Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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I’m not sure what encouraged me to pick up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a few days ago; maybe a sense of nostalgia; the recent showings of the films on TV or maybe just the realisation that I hadn’t read it three years. In fact when the last film came out I think I read all seven books in about two-three weeks and decided I had had Harry Potter overload and would wait awhile before reading them again. I think the time has come, although I am definitely not reading them all one after another in a matter of weeks this time.

You would have to have spend the past fifteen plus years under a rock if you had never heard of Harry Potter, but just in case. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the first in the seven book series and it is the tells of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because Harry is a wizard. Of course he didn’t know this until his eleventh birthday and then he is swept up in a world of magic wands, Quidditch, muggles and He Who Must Not Be Named… Or Voldemort to us mere humans.

There’s not really a lot I can say about Harry Potter. As with the vast majority of the world I LOVE it and of course I wish I went to Hogwarts, but what else is there to say. Rowling has created a magical world, one in whichever many people wish they lived, and her writing is simplistic and engaging. Even though I know exactly what is going to happen I still want to read on and find myself engrossed in the world of Harry, Ron and Hermione. I often wish I had been born in a different era, but a Harry Potter is one of the reasons I’m glad I was born when I was. To grow up in the hype of Harry Potter and to discover his new adventures first hand is a reading journey I have always treasured, but more of that when I get to the later books.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century

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My Cousin Rachel

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Since the death of his parents when he was a young boy, Philip Ashley has been raised by his uncle, Ambrose. The two of them spent many happy years together, creating something of a bachelor pad in the Cornish mansion they inhabit. As Ambrose reaches middle age he finds the harsh Cornish winters too much and so spends these months on the continent. This arrangement works well until one spring Ambrose doesn’t return. Instead he marries Rachel, a woman who has family links to Cornwall but who has spent the majority of her life in Italy. Everything seems fine until Philip starts receiving confusing and accusatory letters from Ambrose and so sets off to Italy, only to find out on his arrival that his uncle has passed away and Rachel has fled. And so the stage is set for Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel.

The recent, although arguably disastrous, BBC production of Jamaica Inn sparked my interest in du Maurier and since My Cousin Rachel is on my TBR Pile I thought now was the perfect time to pick it up. I’m glad I did. I have only read one other du Maurier novel (Rebecca) and I vividly remember the slow burning tension throughout the novel and the hints at a mystery I just had to solve and I’m pleased to say this was the case for My Cousin Rachel. . After Philip’s arrival back in Cornwall he is full of hatred for Rachel and yet as soon as she arrives for a short visit he is captured under her spell and so infatuated he is unwilling to see her flaws and the potential danger of too close a relationship with her.

It is difficult to write about this novel without giving away too many spoilers and I don’t want to do that as it is the mystery that makes My Cousin Rachel such a fantastic read. I love how du Maurier drops subtle hints, leaving the reader eager to solve the mystery of Ambrose’s death and the role, if any, that Rachel played. I found the character of Philip infuriating in places; even when all the facts/clues were in front of him he continued to make excuses for Rachel, going against everything he had been taught or believed throughout his life. But then maybe this is what makes it such a great read, the reader knows something must be going on, but in the face of all these clues and hints Philip just refuses to see it.

Overall My Cousin Rachel is a great read, full of suspense, mystery and some beautiful descriptions of the Cornish scenery and the changing seasons. Although I have only read one other du Maurier novel, I like how both the novels I have read have an element of mystery and not in the ‘who dunnit’ kind of way that I usually enjoy, but in a more subtle and intriguing way. Even though I finished the novel yesterday, the ending is still with me, and I am sure those who have read My Cousin Rachel will know exactly what I am talking about.

Challenges

TBR Pile

Reading the Twentieth Century

TBR Pile Check In

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I can’t remember if I started off writing monthly check in posts or if I dreamt it, but it decided that now we are in May and I am currently reading one of the books on the list I might as well write a little check in post. My original list is here.

I am pleased with my progress so far on this challenge and I am somewhat amazed I have been able to stick to my roughly a book a month quota in order to achieve my goal. My current completion list looks like this:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence

Patience by John Coates

Regeneration by Pat Barker

World Without End by Ken Follett

I have started on book six this month: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. This is the book I am most worried about as it is non fiction and is about a part of history I don’t usually discover through non fiction, choosing instead the novels of Phillippa Gregory or TV programmes such as The Tudors. Instead of reading the whole book in one go, I am planning to do a wife at a time and read something else in between each wife. I am hoping this encourages me to stick with it until the end and although I have only read Catherine of Aragon so far I am enjoying it. I find I have to alter my reading habits for non fiction and dedicate time to just sitting and reading as it is hard to pick the book and up, read a page and put it down again.

Overall I am enjoying this challenge and I am glad that I don’t feel pressurised into completing a certain book by a certain date and that although I have a list I still have a choice. I’m already thinking of books for next year’s list! >

The Exiles Return

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The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal is Persephone Book No 102 and was reprinted and added to the lovely list of dove grey books I lust after last year. It focuses on post war Vienna, more specifically those who return to Vienna after escaping the shortly before the Nazis arrived in the city in the late 1930s. The novel follows five ‘exiles’ in particular; Kuno Adler, a scientist returning to his former post; Theophil Kanakis, a rich man in his late forties of Greek descent who has spent the war years in America; ‘Bimbo’ a 24 year old aristocrat whose anti- Nazi parents were murdered, thus leaving him and his sister Princess Nina penniless, and Marie-Theres Larsen, a teenage girl whose parents also moved to America and raised her there, although she never quite seemed to fit in to the superficiality of American life her mother adores. The novel primarily follows the five of them, how their lives intertwine and how they adapt into life in post war Vienna

As I reflect on my reading now, I am finding it difficult to choose a character who I truly connected with, but then maybe this lack of connection ties in to the idea of exiles and their losing connection with their home country. Or I could be reading way too much in to this and I didn’t feel any connection due to my reading mood. Perhaps the character I felt the least interest in was Adler; my initial intrigue soon petered out after he had arrived back in Vienna and faced his work difficulties. The irony is his story provided one of the more memorable moments, when his superior at the lab admitted to sympathising with the Nazis and hinted at working with scientists who carried out experiments on gypsies. It was quite shocking to read the almost blasé way he discussed this and his feeble attempts to justify his actions to someone who had fled Vienna due to the imminent arrival of the Nazis.

The lives of all five characters interlink and cross paths throughout the novel, although the most interesting relationship is between Kanakis and Bimbo. When Kanakis first sees Bimbo he is spellbound by Bimbo’s beauty and the beauty of the figurine he is holding. And so begins a relationship that hints at homosexuality, something which certainly would have been shocking in the 1950s, arguably more shocking than the references to those in high profile jobs who openly helped the Nazis. Unfortunately their relationship has collateral damage in the form of Marie-Theres, climaxing in the novel’s dramatic ending, which is quickly swept under the carpet so as not to damage the newly built country alliances.

The Exiles Return was an enjoyable read and it was refreshing to read about an element of the war I know little about (not that I feel I know a vast amount about the Second World War). It has certainly made me eager to read more on this particular area and I think Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes would be a good place to start. Elisabeth de Waal’s writing is beautiful and the ending to The Exiles Returnwas definitely unexpected and quite moving. I can certainly recommend this novel, however it is not my favourite Persephone, which is a shame as I was looking forward to it.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century although this was tricky to pinpoint date wise as it was written in the late 1950s…I am going to cheat slightly and mark it as 1957 so I can add it to the list, even if the original date isn’t quite known. ;

Spin Number Six

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I was wondering other the weekend when the next Classics Club Spin would be and then I log on this morning to find my question answered. This is the sixth spin, but in case you aren’t familiar with the rules: choose 20 books from your list, wait until Monday 12th May and whichever number is chosen you need to aim to read that book by the end of June. I have had varied experience of the spin in the past, completing some long and challenging books, but then I have failed to finish much shorter ones. I had a good spin last time, completing Howards End just after the finishing date, but that is good enough for me. The aim is to challenge yourself with your list and group the books, but as I am still in school mode I am just going to have a random list and ignore some of the longer books for the time being.

1. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

2. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

3. The Beautiful and the Damned – F.Scott Fitzgerald

4. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

5. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

6. The 39 Steps – John Buchan

7. The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

8. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien

9. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle

10. Far From the Madding Crowd- Thomas Hardy

11. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

12, The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

13. Persuasion – Jane Austen

14. A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

15. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

16. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

17. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

18. Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence

19. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

20. Emma – Jane Austen

I’m not sure what number I’m most looking forward to, but obviously a book I already own is a bonus.

Happy Spinning!