The Sunday Salon: My First TSS Post

Welcome to my first Sunday Salon post. As it’s the first day of November today, I thought I’d take a look back at October.

In October I finished a re-read of Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes in preparation for beginning An Echo in the Bone. You can read my review of An Echo in the Bone here. Since then, I’ve been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. As it’s such a long book (and I do work full-time too) I haven’t finished it yet – I’m currently on page 627.

So far I really love being part of the book blogging world. I enjoyed last week’s Booking Through Thursday question and I’m going to try to take part in this as often as I can.

I’ve signed up for the Christmas Reading Challenge and am looking for some more challenges to join. Not too many though, as I don’t know how much time I’m going to have!

Christmas Reading Challenge

I have decided to take part in the Christmas Reading Challenge hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict. The challenge runs from November 26 2009-December 31 2009 and the requirements are to read 1-3 Christmas novels, books of Christmas lore or books of Christmas short stories.

I haven’t decide which books to read yet – I’m going to see if I can find anything interesting at the library, but if not I do already have a few Christmas books on my bookshelf. I’ll definitely try to read at least one, but will aim for two.

The link to the challenge is here.

Books read for this challenge (updated December 30 2009)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – see my review
The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder – see my review

A Poem For Halloween: Ulalume by Edgar Allan Poe

As today is Halloween, I decided to post one of my favourite poems by Edgar Allan Poe. Like a lot of Poe’s work this poem looks at the themes of loss and death. The narrator is walking through the woods on a dark night in October and finds himself at the tomb of Ulalume, whom he had buried there on the same night the year before.

There are several references to mythology throughout the poem and you may need to look up the meanings of any unfamiliar words and phrases. The name Ulalume, for example, is thought to be taken from the Latin verb ululare which means to shriek or wail.

(Note: The following poem is in the public domain)

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere–
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir–
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul–
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll–
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole–
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere–
Our memories were treacherous and sere,–
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)–
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here)–
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn–
As the star-dials hinted of morn–
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn–
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said: “She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs–
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies–
To the Lethean peace of the skies–
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes–
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: “Sadly this star I mistrust–
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Ah, hasten! -ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! -let us fly! -for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust–
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust–
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied: “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight!–
See! -it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright–
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom–
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb–
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied: “Ulalume -Ulalume–
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere–
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed -I journeyed down here!–
That I brought a dread burden down here–
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber–
This misty mid region of Weir–
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

[Ulalume – Edgar Allan Poe]

Booking Through Thursday: Blurb

Suggested by Jennysbooks:

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

Before I buy a new book I usually do some research first to make sure I’m not going to be wasting my money, therefore I make my decision based on reviews and recommendations rather than what the blurb says. Some of my all-time favourite books have the most boring blurbs you could ever imagine!

Where the blurb becomes more important is when I pick up an unfamiliar book in the library or a book shop. As I’m a big fan of historical fiction, phrases such as “historical epic”, “in the 19th century”, “Victorian London”, “brings history to life” etc would interest me, as well as words like “mysterious”, “secrets”, “exciting” and “fast-paced”. I also enjoy Gothic fiction so “castles”, “ghosts”, “haunting” etc would interest me too – maybe not “vampires” though.

Any mention of “politics”, “spies” or “legal thrillers” would probably make me put the book down immediately, as would any references to sports, serial killers, fantasy realms, self-help, or true stories. Of course, if a book was written by an author whose work I’d previously enjoyed, or if it had been specifically recommended to me, I’d be prepared to give it a chance regardless of what the blurb said.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you look for in a blurb?

Review: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

An Echo in the Bone is the 7th book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (or Cross Stitch as it’s known here in the UK) and takes place during the American Revolution. I’ve been following the adventures of Jamie Fraser and his time-travelling wife Claire for more than 10 years now and although this book won’t be published in the UK until 2010, I ordered it from the US Amazon site as I couldn’t wait to read it.

This review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the previous 6 books in the series

If you haven’t read (or like me, have read but didn’t enjoy) the spin-off Lord John series, you might struggle with certain sections of this book. I would recommend reading Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade before beginning, as a number of characters from that book feature quite prominently in Echo. In fact, there are so many chapters (mainly in the first half of the book) devoted to Lord John, William Ransom, Percy Wainwright, Hal and Dottie, that at times this felt more like a Lord John book than an Outlander one. I do like both Lord John and William as characters though, and towards the end of the book their storylines begin to tie together with Jamie and Claire’s.

According to Diana Gabaldon, the image on the book cover is a caltrop – a weapon with four spikes each ending in a sharp point. The caltrop represents the four main storylines running simultaneously throughout the book: Jamie and Claire visiting Scotland to collect Jamie’s printing press, following the fire that destroyed their home at Fraser’s Ridge; the adventures of Jamie’s son, William, a Lieutenant in the British army; Young Ian trying to come to terms with the break-up of his marriage to Emily whilst being pursued by a vengeful old man, and Roger and Brianna following Claire and Jamie’s fate via a box of old letters.

Due to all the storylines which were taking place, the story was told from many different viewpoints – Claire, Jamie, Roger, Brianna, Young Ian, William, Lord John, Rachel Hunter (a Quaker girl who falls in love with Ian) and even one or two pages from Fergus and Jemmy’s points of view. This technique gave the book a slightly different feel to the rest of the series, though I personally preferred the style of the earlier books which were told mostly by Claire.

I know this review has so far sounded a bit negative, but there were plenty of things I loved about the book. The story was filled with bizarre coincidences and almost-forgotten characters from previous books reappearing when you least expected them, and although you had to suspend belief at times, I enjoyed this aspect of the book.

I also enjoyed the Roger and Brianna sections, as they began to read Jamie and Claire’s letters one by one in the relative safety of 20th century Lallybroch. Later in the book, though, Roger and Brianna’s story takes a more sinister turn, and they discover that they’re not quite as safe as they thought they were!

I had been looking forward to Jamie, Claire and Young Ian returning to Scotland again and being reunited with Jenny and Ian Murray – however, this didn’t happen until near the end of the book, and when they finally did get to Lallybroch, it certainly wasn’t the happy reunion I was expecting! From this point onwards, the plot suddenly started moving at a whirlwind pace. Apparently this was intentional (this section was even entitled “Reap the Whirlwind”). I think I’ll probably need to read the book again to be able to fully understand everything that was happening.

We were left with a lot of loose ends and cliffhangers, which wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t going to have to wait another 3 or 4 years for the next book! Still, Diana Gabaldon has given us plenty to think about, as there are now an infinite number of ways in which the various storylines could progress. Although this was not my favourite in the Outlander series, I still enjoyed it and am already looking forward to Book 8!

Recommended

Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 820/Year: 2009/Publisher: Delacorte Press/Source: My own copy bought new

Welcome!

Hi, I’m Helen. Welcome to my blog. As I love reading and am constantly in the middle of one book or another, I’ve finally decided to join the world of book bloggers. Here at She Reads Novels I’ll be posting reviews, thoughts and opinions on the books that I read and on other literature-related topics.

Although I enjoy discovering new books, I’m also a believer in re-reading books. Sometimes I find that I need to read a book two or three times before I can fully appreciate it. Therefore I will also be reviewing some old favourites as I re-visit them, as well as books that I’m reading for the first time.

Most of the books I read are classics or historical fiction, but feel free to recommend anything you think I might like.