Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Empty Mansions Equals Empty Reading

I was intrigued by the premise of the book.  After all, I'm scraping together money to make it to payday and here was someone with several empty mansions around the country.  And palatial ones at that.   Empty Mansions is the story of Huguette Clark, who actually has connections with Montana.  So I was doubly inspired to read the book.  And a hefty one at that.  

The book starts out following the life of her father, W. A. Clark, who was old enough to be her grandfather when she was born in France.  It follows his colorful life from Pennsylvania to Montana, the amassing of his fortune (at one time he was one of the richest, if not the richest, men in the world) and his need to become a senator at all costs - literally.  And between all of that, building some of the most expensive houses and art collections around.  What was interesting about him was that in a time when the 'robber barons' could care less about his workers, W. A. was actually paying decent wages and had fairly good work rules in place, especially for the time.  With little Huguette quietly in the background with her sister and reclusive mother.

I plowed through pages on W. A. and was almost relieved when he finally passed away.  There are only so many scandals and payoffs that I can take in.  Then the book focuses on Huguette.  I made it through her failed marriage in her early 20's (one that was probably unconsummated) and as her life was slowly being revealed in all it's million of dollars glory - well, who cares.  I found it hard to be in the least bit sympathetic to her life in all it's crazy misery.  It's like being upset because Paris Hilton might have to spend a night in jail for drunk driving.  This was one girl who needed some serious counseling.

Maybe it was because I was getting upset with all the millions and millions of dollars which were being spent (and I'm trying not to spend anything except on groceries and bills this month).  Maybe it was because I didn't find her a very likable or interesting person.  Maybe it's a phase I am going through, because yet again I have closed a book halfway through out of boredom.  

I think I need 'trashy' reading for a bit to jar me out of my rut.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Longbourn or Long-Bored

I picked this up of the shelving cart as a possible interesting read.  After all, the premise is a parallel story of the characters of Pride and Prejudice as seen from the servants side of events.

In the background you have the Bennett family going about their business with the Bingley's and Mr. Darcy and Wickham.  It shows the chaos that Mr. Collins unexpected visit to the house causes.  And just what is the background of the new footman, James?  Most of the story is about Sarah, the maid.  All her duties and trials and tribulations.  Her fetching and hair curling and chilblains. Throw in Mr. Bingley's colored servant, Ptolemy, which fascinates Sarah.   Does she get with James?  Or does she take a daring risk and run off with Ptolemy?  Or is she destined to stay as a maid to the Bennett's forever?  And it is still not a sufficiently interesting read for me to really care what does or does not happen to Sarah.   So about halfway through and I'm calling it quit.  So long, Sarah.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Widow's Tears by Susan Wittig Albert

I have followed Susan Wittig Albert for over a decade now, anticipating every new China Bayles adventure.  I had not read this one yet (it had slipped by me in the move) and when it came across the counter at work, I grabbed it up.  I know a SWA book is a quick read, because you can't put it down and she has another book coming out shortly (in April). 

This one didn't disappoint,.  However, it is a bit different from her other China Bayles books.  For one thing, China figures very little in this book.  It is mainly about Ruby.  

Widow's Tears has the past meeting the present in a very disturbing way.  September 8, 1900 was the day of the hurricane which destroyed Galveston and left almost 10,000 people dead (most of the city at the time).  Flash forward to 2013 and Ruby is helping her old friend Claire discover what a ghost in a house Claire inherited wants so that Claire can use the old, strange house as a bed and breakfast.

As past and present intertwine, a disturbing story of that sad day in history unfolds.  In fact, being a mother myself, I found the story a bit unsettling.  In fact, so much so that it wasn't quite as quick a read as I was expecting.  I have been inland for a handful of hurricanes in North Carolina.  I know the crack of pine trees as they fall victim to the wind and rain.  I have had power loss for almost a week and roads cut off for a couple of days due to trees down across the road.  And yet, even in these days we can still experience the devastation similar to Galveston (take New Orleans).  So there was a bit of empathy for Rachel's experience in Galveston.  It takes Ruby's empathy and psyhic ability to finally understand after a century what Rachel really wants.  China's no-nonsense strengths can't help here.

I have also picked my share of widow's tears, growing wild.  The tiny purple/blue flowers are lovely and each chapter starts with a tidbit on the language of flowers.  I regret we have lost the need to 'speak our message' with flowers.  

This is another book which will join the other China Bayles' mysteries on my shelf to read and re-read over and over again. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Home To Big Stone Gap

How can you not read a book when a friend tells you they are listening to an audio recording of it and the narrator has an accent like you do.  Therefore, they feel that you are reading the book to them.  At the same time, I came across a give-away book and asked "is this the book you're reading"?  Seems like something or someone was telling me I needed to read it.

Set in the rural section of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Adriana Trigiani follows the life of Ave Maria as she readjusts her life to her daughter moving to Italy and getting married, as well as the health scare with her husband.  In her mid fifties, her life is changing in ways she had not anticipated. Even long time friends seem to have secrets and are evolving differently than what she imagined.

This book appealed to me on many levels.  First, it was set in an area of the country I know well.  I know what these really small towns are like and how friendship and families go back decades.  How everyone knows everything about everybody, or at least they think they do.  There is nothing like living in an area where people know who is traveling down the road just by the car that goes by.

Secondly, Ave Maria is in her fifties and is encountering changes she had not anticipated.  That's where I am in my life, in my fifties and making changes I had not thought I would be making.  Her confusion and resistance to these twists hit home.

From the large gatherings centered around food (recipes included in the book) to discovering hidden secrets about her best friend and her husband's 'to-do' list, Ave Maria copes with a world which is moving down a different path than what she felt she was walking.

Home to Big Stone Gap is book number four in the series, which I didn't know when I was reading the book.  It stands alone enough you can skip the first three and still have a very good read.  Now I want to go back and read the first three books.