Sunday, 30 August 2009

Finally off on holiday!

When you read this, hopefully I'll be waking up in our bungalow overlooking the sea in Cornwall.

I showed you the books I packed last weekend...unfortunately the pile has grown slightly...

* Enchanted Cornwall - I picked up this from the library, as I couldn't believe that I hadn't read it! It's DDM's semi-autobio crossed with descriptions of writing her books (seemed rather serendipitious given what I'm planning for the VVV blog while I'm away - see below). It reminded me that I saw several DDM biogs in the shop near where we're staying when we were down earlier in the year, so it is unlikely that I will make it home without more books. I'm on the look out for my own copy of this.
* Summertime (Coetzee). Paperback reader kindly leant me this from her Booker Reading Challenge. I loved Boy and Youth so really looking forward to this.
* Small Wars (Sadie Jones). I loved The outcast, and really wanted to buy her latest, although I did have a new policy of not buying new hardbacks...however, it was half price in Waterstones on the first day of my holidays....

And then I bought 4 books in Foyles on Weds - I was desperate for one of their carrier bags! One will be featured on the VV blog, but the other three were lovely children's books:
* Head girl's difficulties (Elinor M Brent Dyer), republished by GGBP
* School on Cloud Ridge
* Chiltern Adventure
- both of these by Mabel Esther Allen and republished by Fidra.

I'll be talking more about Fidra Books and GGBP when I get back, but I'm so excited to have these books to take with me.

The B files will be dormant, but you can follow my Daphne Du Maurier posts over on my other blog which are set to provide a bit of a diversion - with the aid of technology I can post without even turning a computer on! I'll be a bit sporadic in posting when I get back from Cornwall as am off to a conference, and then off to the Lakes for my Great North Swim but I promise to resume normal service from 17th September :)

Friday, 28 August 2009

Persephone Reading Week :Round up

As the reading week draws to a close and I depart for the coast, it's time to mention some of the highlights for me personally.

Firstly, the huge number of people involved in reading Persephone books. I'd love to hazard a guess at how many grey spined volumes have been read this week, but it's impossible. Thanks for your enthusiasm, and for joining in!

Second, I got to meet Paperback Reader on Wednesday. We didn't get to the shop, but we met up in Foyles and spotted Persephone books and wanted to buy all the ones's that we didn't have. We were restrained however...

Thirdly, I loved the chance to really tackle a section of my to-be-read books, and move 5 volumes on! And to have such fantastic books - I've really enjoyed all that I've read this week. It is wonderful how one can read books from the same imprint on the trot and not be bored because they are so diverse. I think my particular favourite of the week was Bricks and Mortar (although I've still got Fortnight in September in my handbag for today!)

Some thank yous. Thank you to Paperback Reader who helped make this challenge so wonderful - I was planning to do this reading anyway this week, but she helped make it into a challenge, and has worked so hard this week on posts etc. And secondly, a big thank you to the Persephone bookshop who provided us with the fantastic prizes enabling us to do giveaways each day. And thanks to all of you for joining in!

I am now desperate to re-read a couple of books - mainly Saplings - but also to read the ones I didn't get to this week, and am so looking forward to seeing the books coming out in October! Who's up for another week in 2010??

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Persephone Reading Week : Every eye

Having read some quite hefty Persephone books this week I thought it was my turn to read something a little slimmer. Every eye by Isobel English fitted the bill, but although slight in number of pages, it was certainly a well written book. We had a review earlier in the week by HJ Elliot which Paperback reader quoted. I found it a little difficult to get into, as the story is told in the present and retrospectively, but it all comes together in the end to give a wonderful picture of the life of Hatty, a girl who is hampered by a squint, and who eventually ends up on her honeymoon after a miserable relationship with an elderly lover, and a childhood with her uncle and aunt.

I warmed to Hatty considerably after she is asked what books she likes:
" Still cautious but placated almost completely, I answered a little gruffly I remembered "I like good books", and then to illustrate the extent of my knowledge, I like Rider Haggard very much but I can't stand Jane Austen"

Another lovely Persephone to spend an hour or two with!

Persephone Reading Week : Verity's competition winner

Well done to all of you who worked through a complicated set of questions and came up with the correct answer which was of course The Carlyles at home. I hope you enjoyed tracking down the solutions.

12 people submitted correct answers, so the random number generator was used, and the winner is Cristina of Medway Musing. If you email me your details Cristina, I'll make sure you get the book.

Persephone Reading Week: Three non fiction titles

We've seen a lot of discussion of the various Persephone fiction titles, and I know a couple of you have been reading short stories and journals too, and Swati from Green Road books read Round About A Pound A Week, but I thought today I'd like to mention three of the non fiction titles that I own: They can't ration these, Kitchen Essays, and How to run your home without help. Rather than books to read straight through, these are wonderful for dipping into.

They can't ration these is a collection of recipes which were compiled by Vicomte de Maudit a Frenchman living in England in 1940 when war broke out and Britain was concerned about how they would manage for food. It makes use of ingredients such as nettles, dandelions and all sorts of wild creatures to make recipes such as Game Pie Gascony, Biblerry Ambrosia, Truffles in Cinders or Dandelion Fritters. Perhaps this is what we all need in such credit crunched times?! (although I have to say I didn't really fancy any of the recipes!)

Kitchen essays is a Persephone classic. The boo was first published in 1922 and is a compliation of essays written for The Times on various kitchen-related subjects. Essays include "For the too fat" and its companion "For the too thin", "Tray food", "Christmas cheer", "Of wedding breakfasts" and "On savouries" and there are many recipes in the book too. I liked the sound of stuffed salmon rolls "For a motor excursion luncheon". Hugely interesting and entertaining.

How to run your home without help is a book about housework - not something I really enjoy, but I found this book a fascinating historical document in the way that it provides advice for newly weds and people managing their households without help for the first time, sixty years ago. The most important thing is To have a plan:
"The real difficulty facing the single-handed housewife is not knowing the "how". In the past, domestic work was poorly paid, so the false idea has grown up that anyone can do it without any special knowledge. Of course the opposite is nearer the truth. Unless it is efficiently organised as well as carried out, it will take up too much time and effort"
Perfect tongue in cheek house warming present?!

Persephone Reading Week: Third prize draw winner

And the third prize draw winner, from everyone who has commented on our blogs in the last 24 hours is Cristina! She wins today's copy of Good evening Mrs Craven. If you get in touch with Paperback Reader, she can arrange to send it to you. Big thanks to Persephone books (I haven't yet said this) for donating books that we can use as prizes.

Keep those comments coming - Claire will be drawing Thurs and Fri winners...

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Persephone Reading Week : Making Conversation (Longford)

Making conversation was the title that I chose to accompany me to London on my day out. Perfect for reading on the trains, particularly as I worried about meeting Paperback Reader for the first time! Of course, I had no reason to worry about a need to Make Conversation, as we had plenty to talk about, Persephone Reading Week Aside, and enjoyed spotting Persephone books in Foyles and trying to find Virago Modern Classics. This is one of the latest releases by Persephone, and particularly interested me because the writer, Christine Longford, spent some of her life in Oxfordshire where I live, and because much of it is set in Oxford.

The title comes from the heroine's inability to get the balance of "making conversation" right - she either says too much or too little.

Forgive me for not posting a proper review, but it was a very long day out (I then went to see Sister Act with my boyfriend (I know, I should have had the Dorothy Whipple book with me too).

I enjoyed it very much, and would really recommend it. It's a much quicker read than the two other books that I have read this week, and I found it most amusing. I left my copy with Claire, so can't give you any extracts - Ihope she enjoys it!

Persephone Reading Week: Second prize draw winner

And, the second prize winner, chosen randomly from all of you who have posted comments/posts in the last 24 hours, is Jackie from Farm Lane Books. Email your details to Claire and she'll get the Good evening Mrs Craven, the wartime stories of Mollie Panter Downes, out to you.

There's another chance to win the Panter-Downes stories tomorrow, so keep on commenting!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Persephone Reading Week: Bricks and Mortar (Ashton)

Having spent most of today at Bekonscot model village, Bricks and Mortar seemed like a highly appropriate choice when I got home, since it tells the story of an architect over 40 years of his life in the 1890s. Having peered at tiny little houses, churches and other buildings (there is a zoo, several schools and a fun fair too!) it felt right to read about someone who plans these things.

Helen Ashton, according to the introduction, wrote about 25 novels in the 1930s, but is now largely forgotten. Another reason why I wanted to read this book this week, is that it isn't one of the more famous Persephone titles and I wanted to bring it to everyone's attention.

One of the things I liked so much about this book was the description of the buildings; the ones he inhabited and the ones that he visited. I think Ashton is really successful in perceiving things in the way that an architect might, and one gets a real sense of this through the book. I also learnt a lot about the architectural profession and the process of designing buildings.

There is a story too - about his marriage, and the subsequent children, and the interference of his formiddable mother, but it is the descriptions of the buildings in the book which really make it in my opinion.

I would love to seek out some more titles by Ashton as a result of reading this book. I like the sound of the one, mentioned on the dustwrapper, about the day in the life of a doctor - if it is anything like this one, then

Persephone Reading Week: Teaser Tuesday

Today we're tying in Persephone Reading Week with Teaser Tuesdays...

"Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others."

Here's mine:

"What does baffle me rather is how to get them any spare rooms. I can managetheir own rooms and the servant's quarters but honestly don't see what I'm to do for their weekend visitors" -- Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton.

If you're participating in Persephone Reading Week, please post a teaser from the book you're currently reading on your blog, and put a link to it in the comments here, or on Claire's blog. Our favourite will win a Persephone book!

Persephone Reading Week: First prize draw winner

The random number generator has randomised, and I've pulled out the first winner from all of you who commented yesterday:

Tracy, who commented on Paperback Reader's blog yesterday.

Tracy, if you email Claire, then she will arrange to send the book to you.

The rest of you, maybe you'll get lucky tomorrow...keep posting your reviews and comments in our welcome posts for a chance to win.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Persephone Reading Week: Fidelity (Glaspell)

On my last PRW, back at the end of June, I found myself gripped by Glaspell's Brook Evans. So when I realised that I had another novel by her, published by Persephone on my shelf, I decided it would get the week off to a good start.

It is a chunky volume, and an absolutely riveting read, primarily due to the way that Glaspell tells the story by intermingling the "present" (albeit the present of c1910) with that of the past. And how she describes and reveals a set of relationships at the time and how they are influenced by social mores.

It is the story of a girl called Ruth Holland, who ran off with a married man over a decade ago (although this man was in a "dead" relationship, and felt that he had not actually been married to his wife for the past two years). We see the events leading up to her elopement.

10 years later she is summoned back, as her father is ailing (and her mother had died previously asking for Ruth). Now we see how Ruth's elopement has affected the people around her - the doctor in love with her who helped her to escape, his wife who can't see why he feels compassion for a woman who ran off with a married man, her family left behind, and her best friend who is now friends with supposedly abandoned wife. It is a wonderfully complex book that leaves one wondering about right and wrong - it is certainly not clear cut.

I wouldn't have come across Glaspell had it not been for the Persephone imprint (so hurrah for the rediscovery of excellent books), and I haven't seen anything blogged about her either (although I know at least one other person is reading this book today). So, I would like to urge you to discover her too.

Persephone Reading Week: Verity's competition

Here's a bit of a challenge. The prize for this competition is a Persephone book, of course, but you won't find out which one until you've solved the puzzle, as the answer and the prize are the same.

What you need to do is to solve the clues below in order to spell out the title of one of the Persephone books...all of the information can be found on the Persephone website.

1. First letter of the number in the title by Judith Viorst.
2. First letter of new title by Dorothy Whipple out this autumn.
3. First letter of the surname of the main character in one of Susan Glaspell's books.
4. First letter of surname of one of the few male Persephone authors.
5. First letter of the title of a novel in verse about a group of English travellers in Italy.
6. First initial of author who also brought us books about Just William.
7. First letter of street on which main Persephone book-shop can be found.
8. First letter of third word in title by Joyce Grenfell's closest friend.
9. First letter of third word in Persephone title which was recently made into a successful film.
10. First letter of both words in a title which is 144p. long.
11. First letter of surname of author who is more famous for children's book about ballet.
12. First letter of surname of the author who wrote about an architect in the 1890s.
13. First letter of the surname of the individual written about in the only Persephone life thus far.
14. First letter of the surname of diarist whose life was interrupted.
15. First letter of christian name of the author who brought us a biography of the youngest person to be included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography...
16. ...and the first letter of her surname.
17. First initial of writer who brought us the Provincial lady.

DON'T post the answer here - please email it to me at verityDOTormeATgmailDOTcom

Competition closes at midnight on Wednesday!

Persephone Reading Week: Welcome

Today is the first day of Persephone Reading week - thank you for joining in with us! It's not too late to start - in fact, you can start at any point during the week - and help us enjoy the output of the Persephone imprint.

The challenge is to read, and post about at least one title published by Persephone this week. The hard-core version of the challenge, which Claire and I are both attempting, is to read a Persephone title each weekday this week. Please feel free post links to anything Persephone-related that you blog about this week in the comments section of this post, or over on Claire's blog. You can use the banner at the top of the page (designed by Claire) if you like. At the end of the week we'll have a round-up of all of the Persephone reading. Each day, we will make a draw from all of the names posting a link to a Persephone post or a comment on either Claire or my blog, to win a copy of Good Evening Mrs Craven - the draw will be made based on comments/posts posted up until midnight, and will be announced the following day. There will be an additional prize (announced in the week beginning 7th September) for the best (entirely subjective and down to the opinion of the judges) Persephone related post that we see during the week.

Both Claire and I will be hosting competitions (look out for their launch later today), and some other non-review blog posts. I haven't yet decided which books I'll be reading, but plan to pull them out almost at random from my TBR pile of Persephone this space!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Fortnight in September...

...or rather, 10 days at the end of August. As you know Persephone Reading Week starts tomorrow, and the last title I'm intending to read on Friday is Sheriff's Fortnight in September. Because, we will be off on our holidays to the seaside, and I have been saving that book to read (even before PRW was thought of!) as it seemed like an appropriate title.

Anyway, I have been starting to pack. Here is my suitcase:
We are taking some of our collection of books about Cornwall:
I have chosen some books for my boyfriend:
And got out some books for myself:

This little collection consists of books I have been saving for a while (Maiden's Trip; The great lover; The well tempered clavier), books which I know I will enjoy (the two stripy greyladies titles), books which seem appropriate for a holiday by the sea in the summer and in Cornwall (Summer's day, No signposts in the sea, The tent the bucket and me, Zennor in darkness; The sealady), and some chicklit/light reads (Fixing Kate, Guppies for tea; Cast of smiles) which I've picked up in charity shops.

I'm not intending to read ALL of these; I like to have things to choose from. And I'm visiting Foyles this week so may add to this collection...

Thank goodness we are taking the car, and not flying anywhere!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Bake of the week

We've not yet had a Bake of the Week post, so I'll make up for it by showing you a picture of the carrot, banana, walnut and raisin cake that I made for a member of staff who is leaving at the end of the month (Julie-Ann is her name, hence the initials in walnuts on the top). As I'm off on my holidays as of now (*does a little excited dance*), we had a little tea-party this afternoon to say farewell. It's this recipe from Waitrose, only I substituted half of the walnuts with raisins, and just did a straightforward butter icing (although I utilised Stuck-in-the-book's tip of adding a little water to the butter icing which made it spreadable for once!)

Next week is of course Persephone Reading Week, but blog-service may be somewhat sporadic after that until we get firmly into September...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Cornish place-names

The other day I read "Tales from our Cornish island" which was Evelyn Atkins follow up to "We bought an island". Still quirky, perhaps suffering from being a sequel, but still something I found very enjoyable. But reading reminded me that I needed to blog about a recent acquisition.

I'm afraid I've revealed a bit of an obsession with Cornwall recently; I think it's so close to my heart because I spent so much time there while I was growing up. One of my favourite books is Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne Du Maurier, which I was hugely excited that Virago republished in hardback last year. I already had a paperback edition, but I had to have that one as well (which reminds me to tell you to look out for DDM week over on my other blog from 30th August - while I vanish to Cornwall, you can enjoy looking at pictures of all of Daphne Du Maurier's books published by Virago!)

My recent acquisition is a dictionary, and you don't see many posts about dictionaries (but then you don't see many posts about tide-timetables either...).
Believe it or not, this was one of the books that I insisted that my Dad brought on holiday with us every year when I was little. I asked if I could borrow it when my boyfriend and I went to Cornwall last year (I don't think I actually even looked at it in the end, but its presence was somehow comforting), but after we had a discussion on the way home the other weekend about the origin of the name "stowe" (as affixed to Davidstowe and Morwenstowe) (which incidentally merely means "place") I decided that a girl who likes Cornwall nearly as much as cardigans, needed her own copy (particularly one who is off on holiday there for a whole week in 8 days time)
I don't know very much about etymology at all, and what little I do know is in relation to Cornwall. From a very early age, I knew that we were approaching our destination, or at least in the county, by the presence of place-names beginning with "Tre" on the road-signs. I think this is perhaps the most prevelant prefix ever seen in England. Trebarwith, Treknow, Trekee (the satnav took us through this extremely obscure hamlet which I'd never even heard of), Trebah, Trebetherick, Tregadillet. "Tre" by the way, means farm or settlement, and the rest of the name is generally a personal name, and a quick google has revealed that the use of "tre" is also prevelant in Wales. I remember my Dad explaining that "Pol", as in Polzeath (where we often used to go) or Polperro, meant pool, and "Pen" as in Pendennis or Pentire means head.
Anyway, I am ridiculously happy to have this book to browse through. And if you're a Cornwall lover, and don't have this book, then you might be able to make do with this link here.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Shute books

I have long been a fan of Nevil Shute, since a compilation of five of his titles kept me occupied on holiday in Austria aged about 13 (my Mum used to impose limits on the number of books that I could take; I developed increasingly sneaky ways of getting around this). So I was especially excited when I discovered that Vintage are republishing some of his books in early September, and they kindly sent me a couple to have a look at. Some of the books are print-on-demand, and I haven't yet managed to get my hands on one of those; I like the idea of print-on-demand for enabling people to get hold of slightly more obscure books, but I guess that it won't necessarily overcome their obscurity since the books won't be on the bookshelves.

A town like Alice is probably Nevil Shute's best known book; along with Requiem for a Wren it is my favourite of all of his writing. It is a book of two parts. The heroine, Jean, was sent to Malaya by her mother to work as a secretary and in due course find a husband (I wonder how often this happened during the period). However, the Second World War breaks out, the Japanese invade, and Jean is taken prisoner. Along with a number of other female prisoners she is forced to walk miles by the Japanese soldiers; Jean's knowledge of the Malay language and common sense helps many of the group to survive. Two Australian POWs befriend the group, and Jean becomes particularly friendly with the one named Joe. He steals chickens to feed the women, and is taken away; Jean thinks he has been flogged to death. After the war ends, Jean finally makes it home. When she receives a legacy, she returns to Malaya to build a well in the village that helped the group, and hears that Joe may still be alive, and goes to Australia to find him...

But why is the book called A town like Alice?
When Joe and Jean meet again, Joe is managing a cattle ranch in Willstown. However, Willstown is a disappointing place, where no-one wants to live as the nearby town of Alice Springs is far more attractive with many more amenities. Joe and Jean set out to turn Willstown into "a town like Alice".

I loved this book because I found the character of Jean hugely inspiring; firstly her tenacity in surviving the horrors of being kept prisoner by the Japanese, secondly her belief that she will be able to find Joe again, and thirdly the way that she reveals an entrepreneurial streak in transforming Willstown.

Requiem for a wren
This is a much darker tale of the Second World War; unlike A town like Alice, there is no happy ending. Alan Duncan has returned home to his parents' house in Australia, however tragedy awaits - the parlourmaid has apparently committed suicide. Alan decides to investigate and discovers that she is actually the fiance of his brother who was killed during the war. She herself had been drafted into military service, and by reading her diaries, he finds out that she felt partly responsible for his death and had gone to the house in order to do what she could to help the family. However, she could not face Alan's return...
There is less "going on" in this novel than the previous one, but it is an excellent story revealing the impact of war and what it was like to be in the services and so closely affected by death.

I did some research into Shute whilst writing this post, and found out that he grew up very near where I live in Oxford, and attended Balliol college. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and eventually set up his own company. He was in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during WW2, and then settled in Australia after the war with his wife. It was interesting to discover this as I can now see the inspiration for many of his books, particularly the Australian setting. It is well worth visiting this fantastic site devoted to the author too.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Another classic children's book, or rather books, that don't seem to get the attention that they deserve are the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley. A search on Amazon has revealed that perhaps these aren't quite as forgotten as they might be since they were reprinted in one volume in 2006. Who can resist stories about a little girl with a name like that, particularly when the name is an abbreviation of Millicent Margaret Amanda?

I stumbled upon Milly-Molly-Mandy again in Blackwell's second-hand this week and was reminded how wonderful the stories are, and immediately snapped it up to sit beside the first book Milly-Molly-Mandy which I own. The tales are old fashioned and extremely charming, with wonderful illustrations, creating a lovely picture of village and family life in the first half of the 20th century. In this book MMM gets a new dress, in her trademark pink and white cotton after attempts to choose something a little different go awry, befriends a lonely duck called Dum-dum, is given a surprise plant by the blacksmith which turns out to be a pumpkin and leads to the making of much pumpkin jam, and is bridesmaid at the blacksmith's wedding. All the stories start with "Once upon a time" and invariably involve her friends "Little friend Susan" and "Billy Blunt".

Intriguingly I've just found out that the stories were first published in the Christian Science Monitor. They are certainly not religious tales, or even overly moralistic, although they do conform to usual moral standards.

I hope to find the Puffin editions of More of Milly-Molly-Mandy and The further doings of Milly-Molly-Mandy at some point to complete my set.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A bit on the Booker

Some of my blogger friends have been blogging about their plans to read their way through the blogging long-list - Paperback reader and Jackie in particular. However, with my VMC challenge I have enough on my plate, and although I'm interested in some of the titles I'm not interested enough to read the rest when I have other books which interest me more. I've read the Sarah Waters, and I have the Samantha Harvey on my librarypile. I definitely want to read the Coetzee at some point, as it completes the trilogy started with Boy and Youth which along with disgrace were the only Coetzees that I've really enjoyed. The Trevor and Mawer titles might be interesting, and the inclusion of the Me Cheeta book strikes me as quite weird. I'll be interested to see what makes the shortlist.

Anyway, I think it's interesting to see what makes a prize-winning book, and I have been reading some of the previous winners which appealed to me in a sporadic "wonder what to blog about next". I loved Stanley Middleton's Holiday, and last weekend, staying in a hotel (as you know I like to theme my reading), I finally got onto Anita Brookner's Hotel Du Lac. I have enjoyed some of her other novels so I wanted to see what it was about this one which made it stand out. It is predominantly about a lady called Edith Hope who goes to Switzerland to get away from her life (we find out why as the story unfolds), but considerable attention is given to the stories of the other guests staying at the hotel.

I found it an enjoyable novel, although I didn't enjoy it as much as the other Anita Brookner's I've read, and as I suspected, I was left wondering about how it had come to win the prize.

Two other blog posts on the title:
Paperback reader here.
Savidge Reads here .
Interesting comments on both posts.

Persephone Reading Week : Reminder

Just a quick reminder to get your Persephone books piled up and at the ready for next week's Persephone reading week. I haven't yet decided what I'm reading - I have about 12 to choose from that I haven't yet read, so I'll go with the flow, and how I'm feeling and what you're all reading. We've got lots of competitions lined up too, so I really hope you will join us in reading one Persephone book, or five...

I spent yesterday reading Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson. It's only a slim volume, but very enjoyable. The teenage Frankie, befriends Hetty Dorval, an older woman who has recently moved into the area, despite her parents disapproval. It is a while before we understand why. Hetty continues to come back into Frankie's life at intervals, and gradually Frankie loses her initial captivation, particularly once Hetty starts to jeopardise her own relationships.

This isn't one of the better known Persephone titles, but I would champion you to read it. Maybe it'll be on that you'll read next week...

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The red house mystery (Milne)

As as child, I spent a lot of time reading and dreaming about the world of Winnie-the-Pooh. As a teenager, I loved Christopher Milne's trio of autobiographical books. But it wasn't until very recently that I became aware of A.A. Milne as an author who writes for adults, through Simon's blog, which reviewed Two people a little while ago. I've yet to read Two People, a recent republication of Milne's semi-autobiographical novel, although I want to, but I've just finished reading the new paperback edition of The red house mystery, which was sent to me by the kind people at Vintage. It's been out in hardback for a while, but comes out in paperback at the start of August. It was originally written in 1922, and has thus long been out of print, so I'm really pleased that Vintage have rescued another "forgotten" title.

A murder is committed at the Red House. Anthony Gillingham, on holiday nearby, becomes involved in the case whilst visiting his friend Bill, a guest at the Red House. Gillingham, who is especially interested in the observation of people, has always harboured a desire to be a detective and appoints himself to "play Sherlock Holmes" and solve the mystery with the aid of his friend Bill as his very own Watson. The pair follow clues missed by the police As in similar detective stories, the police are inefficient, missing a number of clues, which Tony and Bill are able to draw upon to get to the bottom of the murder.

As far away from Winnie-the-Pooh as you can possibly imagine, this is a fun-to-read detective story. I was engaged by the characters and intrigued to find out what happened next. In some ways I think A.A. Milne is poking fun at the genre, almost writing a pastiche of a detective story, but he does this very well.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Remarkable creatures (Chevalier)

I love the way that one can be drawn to a book by a random assortment of circumstances. Last weekend when we were down on the south coast, a colleague of mine was further to the west in Lyme Regis. Lyme Regis is famous for fossils and fossil hunting and I spent a long time telling my boyfriend about a book that I had read at school called Mary's Anning's treasures, which now seems to be out of print. It was the only class reader that I remember actually enjoying; by the time the class had got to the second chapter, taking turns to reading aloud, I had already surreptitiously read to the end of the book, and then read it three more times before we all got to the end. Anyway, the book is about the fossil hunter Mary Anning who made all sorts of amazing discoveries, such as the first complete ichthyosoraus (sp?!).

On Wednesday night, I was home alone and feeling poorly, so had treated myself to a copy of Coast magazine, which I love for its pictures of the sea and the seaside (you all know how much I love the sea!). The back page was an interview with the author Tracy Chevalier; it was mainly about her experiences with the sea, but the reason that she was being interviewed was that she has just published a new book called Remarkable Creatures which is a fictionalised version of the story of Mary Anning. Having enjoyed some of her other books, including the fictionalised story of Vermeer, and having Burning Bright on my TBR pile, I was very keen to read this.

Yesterday, I found myself wandering into Waterstones at lunchtime to kill , still feeling poorly and a bit sorry for myself, I found that Remarkable Creatures was book of the week, and even though I had only that morning resolved not to buy any more new releases (hardbacks are expensive and occupy more space), and was only £7.99, the price of a paperback (and cheaper than So I bought it, and had a lovely evening with it last night.

The book describes Anning's unlikely friendship with a lady called Elizabeth Philpott, 20 years her senior. Together they hunt fossils, and deal with various events that come their way. The book gives an amazing insight into the world of fossils and natural history, as well as a view into the social world that both occupied in the early 19th century - Anning's very working class and poverty stricken, Philpott's a poor middle class. Interestingly, Lyme Regis was a popular tourist destination with assembly rooms like those in Bath and was visited by Jane Austen.

Do read this - it's an easy read, but extremely enjoyable and informative too.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Verity's history of Chalet School book collecting

I mentioned my Chalet School books recently when talking about duplicate copies, as probably the most duplicates I have of books are of these titles. I promised to write a bit more about them, so today I want to talk about the development of my Chalet School collection.

I first encountered the Chalet School books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (EBD) when my Mum brought along The school at the chalet on our first summer holiday to Austria in 1992 (we went about 6 times in the next 10 years, plus another 6 times in the winter), and I loved reading about Innsbruck while we were actually visiting Innsbruck; I think it may have been this book which triggered my love of reading books in the places that they are set. I had also previously loved Enid Blyton's school stories and aged 8 was delighted to find another series to get my teeth into. My Mum then got out the rest of her books - I think she had another 8 or so from her childhood, and I must have borrowed some more from the library; both the school library and public library had copies.

A bit later on, when I was in my teens, my Mum acquired the catalogue of Topsyturvychildrensbooks, and I found some of the Chalet School books listed. They ranged hugely in price, but I bought a number of the cheaper ones that I hadn't read. I learned that some of the titles had been republished a number of times, but some, particularly the later ones in the series, had only been published once in hardback and once in paperback and were very difficult or expensive to get hold of. Around this time, I used to lend these books to a very dear school friend; we were a bit embarassed at our transactions and used to wrap them up in plastic bags and pass them under the table during maths lessons.

Around the time I went to university, I started collecting properly. This also coincided with one of my best friends from school having a clear out and I acquired a couple of quite rare titles. Armed with my student loan and earnings from my first summer at work, I spent the next year and a half pursuing the collection of the 57 Chalet School titles. I used to buy them from Topsy Turvy books, avidly scanning the latest catalogue to see if they had ones which I lacked. I had favourite searches saved on ebay and was delighted when I finally obtained a copy of Joey and Co. in Tirol. Extremely homesick at university, I used to read these books as a treat on a Saturday nigth with a box of chocolate fingers when my main essay for the week was done.

Sometime at this point, I stumbled upon Girls Gone By Publishing, who had just started republishing some of the Chalet titles. Their rationale was that many of the books had been out of print for a long time, and that many of the ones published in paperback by Armada had been heavily cut, and they wanted to make these available again as EBD had intended.
I own 13 of the GGBP Chalet School reprints, including the wonderful Chalet School Newsletter book and the EBD short stories collection. They have also reprinted her La Rochelle books (which I don't own) and the duo of Lorna books (which I do).

Finally, I acquired 3 of the hardback books when my parents sold the family home and we were clearing out the loft - it turned out that Mum had had three first editions!

I would love to own all of the series in Armada paperback (at least I'm realistic and don't want the whole series in the original hardbacks!), partly because they were how I originally encountered the books. I would also love to own all of the GGBP reprints, but I just couldn't justify carrying on buying them if I already had an Armada copy as they are quite expensive at £10 each, and there are books which I don't own a single copy of which I'd rather have,

PS: I'm really sorry about the fuzzy picture. The books are housed on a little bookcase that is also my nightstand and behind the head of the other bed; I had to roll the mattress back to take the shot. But it is perfect to have the books beside me in case I need something comforting in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Three biographies

I've been reading an awful lot of Virago Modern Classics recently (see over on my other blog for my progress), and although I've been enjoying it, I feel that I've been neglecting other reading. Most of the novels which I photographed on my library TBR pile about a month ago, are still languishing there. But that didn't stop me from going to the library to pick up some more books yesterday, and I came away with three biographical/autobiographical tomes (they are all fairly chunky hardbacks)

The first is an interesting looking book, called Beginner's guide to acting English by Shappi Khorsandi and is Khorsandi's personal tale of her life as a refugee in England. I'm really looking forward to reading this as I enjoy reading about cultural differences and finding out about how people assimilate (or don't) to English/British culture.

The second is a book that I've wanted to read for a while, but when it came out there was a very long reservation list. Sometimes it is worth waiting 6 months, particularly when one already has a huge TBR pile, to save the 85p reservation charge, and I was very happy when I saw it on the shelf. I enjoyed McGrath's earlier book Silvertown very much. This book is a portrait of the life of Eastenders in London, about a century ago; one of the key yearly activities for this group of the population was the annual trip to the hops fields in Kent. I am looking forward to reading this as I love social history.
I read the third book last night. The lost child aroused a lot of media interest when it came out; it is the story of two lives. Firstly, the life of Mary Yelloly which Myerson is researching, and secondly the life of her son Jake, who substantially falls apart in his late teens, dropping out of school and becoming addicted to skunk. In addition it is also the stories of Myerson's research into the life of Yelloly and of Myerson's own childhood. There was a huge amount of controversy in the newspapers over here ; it certainly generated a lot of publicity for the book.
Quite honestly, aside from the issue as to whether or not it is right to put your child's life into the public domain in this way, I did not feel that the book worked. Mary Yelloly's life sounded hugely fascinating as did the research project and I felt that this would have made enough of a book. I found it confusing switching between the two strands of the book. But I did find it interesting reading; I enjoyed reading about Yelloly and I was gripped, disturbed and very sad for the Myersons following the tale of their son.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The encircled heart (Josephine Elder)

It was lucky that while I was feeling poorly on Friday, I had a book about a doctor to occupy myself (you must all know by now my penchant for themed reading). This was The encircled heart, another Greyladies republication. I am really liking the Greyladies imprint because the books that they publish are fairly light, and immensely readable, so perfect for holiday or poorly reading.

This book is the story of Marion Blake, a young doctor in General Practice in the 1930s. Josephine Elder was the pseudonym for Dr Olive Potter, and the reason that the book is so interesting and so successful is because Elder/Potter is obviously drawing on her own experiences as a doctor in this period (in fact there is an introduction to the text which includes a transcript of a talk that Potter gave on her medical training to the Women's Institute). Marion lives with her friend Philippa, who works as a pathologist in the nearby hospital, and the early part of the book is devoted to describing their lives together. Then Marion meets Paul, an academic, and they get married. Unusually for the times Marion is determined to keep her job, and this causes considerable conflict within the marriage. Eventually, she is forced to leave it when she has children. The war arrives, and with it Marion has the chance to return to work, and finally begins to find some fulfilment again; I found this very empowering because it demonstrates an early realisation that the woman's place does not have to be in the home (although I'm not sure WHY I find this empowering as I would love to devote my life to running our household and not working!!). The book deals with several other issues along the way - abortion and marital fidelity, so all in all a fascinating insight into life in the 1930s, women doctors, and a good story too.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Penguins (Bake of the week)

Apart from being rather cute birds, perhaps my favourite animal, Penguin is of course perhaps the most famous and prolific publisher of them all, particularly with the immediately recognisable orange spine (I'm not too sure about their recent move away from orange spines, it's a little like Virago and their move away from green spines). So many of my books are Penguins, ranging from the little pocket sized orange paperbacks to the more recent colourful hardback editions. So when I espied a new cookie cutter, whilst buying hoover bags the other day, which looked like a Penguin (well, as you see, it could be a duck, but the lady on the till kindly looked it up and confirmed that it is a Penguin), I bought it as a reward for doing such a tedious task as buying hoover bags on my lunchtime. Having enthused to Paperbackreader Claire on twitter (do follow me if you don't already) about my purchase, she suggested that I do a Penguin themed post.

So, here are is a Penguin gingerbreadman...

...and here is a collection of older Penguin books which I especially like. I especially like the early penguins because they are so portable and the orange makes them so distinctive.

The most recently read of these books is Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy. Claire at Paperback reader recently enthused about her novel The group, which I'm waiting for Virago to republish later this year, so when I spotted this in a second-hand bookshop the other week I decided to give it a go. It tells of her childhood which was suddenly disrupted by the death of her parents, bringing about a dramatic change from an indulged existence to a much harsher life with relatives, for example the aunt who taped her mouth shut at night to force her to breath through her nose (the tape had to be removed each morning with ether!). What I found fascinating was the addenda to each chapter where she includes details which family members claim not to remember, and where she notes where the material was embellished or told out of sequence. Wouldn't this be fun if all autobiographies did this?

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A Blyton adventure

Just a quick post as piles of washing await after our very sunny weekend in Bournemouth. I had a lovely time, eating ice cream, engineering a draw at crazy golf (to preserve my pride and prevent the boyfriend from becoming grumpy) and swimming in the sea. I even did quite a bit of reading which I hope I'll blog about in due course.

However, the highlight of the trip was on the way down, when we stopped at Corfe Castle and then Lullworth Cove. The former is Enid Blyton's inspiration for the castle on Kirrin Island in Five on a Treasure Island and the latter is the inspiration for the bay which the five sail to the island from. It was all exactly how one might imagine it, as far as Blyton ever goes into any detail. I spent the whole of Friday desperate to reread Five on a treasure island, which unfortunately is in storage, and desperate to get myself a copy of Stoney's biography of Blyton, which I read a while ago but now want to own!

Unfortunately I only have pictures of my boyfriend at these wonderful locations, so you'll have to google for an image...

Friday, 7 August 2009

Flowers...and Next to nature, art (Lively)

As I mentioned a while ago, myself and my boyfriend have been celebrating our 2nd anniversary for a while, but the actual date was Tuesday 05 August. After lunch at work, one of the porters came in carrying the most enormous bunch of flowers that I have ever seen, and they turned out to be for me!! As you can see from the picture, they are absolutely huge, dominating the living room. I'm afraid my first thought wasn't "how lovely", but "how on earth am I going to get them home" - I cycle to work you see. Boyfriend had been intending to pick me and the flowers up apparently, but missed my thank you message as he was in a conference call. However, my boss was sufficiently charmed by his gesture to offer to spend some of the afternoon driving me and the flowers back home, and lending me the vase. I repaid her in Nigella's cherry cupcakes.

When I made it home for the second time that day, I needed some flowery-themed reading, and the best thing that I could find on the TBRBC was Lively's Next to nature, art. Well, flowers are nature. Obviously, as Paperback Reader reminded me, I should have looked at the covers which might have given me something a bit more interesting. I can't remember quite why I bought Next to nature, art, apart from the fact that I have enjoyed some of Lively's writing very much, but I'm afraid this one fell into the category of books that I wish I had borrowed from the library rather than bought. With that wonderful endorsement, I can't even offer it to any of my readers here!

It's the story of Farmleigh Creative Study Centre, a commune-like establishment, run by five artistic friends as part of a mission to prevent an inherited manor house from being sold, where "ordinary people" can pay a large sum of money to spend the week with creative people, working with them and indulging in an escape from daily life. Inevitably the creative types turn out to be frauds. It was fairly well written, but not terribly gripping. And not even hugely about flowers.

The flowers look like they'll last a while, so any suggestions of flower-themed reading that I can do from the sofa admiring them would be much appreciated. (I typed "flower" into the Virago search engine and the only VMC it threw back is Carter's Several Perceptions because the synopsis talks about it being about the "flower-power-generation"!)

We're off for the weekend again today; Bournemouth this time, to support our friends playing on the bandstand, and to spend time with my boyfriend's Dad, sister, and her boyfriend. And to have a couple of rounds of crazy golf and a wander down the prom. I have thrown quite a random assortment of books into my suitcase. The experience of the last couple of weekends away suggests that I won't get as much time to read as I would like, but one can hope!

Look out for a couple of VVV posts set to load while I'm away - I'm doing quite well over there! - and I promise you a very exciting book-themed bake of the week on Monday.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Nell Dunn night

I was recently posting about Nell Dunn over on the VVV blog, who I enjoyed reading earlier in the year, and realised that I had not yet watched the film of Up the junction, nor read the sequel to Poor cow (My silver shoes). So I decided to have a Nell Dunn night and read that book and watch the film.

My silver shoes was written in 1996 (when I first bought the book, I wondered why it had not been published as a VMC; I now realise that this is because of its date) and takes the same characters - Joy, her partner Jeff, her son Johnny, and Gladys her mother, and brings us up to date with their lives, 30 years on. Joy now has a job running a sort of job-centre and is finally happily established; her son Johnny is in the army and is based over in Northern Ireland. However, it would be far too un-Nell-Dunn-like for this happy state of affairs to persist throughout the book. Gladys' bad health means that Joy has to leave her job to care to her mother; Johnny is unhappy in the army and deserts; Joy and Jeff have their difficulties. The story is told in a series of chapters which, although generally told in the third person, move between the characters. If you liked Poor cow, you should read this.

I loved the film of Up the junction. It is a more linear story than the book which is essentially a series of vignettes. Polly, a bored, fairly well off girl, goes to Battersea to see how the other half lives. She finds a job in the factory, starts going around with a couple of the girls she has met at work, and takes a flat. It is entertaining to see how her ideas on trying to fit in with the Battersea lot tend to fall short of their expectations; for example, she furnishes her flat with some secondhand furniture, but her new friends are shocked, because they would only consider buying new furniture. The story darkens when one of the friends falls pregnant and needs an abortion. A fantastic cast including Suzy Kendall, Dennis Waterman, Maureen Lipman and a period soundtrack made this a really good evening's entertainment.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Duplicate copies

Over on my Virago venture today, I have a guest post from Paperback reader Claire, who is writing about her 3 copies of The magic toyshop. And it got me thinking about MY duplicate copies and what I'd consider keeping duplicates of. I was first introduced to the idea of owning the same book in more than one edition by my father, who one day brought home a lovely hardback book of the first three Molly Hughes "London Child" books; I'd long been familiar with our lovely Oxford paperback editions and asked him why - he said that it was a lovely edition of the book with many different photographs. Of course, when Persephone brought out an edition of The London child, I was quite happy to buy that to complement our copies. Since then I've been more open to owning multiple copies, particularly if they have different introductions or new illustrations.

One title that I own several copies of is The school at the Chalet by Elinor M Brent Dyer. The Armada paperback copy is the copy my Mum bought for me to read when we were in Innsbruck, aged 8 (where the book is partly set), the hardback copy is my Mum's copy which she had forgotten about and is an original Collins 1st edition, and then it was reissued by Girls Gone By Publishing (in fact I have a number of Chalet School duplicates due to GGBP - many of the original CS books were heavily cut when published in paperback and GGBP have been publishing them in full) with lots of lovely explanatory material and maps.

Another book that I have two copies of is Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne Du Maurier. I own a Penguin paperback second hand copy (which I loved) and the sumptuous edition which Virago republished last year and was a birthday present from my Dad. My Mum thought I was insane asking for a copy of a book I already had, especially in hardback (Mum likes to wait for the paperback), but Dad understood.

The final duplicate I want to share with you today is my copy of Mariana. I bought this a while ago, and love the simplicity of the old Penguin cover. I now also own the Persephone edition of it. I haven't yet read it as I can't bear to read the last Monica Dickens that I haven't read before, and I'm not quite sure which copy to read when I do.

I'm having to be strict with myself at the moment with regard to my recent acquisition of Virago Modern Classics - if I'm buying a VMC of a book that I already have, then the non-VMC unless it is particularly special must go. In an ideal world I'd love to have multiple editions of all of the VMCs, owning them in new and green covers, but sadly the bookshelves in Verityland are not quite extensive enough for that possibility. Although, I've just heard this week that Virago are bringing out a paperback copy of Excellent women, which I bought in cloth covered anniversary hardback earlier this year, next month, and it will be difficult to resist that to go with my other Barbara Pym re-issues...

What books do you own multiples of?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Tuesday Teaser...

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"He is very careful and loving and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day, he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more" -- The yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

This is another one for my VMC's almost a short story rather than a book - look out for the review later this week.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bake(s) of the week

Reading about Simon's baking at the weekend reminded me that I have yet to post this week's fact, I have two bakes to show you.

First of all, Nigella's chocolate cherry cupcakes. These were especially yummy, although I didn't have the glace cherry to put on top, so I used some mini chocolate buttons.

Then, tonight, I've been making some shortbread to give to my boyfriend tomorrow - it's our 2nd anniversary.

And, as we're going out tomorrow night, I thought I'd reprise the jam sponge puddings....

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The finest type of English womanhood (Heath)

A quick review of this wonderful book - some of you may have spotted it on the library pile when I posted about my various TBR piles a couple of weeks ago, and I think Darlene mentioned that it looked like an interesting one. Well, absolutely definitely it is. I read it in one afternoon's sitting, and didn't get distracted.

This is two intertwined stories - the story of Laura and Gay - and comes out of a true story, the so called "Porthole murder" of 1947. The story of Gay is told through her diaries and Laura tells her own story, until their lives intertwine, and Laura becomes the main narrator, telling Gay's story too. The two encountered each other in Johannesburg; Laura had ended up here after being swept off her feet and marriage to a man who she barely knows, and Gay has arrived through her struggles to make a break as an actress. The first part of the book introduces us to the characters and how they end up there, and then we go on into the more eventful sections of the book where their paths have crossed through Laura's husband Paul, who has abandoned Laura for Gay, and then abandons both of them. The plot becomes thicker as the pair catch the boat back to England and the novel reaches its horrifying conclusion.

As well as being a gripping read, the book is also an extremely good depiction of both Britain in the immediate post-war period and Africa just before apartheid.

I think this would be a very good book-group book - there is lots to discuss.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


for my absence of late on the B files - I've been busy getting my Verity's Virago Venture underway and collecting lovely Viragos and trying to write some catch-up posts for the ones that I've already read has taken up my time. I was also poorly this week, but feeling a bit better now thank goodness.
Yesterday I got out Kate Rew's Wild Swim to keep me company on the sofa. I bought this book for my boyfriend last year when he was in hospital (it was a pretty bad choice on my part because although it didn't require much concentration, it was too big to be balanced with one hand (the other hand was strapped up for antibiotics). We love swimming in outdoor pools (and last year challenged ourselves to visit as many different outdoor pools and lidos as possible which gave an interesting twist to our days out and holidays - I think we managed 13 in the end). However, this book also visits lakes, stretches of the coastline and rivers as well as more formal swimming structures, and has many beautiful pictures of watery things. It's got a good directory at the back of places to swim outside throughout the UK, but equally it is just a lovely book about the outdoors.

Writing about this books enables a bit of shameless self-promotion. My boyfriend and I have signed up for The Great North Swim on 13th September, which involves swimming a mile across Lake Windermere. He's done various bits of open water swimming before, but my outside swimming has thus far been restricted to lidos and outdoor pools. However, I'm confident of completing the distance as long as I don't get too cold, and I have a very good incentive which is to raise as much money as possible for the charity Mind. We've set up a justgiving page which has a lot more information about the swim, my motivation, and some of the things Mind can do with the money that we raise.