My Friday Post: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve been watching the BBC One adaptation of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which has made me pick up the first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights. I first read it several years ago but seeing the first two episodes has made me want to re-read it.

Pullman Northern Lights

Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55-56:

“What is them Gobblers?” said Simon Parslow, one of Lyra’s companions.

The first gyptian boy said, “You know. They been stealing kids all over the country. They’re pirates -”

“They en’t pirates,” corrected another gyptian. “They’re canniboles. That’s why they call ’em Gobblers.”

“They eat kids?” said Lyra’s other crony Hugh Lovat, a Kitchen boy from St Michael’s.

“No one knows,” said the first  gyptian. “They take them away and they en’t never seen again.”

Blurb:

‘Without this child, we shall all die.’

Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her dæmon, Pantalaimon, always by her side.

But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

~~~

It’s compelling reading, both in terms of storyline (with many parallel worlds) and in terms of ideas.

Are you watching His Dark Materials too? Have you read the books? Do let me I know.

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

Yesterday I brought this little pile of books home from Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. (This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.)

Barter Bks Nov 2019

From top to bottom they are:

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, a biographical novel of Michelangelo. I was delighted to find this almost pristine copy on the Barter Book shelves to replace my old tatty copy that is falling to pieces (you can see it in this post). There’s not a crease on the spine – I don’t think it’s ever been read!

Missing Joseph: An Inspector Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Lynley novels, although I’ve watched the TV adaptations. This is the sixth in the series. I’m wondering if the book will be as good as the TV version. An Anglican priest is found dead – from accidental poisoning. But his death is far from straight forward.

Staring at the Light by Frances Fyfield. I’ve read just one of her books before, which I enjoyed. John Smith’s twin has disappeared. Cannon, a gifted artist, goes into hiding to avoid John’s destructive behaviour. Attorney Sarah Fortune shields Cannon, and more importantly, his wife, the real target. But is Cannon really telling the truth about John? Val McDermid is quoted on the back cover: ‘I doubt I will read a better book this year.’

Next two books by Edmund Crispin. I’ve read reviews of his books, so when I saw these two I decided to see for myself what they are like. The Case of the Gilded Fly, Crispin’s first novel, contains the first appearance of eccentric amateur detective Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature in the University of Oxford. It’s a locked-room mystery, written while Crispin was an undergraduate at Oxford and first published in the UK in 1944.

And Buried for Pleasure, in which Gervase Fen is running for parliament and he finds himself ‘in a tangled tale of lost heirs, eccentric psychiatrists, beautiful women and vengeful poisoners.’

And last but not least I found this hardback copy of a Daphne du Maurier novel – Rule Britannia. First published in 1972 in this novel the UK has withdrawn from the Common Market (as it was then called) and has formed an alliance with the United States – supposed to be an equal partnership but it looks to some people like a takeover bid. Rather prescient of Daphne du Maurier, I wonder …

My Friday Post: The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Greatcoat

The library van visit was on Tuesday this week and The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore caught my eye because ever since I read her last book, Birdcage Walk I have been wanting to read more of her books. 

The description on the back cover:

It is the winter of 1952, and Isabel Carey  is struggling to adjust to the realities of married life in Yorkshire.

Isolated and lonely, she is also intensely cold. And her husband – a doctor – is rarely at home. And then one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in …

Chapter One

1952

Isabel sat back on her heels and watched flames spring up in the grate. They were pale and there was no heat in them. She was cold, she was tired, her back ached and her eyes stung – from the smoke of course. But at least the fire was lit.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

 

Pages 55-56:

There was a man outside the window. She saw the pallor of his face first, as it seemed to bob against the glass, too high up to belong to a man who had his feet on the ground.

I want to know more – do you too?

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton Gaskell

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell was my Classics Club Spin book for September and October. It was her first novel, published in two volumes in 1848, bringing her to the attention of Charles Dickens who was looking for contributors to his new periodical Household Words. It’s the third book of hers that I have read. It is a long book and begins slowly, developing the characters and building up to the main story.

It covers the years 1837 to 1842, a time that saw the growth of trade unions and of Chartism, of industrial city expansion and a time of extreme economic depression. The structure of society and social attitudes were changing with the growth of materialism and class antagonism. As people moved away from the countryside and into Manchester to work in the cotton mills, the city grew from 75,000 in 1800 to 400,000 in 1848 when Mary Barton was published, creating great wealth for the mill owners whilst the mill workers were housed in horrendous slums.

Mary Barton is the story of ordinary working people struggling with the rapid social change and terrible working and living conditions. Mary is the daughter of John Barton, a mill worker and trade unionist. John is a hard worker, but he is determined that she should never work in a factory, so she works as an apprentice to a dressmaker and milliner. She is flattered by the attentions of Henry Carson, a mill owner’s son and believes he will marry he and that she will live in luxury and she spurns Jem Wilson, her childhood friend, only later realising that it is him she loves.

However, work for the factory dries up and it closes down. The workers are desperate and John becomes an active trade unionist and a Chartist. (Gaskell gives a detailed picture of the Chartist Movement and their demands for political reform.) Eventually he turns to opium to relieve his situation. Things go from bad to worse – Henry is murdered and suspicion falls on Jem. Mary realises the mistakes she had made and that it is Jem that she loves, and when her efforts to prove his innocence lead her to suspect the real culprit, she is left with a terrible dilemma.

I have only just touched the surface of this novel and there are many strands that I have left out. There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mary’s Aunt Esther, the story of Mary’s friend Margaret, who is slowly going blind, and her grandfather, Job, Jem’s mother and his Aunt Alice country women who came to Manchester to work, a factory fire and the illnesses and diseases that were endemic at the time, amongst others. It is a touch melodramatic in parts and does include quite lengthy rhetorical passages and commentary in Gaskell’s own voice as narrator. But on the whole her style is clear and detailed giving a sense of reality. It is a powerful novel, a love story, as well as a tragedy, presenting a moving picture of the lives of working people in the middle of the nineteenth century.

3.5*

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book, Mary Barton is also one of my TBRs so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 – Book Pairing

nonficnov 19

I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 to Nov 30. Each Monday a link-up for the week’s topic will be posted at the host’s blog for you to link your posts throughout the week.

This week’s topic is: 

Week 2: (Nov. 4 to 8) – Book Pairing (host: Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves). This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a ‘If you loved this book, read this!’or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. 

I’ve recently read a couple of newly published historical novels that I think go well together with nonfiction books about the same subjects:

First, The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis, a novel I loved, pairing it with  Juliet Barker’s biography of the Brontë family, The Brontës

When I first came across The Vanished Bride I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to read it, as I’m never very keen on books about famous authors solving crimes. However, the Brontë sisters books have been amongst my favourites for years and I was curious find out what this book was all about. ‘Bella Ellis’ is the Brontë inspired pen name for the author Rowan Coleman, who has been a Brontë devotee for most of her life.

It is historical fiction set in 1845 about Charlotte, Emily and Anne and their brother, Branwell and how the sisters became ‘detectors’, or amateur sleuths as they investigate the disappearance of a young woman from Chester Grange, just across the moors from the Brontë Parsonage – which is, of course purely fiction. But it is not all pure fiction – in the Author’s Note Bella Ellis explains that it is based on biological facts or inspired by them.

Reading The Vanished Bride has inspired me to get back to reading the new edition of  The Brontës, Juliet Barker’s biography of the family.  I began reading (and never finished) it a few years ago. It is the result of 11 years’ research in archives throughout the world.  It contains a wealth of information, is illustrated and has copious notes and an index.

Juliet Barker is an internationally recognised expert on the Brontës and from 1983 to 1989 she was curator and librarian of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Her qualifications are impeccable – she was educated at Bradford Girls’ Grammar School and St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she gained her doctorate in medieval history. In 1999 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Bradford, and in 2001 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. For more information see her website.

Then I thought of these two books –  A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, a novel published this year and Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson published in 2007.

Both are about ‘Surplus Women‘ – nearly three-quarters of a million soldiers were killed during World War One, many of them unmarried young men, leaving a generation of women who had believed marriage to be their birthright without prospective husbands. 

A Single Thread focuses on one young woman, Violet whose fiancé, Laurence was killed in the First World War. Determined to be independent she leaves her mother and moves to Winchester, where she joins the Winchester Cathedral Broderers, a group of women dedicated to embroidering hassocks and cushions for the seats and benches. The difficulties of being independent are brought home to her as she struggles on her wages as a typist to pay for her lodgings, laundry and coal, let alone feed herself. And then her mother is admitted to hospital and she has to decide whether to return home to look after her.

Tracy Chevalier writes novels on a variety of subjects, carrying out meticulous research for each one. In this book she lists a number of the many resources she used, including details of Louisa Pesel’s embroidery work as well as the history of Winchester Cathedral, bell-ringing, 1930s women and life in Britain in the 1930s .

Singled Out, in contrast, is nonfiction, telling individual stories of how these ‘surplus women‘ coped with enforced spinsterhood. Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war years had to depend on herself and, in doing so, helped change society. These women harboured harrowing secret sadness, yearning for the closeness of marriage and children. Beginning in 1919 the book traces their experiences across the next two decades as they faced life alone, looking at how they survived economically, emotionally and sexually. There is a note on the sources she used and a select bibliography, plus photographs and an index.

Virginia Nicholson’s father was the art historian and writer Quentin Bell, acclaimed for his biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf and her mother Anne Olivier Bell edited the five volumes of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries. In June 2019 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The citation quoted Carmen Callil: “Virginia Nicholson is the outstanding recorder of British lives in the twentieth century.” For more information about see her website.

I have enjoyed looking at these pairs of books. Which books would you choose to compare?

Six Degrees of Separation: from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Strong Poison

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Alice Carroll

This month the chain begins with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll– a book I read as a child and loved. 

I was tempted to make my first link to Through the Looking Glass, Carroll’s follow-up book, or another of the books I loved as a child, but instead I chose:

Malice in wonderland

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake. In this Golden Age mystery Wonderland is a holiday camp, set on a cliff top overlooking the sea and there are several allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The train to Wonderland plunges into a tunnel, just as Alice falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland. And there is a prankster in the camp, the self-styled ‘Mad Hatter’, who is playing nasty and cruel practical jokes on the holiday makers. One of the visitors is Paul Perry, a young man who calls himself a scientist, who is there taking notes for the Mass Observation project.

Our Longest days

Mass Observation is my second link.  In August 1939, with war approaching, the Organisation asked its panel to keep diaries to record their daily lives and selections from fifteen of these diaries are included in Our Longest Days: A People’s History of the Second World War edited by Sandra Koa Wing.  

Testament of youth

Diaries provide the next link – Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years. Vera was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the war, nursing casualties both in Britain and France.

AC Autobiography

Agatha Christie was also a VAD member during World War One. In 1917 she worked in a hospital dispensary in Torquay and studied to take her Apothecaries Hall examination so she could dispense for a medical officer or a chemist. In her Autobiography she wrote that it was whilst she was working in the dispensary that she first thought of writing a detective story. Surrounded by poisons she decided it should be about a murder by poisoning.

Mysterious Affair at Styles

So my fifth link is to the first detective story she wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is set during the First World War I at Styles Court, a country house in Essex, owned by the very wealthy Mrs Inglethorp, who dies from strychnine poisoning. Captain Hastings enlists the help of Poirot, who is living in the village of Styles St Mary with other Belgian refugees, to investigate the matter.

Strong Poison

And my final link is Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers. Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic amateur detective, and Harriet Vane, a crime fiction writer, first met in this murder mystery. Harriet is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes, who died from arsenic poisoning. Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her. 

My chain is linked by books about Wonderland, the Mass Observation project, diaries VADs and poison. It passes from fantasy land through the World War One years, and back into the world of fiction. It includes crime fiction and non-fiction.

Next month (December 7, 2019), we’ll begin with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

Christine Falls

This week I’m featuring Christine Falls by Benjamin Black. Although I’m in the middle of other books right now I like to think about what to read next, often changing my mind before settling down to read the next one. Browsing my bookshelves recently (physical not virtual) this book caught my eye. I think I’ll read it soon.

She was glad it was the evening mailboat she was taking for she did not think she could have faced a morning departure. At the party the night before one of the medical students had found a flask of raw alcohol and mixed it with orange crush and she had drunk two glasses of it, and the inside of her mouth was still raw and there was something like a drum beating behind her forehead. She had stayed in bed all morning, still tipsy, unable to sleep and crying half the time, a hankie crushed to her mouth to stifle the sobs. She was frightened at the thought of what she had to do today, of what she had to undertake. Yes, she was frightened.

Blurb 

Quirke’s pathology department, set deep beneath the city, is his own gloomy realm: always quiet, always night, and always under his control. Until late one evening after a party he stumbles across a body that should not be there – and his brother-in-law falsifying the corpse’s cause of death.

This is the first time Quirke has encountered Christine Falls, but the investigation he decides to lead into the way she lived and died uncovers a dark secret at the heart of Dublin’s high Catholic network; one with the power to shake his own family and everything he holds dear.

~~~

Benjamin Black is a pseudonym used by John Banville (an author whose books I’ve enjoyed before). This is the first of his Quirke Mysteries. They are set in Ireland in the 1950s. I’ve read the fifth book, Vengeance, which I enjoyed, so when I saw this in a bookshop I bought it.

If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, does it tempt you too?