the four that I cherish the most?

 

Rebecca

The unnamed narrator of this astonishing book is a self-doubting young woman who marries Maxim de Winter after meeting him in Monte Carlo. She moves with him to Manderley, his family home, where her insecurities and doubts are greatly amplified. How can she ever be as perfect as his deceased first wife, Rebecca? The first novel I read by Daphne du Maurier remains my favourite. It is enthralling, enigmatic and atmospheric. The gripping mystery is perfectly accompanied by fleshed out characters. Continue reading

Favourite Book Covers VII

It has been more than a year since I last shared with you my favourite book covers, but my love for gorgeous books (inside and out) hasn’t decreased a bit. Although paperback editions are still my all-time favourites, I also have a soft spot for colourful naked hardbacks. They are still a bit too heavy, but them not having an annoying dustjacket is a huge plus. Non-removable “stickers”, on the other hand, is an idiotic trend that publishers should refrain from following. They didn’t fully prevent me from loving some of the covers below, but they would look much better without them.

My latest favourite book covers just seem to have one thing in common – the colour blue is present in many different tones (one so dark that it could be black)!

 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Cover design: Angie Lewin

Publisher: Virago Press

Collection: Virago Modern Classics Designer Collection Continue reading