Lady Susan by Jane Austen

lady susan

I consider myself a huge fan of Jane Austen, and thought I had read, and re-read, everything she had written until I discovered Lady Susan.   It is the first book she wrote, when she was about 19, but never sent for publication.   It was published by her nephew in 1871, 54 years after her death.

The title refers to the main character, Lady Susan.   And ‘boy is she a character’.   This book is not written in the style of a typical Jane Austen novel, it is instead a series of letters from Lady Susan to her friend Mrs Johnson (Alicia).   In these letters we see what Lady Susan is really capable of.   The other letters, between the other characters, deal with the fall-out.

The book opens with Lady Susan, who has recently become a widow, inviting herself to the home of her deceased husband’s brother and his wife (Mr Charles and Mrs Catherine Vernon).   All sounds lovely but nothing is as it seems with Lady Susan.   She has outstayed her welcome with the Mainwarings, due to the fact that she is having an affair with Mr Mainwaring! “….she does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable”.

Lady Susan has a daughter Frederica but she does not have a maternal bone in her body. To her, Frederica “is a stupid girl, and has nothing to recommend her”. On her way to the Vernon’s she will deposit her daughter at a school in London. However, her plan is to marry Frederica off to a rich man so that she can continue to live a life that ‘suits the freedom of her spirit’.   I found it a relief that that Catherine Vernon was not fooled by Lady Susan of whom she writes “She…..talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white”.

It’s not a long book, only about 90 pages / 41 letters, some very short, and it ends abruptly, not with a continuation of letters in the style of the rest of the book, but with a conclusion.   It almost seems that Jane herself got fed up of Lady Susan’s antics and felt such a character wasn’t worthy of a grand finale.  In the conclusion we see what Jane thought of Lady Susan when she writes “Whether Lady Susan was or was not happy in her second choice, I do not see how it can ever be ascertained; for who would take her assurance of it on either side of the question?”

Knowing that this was Jane Austen’s first foray into writing, I imagine that she decided not to have such a self-centred, amoral main character in her future books.   There are minor characters in her other books that, if developed, could probably give Lady Susan a run for her money but I don’t think even they would lower themselves to Lady Susan’s standards.   I’m thinking of Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility or Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice??

I love the way Jane Austen writes.   I love her wit, sarcasm, observations and how she verbalises so wonderfully what the mind is thinking. I enjoyed Lady Susan for all of these reasons.   It was too short for my liking so now I’m reading Mansfield Park (again!).

“Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home again.” (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ online catalogue here.

And Then One Day by Samantha Chase

and then one day
Blurb:



Courtney Baker is ready to put small town life—and the man she can’t have—behind her. Years of secretly crushing on her best friend’s older brother have led nowhere and she’s finally ready to move on. It would have been a great plan had she not drunkenly blurted out all her feelings and kissed him. At least she’ll be able to forget all about it when she leaves town in less than 48 hours.

It takes a lot to surprise Dean Jones, but a kiss from the girl he’s been secretly attracted to for years does just that. All it takes is one kiss for him to realize he doesn’t want to let her go. But she’s his sister’s best friend and that’s a line he knows he should never cross. Never mind that she seems determined to leave their small town—and him—behind.

When a storm and a broken car stop Courtney from leaving town, Dean sees a perfect opportunity to get her out of his system. But can one night ever be enough?

Review:

4 Court and Dean Stars

And Then One Day is my first read from Samantha Chase and it started a little slow for me only because I was busy trying to catch up with previous storylines. But once I got caught up it became a page-turner for me.

Courtney Baker is ready to put small town life in her past, she’s also tired of seeing the man she cannot have. Her love life is non-existent. It’s time to move forward with a new town and a new life. At her best friend’s wedding she gets a little tipsy and Kisses her long time crush who also happens to be her best friend’s brother.

Dean Jones has secretly had a crush on his little sister’s best friend, Courtney since she was 18 and when she kisses him at his sisters wedding he doesn’t know what to think. As Courtney tries to leave town a storm has her stranded and Dean comes to her rescue. Can he get her out of his system or does he get her to stay.

And Then One Day has such a large colourful and enjoyable secondary characters that made this story full of heartwarming moments. It was a lovely relaxing read full of sweet and funny moments. I would highly recommend a read.

Lock You Down by Jessica Gadziala

lock you down
Blurb:



Nixon –

I used to think stalkers came in one of two categories-

Creepy guys who won’t take no for an answer, and

Women scorned.

That was until I met Reagan.

A woman with secrets.

Secrets I planned to get out of her one way or another.

Among other things.

Reagan –

No sane person decides to be a stalker.

And no smart woman gets the hots for the very man who was supposed to thwart her mission.

I guess that made me both less-than-sane and stupid.

Somehow, I was okay with that.

I knew why it was important to do what I did.

And, maybe, in Nixon, I would find someone who would understand, who would help me.

Even if he grumbled the entire time.

Review:

5 River Brothers Stars

Lock You Down is the 2nd book in the Rivers Brothers Series. It is Nixen’s story. Nixen who is ever moody and always tells it how it is. He’s a straight shooter and not everyone’s cup of tea.

Reagen has moved to the opposite side of the country to hunt down her demons but also to run her parents Whiskey Company. Although she has her demons, she also craves family and falls right into Nixen’s family and extended family easily. She has a wicked sense of humor that had me laughing so hard at times.

Their story is not like previous books by Jessica, it’s not all sweetness but it’s not as dark as previous books either. It’s uniquely theirs and it had me hooked until the last page.

I say this every time but Jessica does the best secondary characters. People we’ve seen before and some new faces. Calvin and Marley being a story I for one can’t wait to read. Also Jessica is the queen of epilogues…

I highly recommend picking up Lock You Down and giving it a read.

The Offing by Benjamin Myers

offing

In the Spring after second world war, sixteen year old coalminer’s son, Robert Appleyard, follows the river Wear out of the city of Durham and away from the mining village where his father and his father before him, worked at the coalface, with its “creaking , clanking mine-heads and the dark-grey dust that on still, clear days seemed to settle everywhere.”

The war has awakened in him a sense of adventure and a wanderlust to see what was beyond “the end of the street where the flagstones gave way to fields.”  He tramps across the country, finding work on farms and smallholdings, a day here and there, following the sun and resting when it was time to rest.”

After a few weeks, he ends up at a ramshackle cottage near Robin Hood’s Bay, the home of Dulcie Piper, a cultured, sometimes foul-mouthed, generous woman, whom he regards as “elderly.” He stays and works hard in the Summer sun, swims in the sea and reads while she provides him with beautiful food from her well-stocked pantry and books.

When he clears the meadow in front of the house, restoring the view of the sea, she is unimpressed. She says she “ had a falling out with the sea.” When he restores the studio at the bottom of the garden and he, also, discovers a mystery from Dulcie’s past.

Resolving this mystery deepens their friendship, reconciles Dulcie with her past and changes Robert’s future.

The novel paints a beautiful picture of the North of England after the war. There is a sense of the War as a dark shadow in the background, even though it’s over.   Nature and the landscape are celebrated through the eyes of the sixteen year old. It’s impossible not to share his joy watching animals and birds, listening to the noises at night or in the early mornings. Changes in him are reflected by changes in season.

The offing is “a distant stretch of sea where sky and water merge.”   I feel that Robert’s eyes have always looked towards the offing and his friendship with Dulcie, which is authentic, warm-hearted and funny, helps her to lift her head and look out again to the sea.

Milkman by Anna Burns

milkman

This is an excellent book, well worth reading. It is easier to start with what this book is not about. There is no fast paced plot and no amazing characters and ultimately no neat ending.

The style of writing may take some time to get used to as it is unlike almost any other.  The author uses long descriptive sentences, bear with her as this is the way she brings the reader into the inner feelings of the main character.She is a  complex, intelligent, sensitive young woman, who has something to give to every reader.

There are some funny moments, some poignantly sad episodes but mostly it is thought provoking. There is everything from the “Troubles” to depression, violence, the nature of abuse, community , women’s issues and belief in this book.

Milkman deals with a young woman at a crucial moment in her life and the life of her family and of her community. We, the readers, are taken on a journey to reflect on how society deals with the slightly nonconformist.

Milkman by Anna Burns is a literary experience, treat yourself  to this unusual, challenging, original book.

Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor

stalingrad pic

Most of us know either a little or next to nothing of the experience of war (thankfully), and its futile, pointless waste of life, destruction of society (mentally and physically) and the indescribable horror it creates and ultimately leaves behind. Stalingrad will give you an vivid, terrifying and insightful taste of that experience.

Stalingrad is probably the finest book of non-fiction I have read on the subject of war, without it being overly academic or wordy. Anthony Beevor spares us none of the horrors of the battle but also brings a very human dimension to the warfare, through letters and recollections from the combatants on both sides. Beevor has an incredible ability to take you (from the comfort and safety of your armchair) right into the heart of the action and give you an experience of the truly horrific and dehumanising nature of the battle.

The battle of Stalingrad took place between 1941 and 1942 on the vast open steppes           of southern Russia between the invading German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red army.             It was one of the most brutal conflicts of WW2 and left tens of thousands of combatants and civilians dead or wounded.

The battle could be categorised as not just a military battle but also as a clash of ideologies: Stalin’s Communism against Hitler’s National Socialism. Two ideologies that differed in some ways but ultimately were very similar breeding grounds for totalitarianism.

Beevor explores and explains the aims, ambitions, paranoia and the absolute lack of humanity of these two brutal, narcissistic dictators. Their egomaniacal lust for total power and control cost in and before WW2 cost millions of lives throughout Europe and the Soviet Union.

Hitler and Stalin both incessantly interfered with the military strategies of the battle, this created even more misery and chaos for the soldiers and civilians involved. Neither of these men knew anything about military strategies and operated purely on hunches, paranoia or egotistical delusions and any generals who dared disagree where belittled, dismissed or worse!

Stalin’s purges before the war cost the Red Army thousands of it’s finest officers and strategists, so when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Red Army was in total disarray, leaderless, completely at the mercy of the paranoid whims of Stalin and his equally brutal head of state security Lavrentiy Beria.

The Germans were in total control of the war in the Soviet Union in early 1941, they were in striking distance of Moscow, the and Red Army were on their knees, demoralised and beaten when fate intervened or should I say Adolf Hitler. Hitler ordered the advance on Moscow to stop and ordered his forces to head south to the oilfields of the Caucasus mountains and fatefully Stalingrad.

The two huge opposing armies were eventually camped on opposite sides of the river Volga which Stalingrad sits on the banks of. The battle was a savage one even by Eastern front standards. The Germans initially held the upper hand and their brutality towards Soviet civilians but at Stalingrad and right across the western Soviet Union would come back to haunt them over the few years as the Red Army murdered, pillaged and destroyed all on their victorious path to Berlin.

Naturally the battle started to turn the Soviet’s way during the winter as German fuel and supply lines became ever more stretched .All of this was caused by Hitler’s constant, illogical and eventually catastrophic interference which meant his armies got increasingly overstretched and annihilated by the now reorganised and strengthened Red Army.

Stalin (despite his own reckless interference) gained the upper hand, with his massive superiority in manpower and industrial output proved to much for the Germans. Soviet and German generals showed no mercy to the enemy or to their own men, who were used as cannon fodder, especially by the Soviets.

The two sides were merciless with prisoners, many were shot on the spot, sick and wounded were very often left to freeze to death on the Steppes in the middle of the harsh arctic like winter. Men on both sides were monitored and punished by brutal special units and secret police. The Soviets had NKVD and Smersh and the Germans had the SS and the Feldgendamerie. Men were interrogated, tortured and murdered by these units regularly for cowardice, desertion, and lack of ideological fibre be it Communist or National Socialist.

The final play was Hitler refusing to let Field Marshal Paulus’s sixth army retreat so it linked up with German forces that were further back behind the frontlines. The sixth army was surrounded by the Red Army and starved, bombarded and near annihilated. Many thousands of men died unnecessarily because of Hitler’s hubris , pride and lack of humanity.

The battle of Stalingrad was a massive turning point in the war, the Germans were now in full retreat and were driven back into Germany relentlessly and brutally over the next three years. It was Hitler’s Waterloo, ironically he didn’t learn the lessons of Napoleon’s equally disastrous campaign into Russia two hundred years earlier.

Stalingrad is an incredible and moving tribute to the futility of war written in a novel like fashion which makes it very readable despite the brutal facts of the battle. I would recommend this book highly 10 out of 10.

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

how we fight for our lives

I love a good autobiography/memoir. It’s a window into someone else’s world and the experiences they’ve lived. Unfortunately, in this book, very little of interest actually happens, and that is my main complaint.

Jones is somewhat a cause celebre as a poet (although he is mainly known as someone who works for Buzzfeed) and this was eagerly anticipated and highly lauded, however, plainly, it is just boring. It was very short, and even then, it was a struggle to read. As I mentioned, very little out of the ordinary happened – Saeed struggled with his sexuality and his relationship with his mother – and when figuring himself, had sex with lots of people. That’s about it. And to be honest, not really enough to base a memoir on.

A flimsy, unsatisfying and utterly dull read.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Room Little Darker by June Caldwell

room little darker

A very strange collection which revels in assembling a band of misfits, outcasts and deviants. When Baloo urged Mowgli to look under the rocks and plants to take a glance at the fancy ants (and maybe try a few), it was towards a greater awareness of the natural world and all its constituent parts he was pushing his pupil. When Caldwell peels back official Ireland’s urbane and sophisticated sheen, we get a look at an Ireland that exists, I’m sure, but I don’t feel any the wiser for it. If I can run with the Jungle book analogy for the moment, there was an edifying aspect to Baloo’s teachings, a straining towards comprehending the world as many, and yet as one. Room little Darker notes that there are many shades of green that walk among us, some of them tragic, but the abiding sense from the collection is of a kind of voyeuristic nihilistic glee. The prose is scratchy, at times memorable, but for me fails to come together in the grander, indefinable sense that gives meaning to the collection. Rather, all we get is a a string of grimy ditties; pained people leading painful lives.

The Autiobiography of Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes by Scott Frost

my life my tapes

The first thing I downloaded when I got broadband (remember when that was a new thing that was just being introduced) was Twin Peaks. I had heard so much about it but never seen it, and once I did I fell deeply in love with its strange beauty, a love that remains to this day.

Having read the other books (The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, The Secret History of Twin Peaks), this was one that has been woefully out of print (and I’m not sure why – The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was reprinted a few years ago) since its first publication in 1991. Thankfully, the internet doth provide, and I was delighted it did.

This book is wonderful. Documenting Dale’s life from his childhood right up to when he enters Twin Peaks for the first time, it is a beautifully written book that captures Dale’s voice perfectly. The book purports to be a transcription of his tapes throughout the years, from his very first when his dad gets him a tape recorder as a child, and if tiny Dale isn’t adorable.

Lots of fascinating info here, and a first hand account of “what went on in Pittsburgh” which became really important to have fleshed out in the second half of Season Two! If you can get your hands on a copy, I would recommend it, although the cheapest secondhand copy I can find is $90, but if you’re a true fan, as Dale himself would say: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present!”

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

her body

Having read her simply stunning memoir, In the Dream House (reviewed here), I sought out this, Machado’s first book that launched her into the literary world.

This collection of eight short stories – the shortest about ten pages long, the longest a novella of 60 pages – is probably unlike anything you’ve ever read, as it was for me. Machado mixes horror and fantasy and science fiction in a contemporary way that is uniquely her own, completely literary and utterly, utterly strange. From souls being sewn into expensive dresses, to a diet gone horribly wrong, to a writers residency turned terrifying, these stories are intense and beautifully (and playfully) written, grabbing you and holding you in a headlock as they unfold.

My favourite story was actually the one I started out not liking at all, the longest one: ‘Especially Heinous’. Presenting itself as short descriptions of each of the 272 episodes of Law & Order: SVU, it very much becomes its own thing, a weird story of Benson and Stabler’s exploits, including a main thread where two doppelgangers – who seem to be better at their jobs – Henson and Abler, are running over the city just out of their reach.

Odd, affecting and recommended.