miércoles, 29 de enero de 2014

Christmas Pudding - Nancy Mitford

Summary (from Goodreads):

An outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease may have terminated the hunting at the Compton Bobbins' in the Cotswolds, but it has not dampened the Yuletide spirit of the Bright Young Things who find themselves among the oddly assorted guests of the not-so young and quite formidable Lady Maria Bobbin. Hilarious misadventures abound as Lady Bobbin's serenely beautiful daughter, Philadelphia, meets the advances of the very eligible, and equally dull, Lord Lewis and of the charming but penniless Paul Fotheringay, whose terribly serious first novel has, to his dismay, just been hailed by critics as the funniest book of the year. With signature wit and gentle mockery, not to mention her acid malice for the second-rate, Nancy Mitford romps rippingly through the wold and the life of the county set in the cozy English 1930s.

Because I'm such a wacko, I must read an author's body of work chronologically, whenever possible. So, even if I've been dying to read Nancy Mitford's most well-known novels, I've just finished Christmas Pudding, which is the second novel she wrote. This time, my weird habit is paying off. There were some characters from Highland Fling who also made an appearance in this novel. I was delighted to find Walter and Sally Monteith again - they represent the Bright Young Things extremely well, and are endearingly funny characters to read about.

Nancy Mitford was a skilled narrator, capable of laughing at herself and at her own milieu, which was rather a bold thing to do. She acknowledged the absurdity of the lifestyle led by a set of people who happened to had been born under auspicious conditions, while others had to work hard for the same privileges. She wrote fine social criticism with a sense of humour, and I'm really thankful for that. Her prose is full of sharp one-liners and witty descriptions that help to get her point accross, as in the introduction of Amabelle, who had a past life as a demimondaine:
She had immediately decided, with characteristic grasp of a situation, that the one of her many talents which amounted almost to genius should be that employed to earn her bread, board and lodging. Very soon after this decision was put into practice, the bread was, as it were, lost to sight beneath a substantial layer of Russian caviare; the board, changing with the fashions of the years, first took to itself a lace tablecloth, then exposed a gleaming surface of polished mahogany, and finally became transformed into a piece of scrubbed and rotting oak; while the lodging, which had originally been one indeed, and on the wrong side of Campden Hill, was now a large and beautiful house in Portman Square.
A typical British comedy of manners, Christmas Pudding is great from start to finish, and a light read at that. I chose this novel because of the Christmas setting, but it truly can be read at any time of the year, since Christmas is not that predominant in the novel, but only the excuse for the unlikely gathering of these particular set of characters in the British countryside. We have a couple of poor BYT and a former courtesan who have rented a house in the Cotswolds, a rebellious Eton schoolboy and his quiet older sister, a succesful young author disguised as an outdoorsy holiday tutor, a dull young diplomat, a widower farmer Major and an assortment of stern and sporty relatives who want to infuse the youth with some Yuletide spirit. The interactions between them and the love triangles (quadrangles? pentagons?) create trouble after trouble, each one funnier than the one before. Unfortunately, although the solution to the mess is sound, the ending is a bit anticlimatic and the pace undergoes a quick decline in the last few pages.

Despite that minor quibble, this novel is finer than her previous one, and I've heard it only gets better with every book. I'm in for a treat!

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

viernes, 17 de enero de 2014

Currently | Getting my bookish fix through other media

I shamelessly stole got this idea from Kim, who blogs at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She reviews the most amazing books, so go read her blog!

Holland House, 1940

Time: 11:45 am

Place: Home

Eating & Drinking: Herbal Tea, thanks to the wonderful kettle I got for Christmas. How can I have lived without it?

Reading: Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford and a bunch of scientific papers. Grad school, where you'll read until you die, and never for fun. If I blogged about the papers, I'd have like three entries a day. At the end of the day I'm so tired of reading and critically engaging with the material that I don't want to go on reading - thus, my Christmas reading is still unfinished.

Writing: a paper. Yay! But blergh.

Watching: Sherlock - E2S3 (The Sign of Three). Have I ever told you how this series blow my mind? I'm writing something on this. As soon as I finish the last episode, it will go live. I'm just allowing myself an episode every two weeks so I have Sherlock for a longer time. I don't want to go back to the hiatus.

Listening: Welcome to Night Vale - E6 (The Drawbridge). I started this series a couple of weeks ago because Tumblr had made me curious about it and it is pure gold. You should listen to it! I love Cecil, and the weather report, and Carlos, and the dog park.

Loving: Grim Fandango. It's an old adventure game created by LucasArts. You play Manny Calavera, a Grim Reaper (a travel agent of the Department of Death), charged with escorting souls from the mortal world through the Land of the Dead to the Ninth Underworld. The puzzles are good enough, the story is intriguing, the characters are unforgettable and the setting is beautiful.

Hating: the flu. I can't wait to be fully recovered from this flu. I lost my voice for a whole week! It's frustrating.

miércoles, 15 de enero de 2014

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sherlock Holmes’ fame has also brought him notoriety and there are those in the criminal underworld who must move against him or find their schemes in ruins...

While Holmes and Dr Watson solve what will become some of their most famous cases – Silver Blaze, The Greek Interpreter and The Musgrave Ritual among them – the forces of international crime plot their revenge against the detective.

I am in process of chronologically reading the whole Sherlock Holmes canon, and have just finished the second volume of short stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I am still partial to the previous collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but that might be because of Irene Adler.

Regarding the mysteries themselves, the stories are uneven in quality, but are not as formulaic as in the previous collection. The best part of The Memoirs is that it adds a new layer to the characterization of Sherlock Holmes. While in The Adventures and the previous novels he seems aloof and lacking in empathy, it is common to see Sherlock express feelings in The Memoirs (I mean friendship and trust, not lovey-dovey ones). Some interesting characters also debut in The Memoirs: Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's brother) and Moriarty. Moriarty is not so much a character as a plot device, and he is not as important to the canon as the recent Sherlock series might make you believe, which is a shame, since their Moriarty is as nuanced and interesting as Sherlock himself.

I liked it as a whole, and will continue working my way through the canon. 

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

lunes, 13 de enero de 2014

2013 End of Year Book Survey

It's my first time participating in Jamie's End of the Year Book Survey! Every year, Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner posts a series of question to help us reflect on our reading year. I think this is a really cool idea, so here are my answers!

sábado, 11 de enero de 2014

2013 Reading Stats

At the end of the reading year, I like to have a look at my reading stats. I have been doing this since 2006, but this is the first year I'm blogging about it. These stats aren't intended as a competition - reading is about having fun, learning and exploring. They are just a way to try to understand my reading habits. So here are the numbers:

viernes, 10 de enero de 2014

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History - Robert M. Edsel

Summary (from Goodreads):

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Führer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.

The Monuments Men follows the story of six men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section. This section was born out of the need of protecting culture from both allied and nazis. While their mission was supported in theory by the main political figures of the time, it was never well-funded or organized, since war offensive was given a higher priority. Thus, the number of MFAA men was always scarce. Robert Edsel raises an important question: what is our cultural legacy really worth? Compared to the crimes against humanity committed by the nazis, protecting art seemed like a futile attempt. Although losing art meant partially losing Europe's identity, the MFAA was soon forgotten after the end of World War 2. In this book, he has given us the opportunity to learn about their mission.

I know next to nothing about art history, so I'm not surprised that I didn't know about this particular topic (although I really enjoy reading about WW2). Even I could tell that the book is extremely-well researched. Robert Edsel delivers an in-depth account of the day-to-day lives of the men in the MFAA section, along with their greatest victories: saving the Louvre and hunting down the art Hitler stole to create his own Führermuseum. However, the writing does the topic a disservice. The author tries to convert this story, which is interesting per se, into a mix of Hollywood heist/hero story. It's also peppered with a great deal of cheap patriotism, automatically sanctifying everything the allied forces did, and turning the nazis to cartoon villains.

I was very excited to get my hands on this, but the book wasn't exactly as I expected it to be. The movie trailer might have had something to do with my disappointment, too. The Monuments Men was informative and interesting nonetheless, but I won't be rushing to reread it.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!