The King's General

It's cold. I have hot cocoa to warm my hands, but my other hand holding the book is still freezing. Never mind, I still have to read. Why? Because I'm re-reading The King's General! It is one of Daphne's less popular books but I find the story irresistible. A historical novel set in the time of England's Civil War, it contains many real life characters.

Honor Harris has a vivid recollection of meeting her brother's wife Gartred Grenvile. Even at the young age of 10, she is able to see behind Gartred's mask. Everyone has fallen victim to her beauty and charm, but not Honor. In her childish way, she mistrusts Gertrude. After her brothers death, Honor thankfully believes that she has seen the last of the 'Grenviles'. Never was she more wrong. The Grenviles and the Harrises are to play further roles in each others life for decades to come.

At eighteen, Honor Harris and Gartred Grenvile's brother Richard Grenvile fall in love. Whether their love is consummated we never know. What we do know is that they never marry; they are torn apart only to meet years later. Yet their love endures. Richard Grenvile is now Sir Richard Grenvile: the King's most trusted general. The King has fallen and soon Oliver Cromwell is in reign, but Richard will do anything to protect his King.

The love story between Richard and Honor is anything but conventional. At times, I was left wondering how their love, not only survived, but strengthened over the years. What was the magnetic quality that drew them towards each other. Richard is anything but a gentle lover. He is cruel and ruthless; so much in fact that Honor fears he will lose what influence he has with the King and his trusted men. I never thought I could ever love a novel which did not end happily. The King's General proved how wrong I was.

The novel takes place mostly in 'Menabilly', an estate owned by the Rashleighs. The house is the one on which she based her descriptions of Manderley in the novel Rebecca. Daphne had always been fascinated by the house and the legend of the bones found in the buttress. With a little bit of imagination and some history, she fashions a love story that you almost believe is true - or at least wish it to be so.

I felt that this book was different from Daphne du Maurier's other novels because the narrator, Honor Harris, is a strong young woman who has no qualms about who she is. She has a confidence and maturity, even at eighteen, that is lacking in some of her other narrators. She reminds me a little of Mary Yellen, the protagonist in Jamaica Inn. Her realistic and matter of fact attitude is refreshing after the uncertainty and under-confidence of the narrators in I'll Never be Young Again, My Cousin Rachel and even a little in Rebecca (you know it's true). Unlike them, Honor has always known her mind and what she intends to do. Her strength is what gets her through her.....let's just say 'sorrows' , and what allows her to let the man she loves go.

Victorian Literature Challenge

I'm feeling very adventurous in taking on my third challenge in one week. But what the heck, it's all a part of my resolution, right? The Victorian Literature Challenge sounds interesting. I've already read a ton of Victorian Literature including the Bronte sisters, and Dickens, but there is still so much out there! I'm going to try the 'Sense and Sensibility' level......wanna take things slow. Who knows if I'll be able to read so much?! So far I only have two books from the Victorian age sitting on my bookshelf that need to be read: Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. You can be sure I'll add more books as the year goes on!

A New Year

Happy New Year Everybody!

Over all, 2010 was a great year for me. I turned my life around by forcing myself to enroll in Masters classes. I have never made a better decision. Why not do masters in something I love and am somewhat good at? I love reading and now to study, I read. I admit, it somewhat loses its flavor, but at the same time I learn so much more that I never knew before. Before joining these classes, I was interested only in novels. Now, I love reading plays by Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Miller, and others. I never knew that literature could be such a wide field with something for everyone.

I passed my first year of Masters with flying colors topping in my class (no great feat, I didn't top in the University:P). I realized I can actually do something and this spurred me towards doing even better in my final year. Send-up exams are just around the corner........I hope I do well.

Besides studies, I also expanded on the social network i.e. the Internet! I started blogging (and also tweeting) this year and although it was a slow start, I've managed to pick up my pace and now bring out a few reviews each week. After my exams are over, I intend to work even harder and of course read for pleasure even more! I joined some challenges that interested me. Let's see where that goes:).

That's it for my accomplishments this year. The New Year is coming up and it's 365 new days, and each day with, as Anne says, 'no mistakes in it yet'! I have plenty of books sitting on my shelves (some for years!) that I haven't gotten around to yet. My first resolution is to finish these books and write their reviews.

Secondly, I want to take part in more challenges. I want to get out of my blogging shell and interact with more book lovers and bloggers out there! Discussing books is an enjoyment for all book lovers.

Last but not least, I want to expand my reading to other genres. I LOVE historical romances but I want to try other genres and authors.

Here's hoping I actually keep my resolutions:)

The Flight of the Falcon: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

Finally! I've finished the first book for the challenge. Written in 1965, The Flight of the Falcon is one of Daphne du Maurier's later books. The novel, like some of her other works, has the same type of narrator: under-confident, unsure, unsuccessful and dependent. By dependent I mean, that the characters are usually (not always) overshadowed by some strong figure in their life. Beoto Donati is all that his predecessors were, except that he is not a young school-boy learning through experience how to be a maturer man. Experience has not given him the necessary push. In I'll Never Be Young Again and My Cousin Rachel we meet the male voice at a much younger age. These protagonists are untried as of yet and as the novel progresses they are forced to learn certain harsh facts. In The Flight of the Falcon we enter Beoto's life at the age of 32. His life is at a standstill because of what he believes to be the loss of his older brother Aldo; a brother he feared yet idolized; without whom he has no separate existence.

Returning to Ruffano, his birth place, to investigate whether his old nurse was the murder victim in front of a church, he is never more shocked in his life when he runs into skeletons from his past. The reader is not so easily shocked. Most of the secrets in the novel are easy to guess. Like the mystery surrounding the birth of Aldo and the murder of Marta. I was not mid-way through the book before I had figured these two out. But this did not in any way deter me from reading the whole book. Daphne du Maurier, as always, gives a certain magnetic energy to her narrator's voice. His/her method of narrating the events that happen never fail to grasp your interest.Yet, I must say that for the male narrators at least, I find them a bit too weak and dependent. She so aptly brings their sense of helplessness and ineptness to the surface. The style of writing is enough to keep one reading, but the revelations of character are sometimes too insightful for us to be comfortable.

The summary at the back of the penguin edition, prepares us for a repetition of past exploits and the death of the Falcon. The Falcon, Duke Claudio, died a catastrophic death and the people of Ruffano would rather forget the history of debauchery linking them to him. But history is to repeat itself. To re-enact the whole final scene of the Falcon's life, someone sets out to create a real life play; a play that will be performed in the streets. Beoto, fearful of the outcome and the only one in knowledge of all the facts, is unable to stop it. I read on, sure of what is going to happen, who is going to be the Falcon in the play, yet I couldn't have guessed the outcome; but I will leave you to find out what happens in the story............what is the purpose in re-enacting this particular episode? The violence that was in the Duke's day is repeated through the now famous University at Ruffano, by the mysterious workings of a secret society. The secrets and mysteries unfold slowly, at exactly the right moment. The author's skill is apparent in the tensions she builds and then the final release.

As always, the atmosphere in the novel is important. Beoto, who is known through most of the novel as Armino Fabbio, vividly remembers the place of his birth and the ducal palace where his father was the Superintendent. The description of his home town, when driving up the hill covered with snow is magnificent. Their is a gothic element in his memories of the religious paintings at the ducal palace and the mental torture he suffered at the hands of his brother, Aldo. Influenced by authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Wilkie Collins, Daphne gives this gothic and mysterious element to all her plots. The atmosphere is always a bit eerie and I personally always feel the narrator is a little detached. This may be because of the style of narration. The reader always feels separate from the action as if watching from a distance, because the narrator is between us and the action. We are seeing it through his or her eyes, not directly. This gives a peculiar quality to Daphne's novels.

Despite the great story, this was not one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels. I would have to say that my favorites are Rebecca and The King's General. Maybe I'm a sucker for romance - of which there was none in this particular novel!

The Daphne du Maurier Challenge

I'm so excited to join my first challenge! The Daphne du Maurier challenge is a perfect place for me to start because I am a huge du Maurier fan. I've already read her most popular novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel and have been trying to start the rest. Hopefully, this challenge will give me the necessary push! I'm going to try the 'Dreaming of Manderly' category as I loved her novel Rebecca. On my list of novels to read are, The Flight of the Falcon, Hungry Hill, and The Loving Spirit. Unfortunately, due to my upcoming exams, I'll have to complete the novels after the 15th of January........and time drags when you're waiting for something. Wish me luck!

The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle is one of my all time favorite books. Valancy, the protagonist, is someone we can all relate to. At 29, she is still unmarried. Even in this day and age, going past the 'marriageable age' is a huge issue; especially in a culture like Pakistan's. Valancy's idealism and dreams are ones which we all have. Though the novel is presented as a fantasy, we all, at some point or another, want to do what Valancy does, to break free from the rules of culture and society and do something outrageous! I know I have.

As always, L. M. Montgomery's heroines have a unique quality about them; something, which strictly speaking, isn't beauty but charm. Valancy, after she breaks free from her restraints, is almost beautiful - but not in the conventional way that her cousin Olive is. She has a personality of her own and the blue castle which she dreams of is the place where her true potential comes to the surface. As Barney, her........  (I'll let you find out for yourself!) says, 'you belong to the woods'. That is where her special charm finds it's proper domain.

Who among us doesn't have annoying relatives? Relatives who intrude, boss and try to control our very existence? It may be an old aunt or some far off older cousin, but we've all felt the helplessness - especially during family reunions. Valancy lives eternally in a family reunion. The family has found an easy target in Valancy and boss the very life out of her. To break free is a harder step than it seems, even for Valancy. But nevertheless, she finds the necessary push to live her life the way her heart desires............where does it all end? Do her dreams come true? Most importantly of all, does she find true love? Or is the stigma of age one that she can't get around?......Read it and tell me all about your views!

Need to Read

I've hit a no reading hiatus. Ever since the new school year has started, I've been busy finishing the compulsory list of literature books. During the course of my studies (I'm doing Masters in English Literature) I've read some new novels such as Heart of Darkness, Adam Bede, and The Return of the Native and also some old favorites like Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities.

Studying a novel critically is very different from reading a novel purely for enjoyment. I've discovered that literature is hard work! Between reading critics T.S. Eliot and Aristotle, and poets William Blake and Coleridge, I find no time for writing a review. Literature, instead of a pleasant hobby has become an a necessary study item for upcoming exams.

The reviews that I will write (hopefully) will mostly be of books that I have already read. For me, the most enjoyable part of anything - be it watching a movie or reading a book - is the discussion that takes place afterward. The critical analysis and arguments about what happened, why it happened and how it should have happened is something I look forward to more than the reading itself. And then who doesn't love re-reading their favorite parts? The scene between Darcy and Elizabeth after the proposal in Pride and Prejudice is one which I never tire of.

The suggestion of a new author or novel is always welcome. I've already on my list of novels to read Anna Karenina, War and Peace and Middlemarch. Let the new year start - then I'll make my resolution!

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Jean Auel's book The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first from her Earth's Children series. Set in prehistoric times, my first impression was that the book would be boring. I was never more wrong. From the first page, the book had grasped my entire attention and I was oblivious to all else until the last page. 

The Clan of the Cave Bear is about the evolution of a new race of humans. Ayla, the protagonist, after a catastrophic earthquake, loses her family and is 'adopted' into the 'Clan of the Cave Bear'. The clan belongs to another, older race of humans, and refers to Ayla and her people as the 'others'. They are a race verging on extinction with capabilities Ayla does not possess. The novel focuses on Ayla's adaptation in her new environment (she possesses no memory of her own people) and with people she has nothing in common with, the difficulties in being accepted by her adoptive family, and her urge for survival. She represents the new, more resilient race of humans that were in the end the ones that were to survive. The differences between the two races is dealt with in detail. Ayla, representing the 'others' is more intelligent and picks up the ways of the clan quickly; she does not need the 'memories' that a clan child is born with. Being an outsider, her fast learning is an asset that helps her to survive in a harsh environment.

Jean Auel continues Ayla's story in sequels of The Clan of the Cave Bear with the latest novel being The Land of Painted Caves.

Jane Austen - Revisiting the Past

Going into a bookshop is always a delight. I love looking at the rows and rows of books and imagining that there are innumerable books and classics I haven’t read yet. Maybe there’s another author I can love as much as I love Jane Austen or L. M. Montgomery; or another book as great as Wuthering Heights and Gone With the Wind. It would be the greatest thing if I could discover a new book which moves me as much as To Kill a Mocking Bird.

But until I find such a book or author, I have to read - and what better than the old classics? I can re-read Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte a million times and never get tired of them. These days I am busy in re-reading Pride and Prejudice, my favorite Jane Austen novel. Jane Austen in a letter to her sister wrote,

‘I must confess I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.’

But obviously she did not have to worry, for Elizabeth is one of the most loved heroines of all time.  Her wit and vivacity make her charming, but her vanity and prejudice make her human and more relatable to the reader. It is because of her flaws that we love her, not because of her virtues. Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood are superior creatures much more morally correct but not more lovable than Elizabeth Bennet, Emma or Catherine Morland. The characters who go through some self-revealing process are the ones that we love the most.

Jane Austen’s style was unique. She was born in the Age of the Romantics but was nothing like them in her style. She actually parodied the gothic and sentimentalist styles of her time in her novel’s Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility. It is easy to see that she had a sense of humor for the absurd. Her novels abound in comical irony. Take Pride and Prejudice as an example. In the novel we have numerous comical characters: Mr Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Austen aims a lot of the ironic humor at them; sometimes through narration and sometimes through other characters.  Mr Collins seems absurd the moment he is introduced through his letter. Phrases such as ‘bounty and beneficence’ and ‘earnest endeavor’ show us beforehand that he is a pompous fool. And Mr. Bennet later solidifies our opinion,

‘There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well.’

The humor intensifies when he makes his visit and declares his intention of marrying one of the sisters. His proposal is especially comical. His reasons for marrying, his belief that a woman refuses an offer of marriage she really wants to accept, and then his suddenly proposing to Charlotte - all amusing.

Mrs. Bennet is another absurd character. We see her from the first page of the novel. Here Austen uses dialogue to reveal her characters. By the end of the chapter we see Mrs. Bennet for what she is and hardly need the narration at the end,

‘The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.’

My favorite scene in the novel is Darcy’s proposal. It is so well written and the dialogue is perfect. The way she uses dialogue and then switches to free-indirect speech, you barely notice the absence of dialogue. Elizabeth’s answer is perfectly worded,

‘You are mistaken, Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’

I can actually imagine Darcy’s expression at the moment. He rightly calls it a ‘reproof, so well applied....’

So, whereas my mission is always to find a new novel, I can always fall back on the classics and enjoy them like I did the first time around.:)

The Pat Series

Phil, in Anne of the Island says, speaking of Pickwick Papers, ‘That’s a book that always makes me hungry. There’s so much good eating in it.’ I feel the same way when I read the Pat series. The food Judy cooks in that book! The dinners with fried chicken, jelly-roll cake, apple cake, cinnamon buns! Yum! Even the food I’ve never tried sounds so good. Pat, the perfect housekeeper is perfect in every other way except in relation to her love life (just like all her heroines!). Her cooking is superb… they’re always having some party or dinner and planning exquisite menus – the best part. I especially love the menu they prepare for the visit of their cousin Countess of Medchester: Fried chicken with sparrow grass, coconut cake, iced melon balls and ice-cream; and I actually tried ‘ribbon sandwiches’ just because they were mentioned in the book!

Besides the wonderful food (I already feel hungry), Pat herself is different from Montgomery’s other heroines. She is a born housewife. She actually loves her home (sometimes to obsession; poor Hilary!) and takes care of it. I have actually taken some tips from her books: putting lavender between the sheets, hanging Chinese Lanterns for effect and many, many more great ideas. It’s like the two books are a guide for the perfect housewife.

The books were written much later – Pat of Silver Bush in 1933, and Mistress Pat in 1935 – than the Anne Series. Her skill is certainly more than when she wrote her first book. She shows a greater range of emotions. The first Anne book, though having its share of grief, was mostly light and sparkling, but the Pat books show more sadness and sometimes even despair: the scenes where Pat is in the attic and feels old and when Sid marries May, her longtime enemy. We see her portray much more sadness than in any of her earlier novels. This is also due to the fact that it takes many years for Pat to realize her love for Hilary and to end her loneliness.

Judy’s death was the saddest part of the novel for me. The relationship between Pat and Judy had been beautiful to see and I actually cried when she died. But Montgomery never allows her readers to remain grief-stricken for long; something always happens to take the edge away. It is apparent why she does so, in a dialogue from Emily Climbs,

            ‘I read a story to-night. It ended unhappily. I was wretched until I had invented a happy ending for it. I shall always end my stories happily. I don’t care whether it’s ‘true to life’ or not. It’s true to life as it should be and that’s a better truth then the other.’

I am inclined to agree with her point of view. It is better to portray a better way of life in novels then all the social evils of the world; something to aspire to; an ideal. Whenever I want to escape the realities of the world, I grab one of Montgomery’s novels and forget all my problems. It is apparent that L. M. Montgomery was a well-read woman. She refers to Dickens’ novels many times and even Rudyard Kipling. She saw the evil in the world and yet was still able to write of its beauty.

L.M. Montgomery's works

Some books can only be read by older, more mature people; others can be read only by a younger audience; some are specifically written for children; but the books by L. M. Montgomery are universal. They can be read by any age group. She is unique in being able to enchant all sorts of people.

Of course the first book that comes to mind when mentioning L. M. Montgomery is Anne of Green Gables. The book is exquisite in its portrayal of Anne: an orphan girl, worked like a drudge in her childhood, but still managing to see the beauty of life. In Anne, we see the true optimist, who despite all odds manages to bring joy to herself and others in her life as well. I’ve never read about a heroine like her. As Mark Twain says Anne of Green Gables is the ‘sweetest creation of child life yet written.’ The book brings with it a freshness that is lacking in other novels. We have love, friendship, heartache and extreme happiness in the book. Laughter is common and the thing about L. M. Montgomery is that we can actually relate to everything in the book. Anne is a unique child and it’s obvious that we all want to be like her. We all want to have that same joyous nature, to be able to love intensely and see only the beauty even through the sorrow. L. M. Montgomery portrays a young girl living in an imperfect world able to see its perfections.

Anne is by no means an angel. She has a quick temper. As Mrs. Rachel Lynde says, ‘Her temper matches her hair’, which is red. Throughout the Anne series we see Anne’s obsession with her hair, at one point even dyeing it green! She makes her fair share of blunders and mistakes but always learns her lesson. In her love life she, like most of L. M. Montgomery’s heroines, realizes much later than the hero that she is in love. With Anne, Gilbert actually almost has to die to get her to notice!

I love L. M. Montgomery’s descriptions of people. It’s always so perfect and exactly the thing you want to know about; the aspect that interests you most of all. In one of her short stories this is how she describes the heroine, ‘a sweet, little, brown thing, rather tired looking, with a flute-like voice. Her face was as brown as a nut, her hair and eyes were brown, her lips scarlet.’

Most of the time I hate reading descriptions of scenery in novels, but with L. M. Montgomery, I savor each and every word. Her words seem to bring out the best parts in everything. The snow, the flowers, sunsets and moonrises all have a different flavor when she describes them. And her genius at coining names for places! ‘Glimmer-glass’, ‘Idlewild’, ‘The White Way of Delight’, ‘The Fairies’ Mirror’. I just don’t know how she comes up with them.

What else can I say about L. M. Montgomery? She was a great artist. Each and every one of her novels is a piece of art. Anne of Green Gables is of course her masterpiece; the novel that led to her fame. But she didn’t just leave with one great book. She has written many great novels and my personal favorite is the Emily Series. The series is also said to be autobiographical. Other good books by Montgomery are the Pat series and Jane of Lantern Hill. She’s also written many short stories and poetry.

This is my favorite topic: discussing Anne and Emily and Pat:). All her heroines are distinct from each other. Anne is the sweet one who has ambitions, but puts her loved ones first. Emily is also ambitious but has a LOT of pride and, at least in the beginning, would sacrifice anything for her work. Pat is the most different; she has no ambitions except living in Silver Bush and keeping house. But they also have many things in common: they are all great lovers of beauty, they aren’t typically beautiful but have ‘personality’. Emily, unlike Pat and Anne, is not blind to her love for Teddy. I can go on comparing the heroines forever, but I’ll leave off. Till next time:).
I don't have a favorite author, but many people do. I can't seem to narrow down my list of favorites! I mean, who can have a favorite when there are so many greats out there? There's Austen and Dickens from an older era and then there are authors like Dan Brown and Paul Coelho who are more recent. Such a wide era spanning from the time of Homer in Greece to here and now! One day I'm in love with one author and the next day it's another.

The real reason I created this blog was so that you guys can tell me your favorite authors and novels. To discuss the aspects of each novel. What is it about a novel or an author that speaks to you? Calls out to you and makes you want to be there, in the novel? Not all authors have the gift, but so many out there do, of making us want to live in the story and be a part of it. Share the author and the novel who is able to do that for you:).