Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (Classics Club #1)

A sense of purpose, strange and sweet to him, carried him along in an irresistible current. Merely in gazing out the window, he felt a new coordination of mind and eye. He began to realize what he intended to so. He was on his way to do a murder which not only would fulfill a desire of years, but would benefit a friend. It made Bruno very happy to do things for his friends. And his victim deserved her fate. Think of all the other good guys he would save from ever knowing her! The realization of his importance dazzled his mind, and for a long moment he felt completely and happily drunk. 

51eqhnR+VGL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My first pick from my Classics Club list was a good one. Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel Strangers on a Train was a creepy, tense, psychological read. I had watched the Hitchcock film for the first time a few months ago, and wasn’t quite impressed. I found it overly long and lacking in star charisma. The book was better in my opinion, because it gives the reader a more revealing look into the minds of both its main characters, Charles Bruno and Guy Haines. Tension builds slowly as both men become more and more unhinged.

Guy and Bruno meet on a train to Metcalf, TX, where Guy’s mother lives. Bruno is on his way to meet his own mother in Sante Fe. Bruno is pushy and lonely, fueled by alcohol, and convinces Guy to dine with him in his private drawing room. There he regales Guy with tales of how unfairly he’s treated by his father, who controls the purse-strings and disapproves of Bruno’s gadabout, lazy ways. Guy humors and observes him, and when Bruno tells him he’s committed a robbery, Guy believes him.

Bruno could be violent. He could be insane, too. Despair, Guy thought, not insanity. The desperate boredom of the wealthy, that he often spoke of to Anne. It tended to destroy rather than create. And it could lead to crime as easily as privation.

51YICz8X2yL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Bruno gets Guy to open up about his own troubles, the fact that he’s trying to get his unfaithful wife Miriam to divorce him (partly so he can move on with his girlfriend, Anne, which he doesn’t tell Bruno at the time.) So Bruno offers what he considers an unbeatable idea: Bruno will murder Miriam and Guy can return the favor by murdering his father. They just met on the train, after all, so there will be nothing to connect them to one another in the investigations. A foolproof plan, right?

I don’t want to spoil any of the developments in case you’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book. As the two men’s lives become more entangled and things go awry, Highsmith does an excellent job conveying the deteriorating mental conditions of both men. Bruno is practically in love with Guy, hounding him for attention and friendship. Guy is repelled by Bruno and wants nothing to do with him but can’t seem to be able to tell Anne or the police what’s going on. At one point Bruno sends him letters detailing how Guy should carry out the murder of his father. Then he burns them, thinking no one would believe him. I exasperatedly wrote in my notes, “IDIOT!” But of course, if he had gone to the police, the novel would have ended at about 130 pages. Bruno keeps tightening the screws on Guy until he becomes a sleepless, depressed mess, and then…

Despite the ingenious plot device at the beginning, I wouldn’t say this was a plot-driven novel. It’s more of an interior, psychological character study of two men – one with an alcohol problem and deep-seated mental problems that reveal themselves over time and one who is seemingly “normal” but is slowly driven mad by guilt and secrets and perhaps his own unacknowledged rage.  It reminded me in a way of the standalone novels I’ve read by Ruth Rendell, one of my favorite mystery writers. She has a way of making unlikable and possibly deranged characters at the very least understandable. Highsmith wasn’t quite there yet, in my opinion, with this debut novel, but the quality of the writing and the depth of the main characters elevate it to four stars in my eyes. Can anyone really be capable of murder, as Bruno believes?

Have you read this or seen the film? Have you read any other of Patricia Highsmith’s novels?


My First Classics Club Spin! (Classics Spin #17)

I’m delighted that there’s a new Classics Spin just a few weeks after I decided to join the Classics Club! If you don’t remember, the Classics Club is a reading challenge (sort of) that celebrates “classic” literature and when you join you make a list of fifty titles you want to have read and written about in five years. For the Spin, I take twenty of my chosen books and number them 1-20. On Friday, March 9, the leaders of the club will post a number. I then have to read the book that corresponds with that number by April 30!

I like this idea, because I haven’t yet begun to read any of my classics. This is the push I need! Here’s my list of 20:

  1. Gather Together in My Name – Angelou
  2. Giovanni’s Room – Baldwin
  3. The Long Winded Lady: Notes From the New Yorker – Brennan
  4. The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  5. Great Expectations – Dickens
  6. Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas
  7. Love Medicine – Erdrich
  8. Wives and Daughters – Gaskell
  9. Life Among the Savages – Jackson
  10. Quicksand -Larsen
  11. The Gowk Storm – Morrison
  12. A Good Man is Hard to Find – O’Connor
  13. 1984 – Orwell
  14. Less Than Angels – Pym
  15. Ceremony – Silko
  16. Crossing to Safety – Stegner
  17. The Warden – Trollope
  18. Brideshead Revisited – Waugh
  19. Island of Dr. Moreau – Wells
  20. Native Son – Wright


I don’t know if there are any that I don’t want picked at the moment. Well, maybe not the Bulgakov. I’m kind of hoping for #18 or #9. But I’ll be happy with whatever number comes up! Then I’ll be on my way. 🙂 I’ll be sure to let you know the verdict after March 9!

Joining The Classics Club!

For a while now I’ve been entertaining the notion of joining The Classics Club, since so many bloggers I follow are a part of it and I do enjoy and want to read more classic literature. Since I’ve realized that, as an Obliger (Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies,) I need to have outer accountability to meet inner expectations, I thought this would be the perfect little nudge I need to get me reading all those novels I’ve been “meaning to read” forever.

The (short version) rules of the Club are this:

  • – choose 50+ classics
  • – list them at your blog
  • – choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles
  • – write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list

So by February 8, 2023, I hope to have read the following books (but I reserve the right to add and drop titles along the way:)

Gather Together in My Name – Maya Angelou

The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon – Jane Austen

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Long-Winded Lady: Notes From the New Yorker – Maeve Brennan

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

Jane Eyre -Charlotte Brontë (reread)

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Adam Bede – George Eliot

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Love Medicine – Louise Erdrich

Howard’s End – E.M. Forster

North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons

The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett

Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith

Jonah’s Gourd Vine – Zora Neale Hurston

The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

Life Among the Savages – Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

Quicksand – Nella Larsen

West With the Night – Beryl Markham

The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison (thanks Fiction Fan!)

Beloved – Toni Morrison (reread)

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor

1984 – George Orwell

The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy

Less Than Angels – Barbara Pym

Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko (reread)

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Stoner – John Williams

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (reread)

Native Son – Richard Wright

So that’s 51 books, mostly novels, three memoirs (Angelou, Jackson, and Markham) two books of short stories (Jackson, O’Connor,) one book of essays (Brennan.) A few rereads, but it’s been at least ten-twenty+ years since I’ve read some of them. I am excited to dig in to these. Some I have been meaning to read for years, others I just learned about in the last year from fellow bloggers! Some of these I don’t know how I’ve escaped reading in school before now (1984, I’m looking at you!)

Have you read any of these? Any you’re particularly attached to or perhaps despise? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

To sit in Rainbow Valley, steeped in a twilight half gold, half amethyst, rife with the odours of balsam-fir and woodsy growing things in their springtime prime, with the pale stars of wild strawberry blossoms all around you, and with the sough of the wind and tinkle of bells in the shaking treetops, and eat fried trout and dry bread, was something which the mighty of earth would have envied them.

77395Rainbow Valley is not about Anne Blythe; not even really about her kids.  It’s mostly about the new neighbor kids, the Merediths, who are running wild while their father, John Meredith, the new minister, walks around absentmindedly with his head full of theological and philosophical questions.  It’s got the trademark Montgomery musings on the beauty of the natural world, a dash of romance, and just enough of Anne and her family to keep me invested and turning the pages quickly.

After my disappointment with Anne of Ingleside, I was a bit nervous approaching this one.  But many  bloggers reassured me that #7 in the series was a winner – and they were right!  A short novel (my copy was 225 pages,) Rainbow Valley was a fast read for me – something that the previous novel was decidedly not.  The Meredith children – Jerry, Carl, Una, and Faith – are spirited and enterprising, conscious of their father’s parental shortcomings in the eyes of the town gossips.  They often tried to take matters in their own hands and not bother their father, who they clearly loved and who clearly loved them.  I didn’t find them as annoyingly naive as the Blythe children were depicted in Anne of Ingleside.  Mary Vance, an abused orphan girl who runs away and shows up in a neighbor’s barn, is a vexing character and does her best to upset the Meredith kids with her know-it-all ways.  But I couldn’t totally dislike her because Montgomery does show how horribly mistreated she was in her former situation.  I was glad that Miss Cornelia adopted her, even if her improvement in life led her to be even more insufferable.

My favorite aspect of Rainbow Valley was the emerging romance between Rev. Meredith and the spinster Rosemary West.  Rosemary and her sister Ellen lived together and Rosemary had promised her sister years before that she would never marry and leave her alone.  I was irritated initially by Ellen’s stubborn refusal to release Rosemary from her promise.  But then I considered Ellen’s plight and felt sympathy for her as a single woman in a time when single women had it pretty hard.

It is never quite safe to think we have done with life.  When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.  These two people each thought their hearts belonged irrevocably to the past; but they both thought their walk up that hill very pleasant. Rosemary thought the Glen minister was by no means as ashy and tongue-tied as he had been represented.  He seemed to find no difficulty in talking easily and freely.  Glen housewives would have been amazed had they heard him.  But then so many Glen housewives talked only gossip and the price of eggs, and John Meredith was not interested in either.  He talked to Rosemary of books and music and wide-world doings and something of his own history, and found that she could understand and respond.

 I  also loved that John and Ellen got along so well – she even thought at one point “what a great brother-in-law he’d make!  Oh well, Rosemary promised!”  I won’t spoil what happens in the end but, if you’ll note, I do categorize this under “Comfort Reads” so draw your own conclusions!  

So why did I rate this three stars and not more?  It’s pretty simple – not enough Anne!  My favorites of the series – the third, fourth, and fifth books – were Anne-heavy and she was a dynamic character.  Now that she’s middle-aged and a mother of six she has kind of faded into the background, unfortunately.  Overall Rainbow Valley was a comforting  story, with Montgomery’s almost cinematic descriptions of the natural landscape, charming children, and a sweet romance.  Perhaps I’m unfair to compare it to the others in the series (I dare say one could read this as a standalone and enjoy it) but I can’t help but find the lack of Anne a bit disappointing.  If I’d read this as a child I would probably have liked it more, since the Meredith kids are so spunky and appealing.

So, just one more book to go!  I’m excited that I’ve managed to stick with the Readalong! Have you read Rainbow Valley?  What did you think?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Don’t you LOVE it when you read a classic novel and it turns out to be AMAZING?  And you wonder what on earth took you so long to pick it up?  My first book for the RIP Challenge is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book that many of you have read and loved and one I have been meaning to read for quite some time.

517mee7CTTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Romantic, that was the word I had tried to remember coming up in the lift.  Yes, of course.  Romantic.  That was what people would say.  It was all very sudden and romantic.  They suddenly decided to get married and there it was.  Such an adventure.  I smiled to myself as I hugged my knees on the window seat, thinking how wonderful it was, how happy I was going to be.  I was to marry the man I loved.  I was to be Mrs. de Winter.  It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach.


For those who haven’t read it, here’s the (very brief) synopsis from Goodreads:

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

When we first meet our heroine, we know that she is the wife of Maxim de Winter, and we know that something ominous has happened to their former home, Manderley.  It’s in the third chapter that we learn how the nameless second Mrs. de Winter came to be married to the much older, richer, and more sophisticated Maxim. From the get-go she is full of self-doubt and anxiety about her relationship with Maxim.  He is not exactly a reassuring figure, and we learn early on that he is tortured by something traumatic in his past having to do with this previous wife.  Mrs. Van Hopper, the lady our unnamed heroine serves before she marries Maxim, tells her that Rebecca drowned in a tragic boating accident a year before.

Once our heroine is at Manderley, she is adrift in the role of mistress of the manor. Echoes of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, are everywhere, from the rhododendrons outside and the treasured pieces assembled in the morning room to the rhythms of housekeeping and the daily routine.  Our poor heroine doesn’t even get a tour of the whole mansion from her new husband, nor does he give her any hint as to how to run the household.  Add to that the severe, malevolent head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was unnervingly devoted to Rebecca and it’s no wonder our poor heroine is terrified of making the wrong move and feels that all the staff are laughing at her inexperience.

After a bit of a slow start (really just the part before she marries Maxim,) I devoured this book.  I loved how timeless it felt.  I loved the slowly building atmosphere of tension and suspense, from the opening dream sequence chapter to the momentous costume party and beyond.  I found our unnamed narrator to be incredibly sympathetic.  How many of us have been in love with someone who didn’t match our intensity, who continually disappointed us and left us wanting, but we were desperate to hang on to him, so we forgave and made excuses again and again?  I loved the plot twists that kept coming in the second half of the novel.  At one point my jaw literally dropped; I looked at my husband sitting next to me on the couch and said, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t see that coming!”  I absolutely loved the writing.  The dialogue sparkled and the detailed description of the house and the grounds made Manderley come alive.  I loved this description of the library when our heroine first sees it:

Whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark paneling, the heavy curtains.

It was an ancient mossy smell, the smell of a silent church where services are seldom held, where rusty lichen grows upon the stones and ivy tendrils creep to the very windows.  A room for peace, a room for meditation.

Our heroine is not just a young, naive dunderhead, however; she continued to surprise me with her contemplative observations on life, such as this one when she meets Maxim’s grandmother, Beatrice, for the first time.

I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people.  Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.  I was a child yesterday.  I had not forgotten.  But Maxim’s grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what did she feel, what was she thinking?  Did she know that Beatrice was yawning and glancing at her watch?  Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say, “Well, that clears my conscience for three months?”

I have deliberately avoided writing about anything that happens in the last half of the book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  But Rebecca is an absolute gem.  It’s quite possibly the perfect book for chilly Autumn nights.  It’s an exciting, suspenseful mystery layered within a atmospheric, Gothic romance.  I am eager now to read more of Daphne du Maurier’s novels – I had no idea she’d written so many!  And when I publish this post I’m going to pop in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.  I’m excited to see how it compares!

Have you read Rebecca or seen the film?  What is a classic novel that it seems everyone else has read but you?  What makes you choose to read a classic rather than a newer book?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery #AnneReadalong2017

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

“Gilbert darling, don’t let’s ever be afraid of things.  It’s such dreadful slavery.  Let’s be daring and adventurous and expectant.  Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!”

68f9201c86e4a036de539fc195ea8766--anne-of-windy-poplars-large-housesAh, the power of low expectations!  I’d been warned by Melanie that the even-numbered books in this series weren’t as good as the odd ones.  Plus, my own experience with the second book made me set my bar pretty low for Anne of Windy Poplars.  How nice to be surprised!  I ended up really enjoying this and felt almost sad when I finished it.

Windy Poplars introduces a new kind of structure to the series, with many of the chapters in the form of letters from Anne to her beloved Gilbert Blythe.  I confess that when I read the first chapter I thought, “Dude, this chapter is too long to be an actual letter to someone!”  But then I just went with it and forgot about my minor quibble.  Anne tells Gilbert early on that he’ll only get a romantic letter from her when she has exactly the right kind of pen.  I am most grateful that we are spared the lovey-dovey stuff between Anne and Gilbert.  Call me a crank, go ahead!  This book is about Anne and her last years of being an independent,  single young lady. I can read all about shmoopy-ness in the next book (or so I hear!)

I didn’t know if I could take all the ridiculous Pringle business at first.  In fact, as I took notes during my reading I labeled two people “pills” and two others names that I won’t print here out of decency.  🙂  But Anne worked her innumerable charms (and wasn’t above a little innocent suggested blackmail) and turned around all the unfriendly and hostile Pringles and others in Summerside.  Two of my favorite victories of Anne’s were when she sat with the wheelchair-bound Mrs. Gibson, allowing Pauline to go to her friend’s wedding and enjoy a glorious day of freedom, and the matchmaking of Nora and Jim Wilcox.

I actually shed some tears when I read about poor Teddy Armstrong.  I could tear up just thinking about it now, his poor father all alone without a picture of his beloved little boy.  Finding his nephew Lewis brought some measure of peace but still it was a very sad event, the saddest so far in the series.

AnneOfWindyPoplarsI very much enjoyed Anne’s hosts, Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate, and their no-nonsense housekeeper Rebecca Dew.  Rebecca’s funniest moment was when she grumbled, “Do you s’pose they’ll ask us at the judgement day how many petticoats we’ve got on?” and then went into the kitchen before anyone could comment.

I was left with a sense of melancholy when I finished the book, because I realized that this was the last installment before Anne and Gilbert get married.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for their marriage.  It’s just that Anne is such an independent, strong, resourceful young woman in a time when most young women didn’t dare have dreams or independent lives beyond the hope of marriage and children.  Maybe I’m anxious because I’ve never read the series before and I just don’t know that Anne will retain her strong nature and not just become a mother to little “Davy and Dora”-type kids.  I want Anne to continue to solve problems and bring people together and charm people into doing what she wants!  Maybe those of you who have read this series before can soothe my fears on that score.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by Windy Poplars and would definitely consider reading it again someday. The epistolary nature grew on me, as did Anne’s (sometimes unlikely) propensity for matchmaking and solving people’s problems.  Four stars.

(This is book #13 of #20BooksofSummer.)

Thoughts on Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery #AnneReadalong2017 (Book 8 of #20BooksofSummer)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

“I suppose you’ve gone and refused Gilbert Blythe.  You are an idiot, Anne Shirley!” –Philippa (Phil) Gordon

Anne IslandWell, I’m squeaking in at the last minute with the review of this!  I absolutely loved Anne of the Island.  Hands down it’s my favorite of the series so far.  I could see myself reading this one again in years to come even if I don’t read any of the others.  There is something beguiling about Anne’s experience of college.  Maybe it reminds me of my own wonderful college years – the fun and friendship, the first taste of freedom, the sense that anything could happen on any given day.

The focus of the book returns to Anne herself, rather than Davy and Dora or her neighbors, as was the case in the last book.  We see Anne cementing friendships, fending off marriage proposals right and left, and studying hard.  We see her watch her friends, particularly the ones back home, pair off and begin to get married.  Anne is content to be by herself, and even Gilbert Blythe’s gentle but steady attention is too much for her.  She is afraid to lose the friendship that they have and she’s attached to her romantic ideal, which she thinks Gilbert doesn’t meet.   It’s frustrating watching Anne crush his heart and push him away.  I was so pleased when good old Phil called her an idiot!  I practically pumped my fist in the air in solidarity!  I do understand that she just wasn’t ready to make the commitment to Gilbert, and to the seriousness of those adult emotions.  Still, it was rather maddening when everyone around her could see how perfect they were for one another and she couldn’t.

Speaking of Phil, she’s a great addition to these books, isn’t she? I do hope she turns up in future installments.  Besides calling Anne an idiot, I loved it when she said, early on, “I’ve been feeling a little blue – just a pale, elusive azure.  It isn’t serious enough for anything darker.”  Her own love story arc is sweet as well.

There was that whole unpleasant episode with the cat who wouldn’t die, and the mention of Mr. Harrison’s dog who was hung twice, but I guess times were different when it came to animals, weren’t they?  They didn’t exactly have mobile spay and neuter trucks coming to the local park, or a vet to come to the house with an injection.  Still, that sort of jarred me a bit.

The pace of this book just zipped right along, especially in contrast to the previous book in the series, Anne of Avonlea.  Alternating between visits home and time at Redmond meant that we don’t get bogged down in one place for too long.  There was just enough Marilla, Mrs. Rachel, and Davy and Dora to ground Anne’s story, but not enough to become annoyed with.  I rather enjoyed meeting crotchety old Aunt Atossa!  She was a hoot!  Diana and Anne handled her rudeness perfectly, with a measure of amusement.  It was a most entertaining section, though.

I feel like my “review” of Anne of the Island is rather light, but I don’t have a lot to pick apart about this book!  It was a fast read; I thoroughly enjoyed it and eagerly returned to its pages when I had to put it down.  It made for perfect comfort reading.  I’ve heard from Melanie at Grab the Lapels that the odd numbered books are better than the even ones.  So far she’s right!  Despite that, I am excited to read next month’s book, Anne of Windy Poplars. Reminder:  anyone can join in on this readalong!  It’s going on for the remainder of the year, one book per month.

So, reader, have you read this series more than once?  Which is your favorite book?  Do you have any more suggestions for “comfort reading?”  I’m always looking to add to my list.