Friday Book Whimsy: And the Winner Is…..

Back in June, I wrote a blog post in which I admitted that I had just learned that PBS was sponsoring a contest of sorts in which people would vote for their favorite book. Through some process that I never bothered to research, 100 books were nominated by readers like you and me as their favorite book — as my 8-year–old granddaughter Mylee would say — in the whole entire world. Let me remind you that it was expressly defined as the favorite book and not the best book. As such, books such as Fifty Shades of Gray and The Notebook were among the 100 that were nominated. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with them.

Each day, readers were invited to vote for our favorite or favorites. I will admit that most days I forgot to vote. I will also admit that every day that I remembered to vote, I voted for the same book — Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Haters, don’t hate. I am a sucker for that book. It’s got everything: a dashing hero (never mind that he actually ends up being a murderer), a lovely, yet wimpering heroine (who remains nameless throughout — as Mylee would say — the whole entire book), an evil housekeeper (who may or may not have been one of Rebecca’s lovers), and a beautiful mansion on the shores of the raging sea in Cornwall, England (because Manderley, you see is most assuredly a character in the book. Rebecca has one of the best opening lines in any book: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”)

Alas, Rebecca did not win. And it probably didn’t deserve that honor, despite this reader’s love for the cleverly-written and decidedly creepy story. Instead, the winner was To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Harper Lee has been newsworthy for nearly 60 years. Most recently, a school district in Canada has banned the book from its curriculum, saying it is racist and hurtful to African American students. I choose not to weigh in on that controversy at this point but (cough) bulldoodoo.

Here are how some of my favorite books that were included among the 100 nominees fared: Little Women came in 8th; Jane Eyre was in the 10th spot; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was number 13, and Then There Were None took 19th place. As for Rebecca, it did quite well, landing in spot number 25. As for Fifty Shades of Gray, it was 86th out of the 100 on the list.   

Click here for a complete list of the results.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

When author Ruth Ware comes out with a new novel, I always get sucked in by the title. The Woman in Cabin 10; In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Lying Game. Her latest thriller caught my attention for the same reason: its title. The Death of Mrs. Westaway sounds like it could have been written by Agatha Christie.

I have always been somewhat disappointed by Ware’s stories, however. Her writing is respectable and the stories are always interesting enough that I keep on reading. It’s generally her characters that I find troubling. I have to find something in a protagonist to like or the book will leave me dissatisfied.

I found The Death of Mrs. Westaway to lean somewhat in that direction; yet, I found the main character — a young woman named Hal — to be a bit more likable and less one dimensional.

Hal’s life is at its lowest point. Her mother (she never knew her father) has died. Hal’s career as a tarot card reader like her mother barely covers her living expenses. In fact, she is in debt to a low-life lender who has threatened death if she doesn’t fork up the money in short order. Money she simply doesn’t have.

And then she receives a letter telling her that her grandmother has died and she has been left an inheritance. Voila! This could be the answer to all of her money problems. There is only one problem. Her grandmother died years ago. The letter must have come to her in error. Still, what harm could there be in playing dumb and going to the funeral and the subsequent meeting with the lawyer?

Well, it turns out things get more and more complicated when Hal finds out that she not only was mentioned in the will, but Grandmother left her the whole shooting match — most of her money and the estate in which she lives. The estate which is INCREDIBLY SPOOKY. Hal’s new aunts and uncles aren’t thrilled with this notion, though they try to be nice to her.

But not only is the estate spooky, there is a very creepy housekeeper who dotes uncomfortably on one of Hal’s new uncles. This could be Mrs. Danvers’ (of Rebecca fame) younger sister.

While Hal’s new family appears to be understanding, it quickly becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want her to be around. And why are there pictures of her mother — her real-life mother who by all accounts isn’t even related — around the house?

The story is tied up quite satisfactorily if somewhat predictably. Still, I found this to be my favorite of all Ruth Ware’s novels. Having said that, I must tell you that The Death of Mrs. Westaway is no Rebecca by a long shot.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Lawn Service
For years now, Bill has taken care of our yard, and beautifully, I might add. This is no easy task, as we sit on a third of an acre, and most of it is in our back yard. This summer, you might recall, he has removed his Lawn Service cap and replaced it with a House Remodeling cap. His work in our family room has taken on a life of its own and is requiring a great deal of his time. Oh, who am I kidding? It is taking all of his time, from morning until I make him stop at 4:30 or 5. But I got an email from Addie the other day saying Hey Nana. I was wondering if you and Papa needed help with lawn mowing. Also, I would love to help you guys with your in-house projects. We had talked about the possibility of her taking over our lawn mowing this summer. Jll and Dave have a policy, however, that prohibits the kids from being paid for work done for their grandparents. So before I agreed, I looked Jll straight in the eye and said, “I will not let the kids mow our lawn unless you agree that we can pay them.” Jll, being like the obedient and loving Naomi in the biblical Book of Ruth, said yes, pointing out that mowing a lawn is hard work worthy of compensation. So, this happened…..

Addie has officially become our new lawn service. Don’t let Alastair steal my job, was the only thing she requested. Aye aye, Cap’n.

Happy Days
The other day, I agreed to give Bill a ride to pick up his Ferarri at the place that had done enough work on it to get it to pass emissions inspection. The auto place is in a northern Denver suburb, and we live quite a ways south. However, Bill and his friend John have a place not far from the auto shop at which they get hamburgers. It’s called Jim’s Burger Haven. He greased the wheels of his request for a ride by offering to buy me a burger and fries at Jim’s. I have heard Bill and John talk about it for years, but I had never gone myself. In my mind, the place was kind of a dump. I anticipated that we would walk in and be blasted with the smell of burned grease and the sight of ripped booths and filthy floors. So I was surprised and delighted when what I saw instead was a very clean restaurant that was a time machine back to 1958. And not one of those artificial diners with fake decoration. This was the real McCoy, and taken care of like a favorite child…..

I’m afraid I can’t quite share their love for the burgers, which tasted ordinary to me, but it was fun nevertheless.

My Cousin Rachel
I don’t actually have a cousin named Rachel. But there’s this book, and now this movie. I reviewed the book back in December, and loved it. The book was written by Daphne du Maurier, the same author who wrote one of my very favorite books of all time, Rebecca. Anyway, I was searching for a good movie to see, and found that My Cousin Rachel had been released as a movie, starring Rachel Weisz (I don’t know if the producers only considered actresses named Rachel.) A friend and I planned on seeing it yesterday, but life happened, and the movie didn’t. I’m determined to see the movie, however. My Cousin Rachel was made into a film in 1952 that starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. That might be worth seeing as well, but the library didn’t have it, and to purchase it from Amazon would cost more than I’m willing to spend.

The Great Wok
I wasn’t sure what to make for dinner last night. When I asked Bill what sounded good to him, he said chili. I know I shouldn’t ask if I’m not willing to listen, but really? Chili? In the middle of June? I put my foot down and said no, and did a stir fry instead in honor of my sister Bec who is visiting China as you read this blog. Now this is cool….

Ciao. Or perhaps I should say zai jian, which is see you again in Mandarin.

Friday Book Whimsy: Fiercombe Manor

searchI’ve mentioned  before that I love manor mysteries; you know, mysteries that take place in mysterious old houses with creepy caretakers or daunting housekeepers. So when a come across a book with the word manor right in its title, I am definitely going to give it a read.

Fiercombe Manor, a debut mystery novel by Kate Riordan, despite a few minor flaws, met, yes, even exceeded, my expectations. It was suitably creepy in the manner of Rebecca, the similarities a reader can’t fail to notice.

It’s 1933, and young and naïve Alice finds herself in a precarious position – pregnant by a married man who has no intention of leaving his wife after all. She confesses her situation to her horrified mother, herself a cold and unloving parent. The mother contacts her old friend Mrs. Jelphs, who is a housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor in Gloustershire, far away from London. The plan is for Alice to have her baby (which Mrs. Jelphs is told is the result of a brief marriage that ended when her husband was killed), then return to London and immediately give the baby up for adoption.

But when Alice arrives at Fiercombe Manor, (which is not occupied by the Stanton family who live abroad, but instead is lived in and managed by Mrs. Jelphs and a groundskeeper) she immediately begins to get creeped out by some of the noises she hears at night and stories she is told. Bit by bit, she learns of the homes’ former occupants. From that point forward, the story is told in the familiar back-and-forth style – Alice’s story and the story of Elizabeth Stanton. Sometimes I wish authors could be a bit more clever; nevertheless, both storylines are creative and compelling.

The book’s readers and reviewers draw a comparison between Mrs. Jelphs and Mrs. Danvers (the housekeeper in Rebecca). I don’t believe the comparison is justified. While Mrs. Jelphs clearly knows more than she is saying, she is ultimately kind and cares for Alice. Still, the whole notion of a young woman alone in a creepy mansion with only a suspicious-seeming housekeeper and a groundskeeper who keeps showing up in unexpected place clearly begs the reader to compare it to Rebecca.

There is a romantic element, as one of the Stanton heirs is a young man who has issues of his own. The romance doesn’t get in the way of the story, however.

I enjoyed the book very much, and found Riordan’s writing to be beautiful. I am looking forward to the author’s next book, which apparently will be a ghost story.

Here is a link to the book.

unnamed

Friday Book Whimsy: My Cousin Rachel

18869970Back in 2014, I reviewed what is one of my favorite novels ever – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. At the end of that review, I said that I hadn’t read anything else by the author, and likely wouldn’t because the book would never compare to Rebecca and I would thus be disappointed.

Recently, I succumbed to temptation, and read My Cousin Rachel, by du Maurier. I was definitely not disappointed. What an exceptional novel. I simply couldn’t put it down.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Nothing could compare the romance and intrigue of Rebecca, a book clever because the title character – who really is the main character of the story – is long ago dead and buried. The book also has one of the best opening lines of any novel: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. Mysterious, yet sublime, once you have read the novel.

My Cousin Rachel also has an intriguing first line: They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not anymore, though.

Young Philip Ashley comes to live with his cousin Ambrose as an infant upon the death of his parents. Ambrose – the master of an estate in the Cornwall section of England – is a good and loving guardian despite the fact that he is a confirmed bachelor. Ambrose and Philip are very happy together.

Ambrose is a confirmed bachelor, that is, until he takes a trip to Italy when Philip is 24 years old, leaving him to manage the affairs. He writes letters to Philip, telling him of his activities. Soon, he begins talking about meeting a distant cousin named Rachel. Via the letters, Philip learns that Ambrose eventually falls in love with Rachel, and they marry. But then the letters become further and further apart, until finally Philip gets a mysterious letter from Ambrose that implies that Ambrose believes he is being poisoned by Rachel. Philip travels to Italy, but it is too late. Ambrose has died, supposedly of a brain disease believed to have been inherited from his father. Rachel is nowhere to be found.

Philip returns home, deeply saddened and angry beyond words at Rachel. Eventually, Rachel comes to visit, and much to Philip’s surprise, he likes her very much. In fact, as the months go by, he becomes more and more attached to “my cousin Rachel” as he calls her throughout the book. And then mysterious things begin to happen to Philip as well…..

Du Maurier’s story telling is beyond belief. Her stories are creepy without being gory. The characters are multifaceted, the opposite of one-dimensional. Her plotting is creative without being silly. I forbade myself from looking at the end of the book (as I often do, I’m ashamed to admit), and didn’t. Yet, wanting to know how the book ends kept me reading late into the night. Like Rebecca, the house and grounds were almost a character. The author’s descriptions are vivid and allow the reader to feel like they are part of the story.

The ending was highly satisfying.

My Cousin Rachel is a wonderful book that I highly recommend, especially if you like gothic literature.

Here is link to the book.  

 unnamed