Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Bake of the week : Autumn Flavours

We used to grow apples at home, and once September got underway there would be a procession of cakes and puddings involving apples. Now that I have to buy my apples in the supermarket, this doesn't happen, but as soon as September comes I do get cravings for apple flapjacks, apple sponge pudding and stewed apple. So this week I decided to make one of my favourite new recipes from last year: BBC Good Food's Blackberry and Apple Loaf. Yum yum...

After smelling the apples, I was desperate to have some apple flapjack, so I made some of that too. In fact, I made it twice, in a vegan version, and a non vegan version. Here is a piece in its all-butter glory (I wouldn't bother making it with vegan margarine, it is just a disappointment).

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Girls gone by publishing

I recently wrote about Fidra books, and expressed my delight that so many out of print children's books were being made available once more. Another publisher doing something similar are Girls Gone By Publishing, who I came across when I started collecting Chalet School books. GGBP aim to "re-publish some of the most popular girls' fiction from the twentieth century, concentrating on those titles which are most sought after, and difficult to find on the second-hand market" and have done a fantastic job in making some of the more obscure Chalet School titles available again. I was able to complete my collection of Chalet School books with their help; I would love to own all of the Chalet titles that they have republished, but unfortunately finances have not permitted this, since I can't quite justify owning another copy of a book I have already or replacing a collectable book... They have also published a number of "fill-in" titles, but I have not read any of these.

Other authors who they publish include (the list below should give you links to the relevant bit of the GGBP website)
I have all of the Antonia Forest books, and would love to have more of the other authors. I loved reading Lorna Hill and Malcolm Saville as a child, and I'm particularly curious to see the book Evelyn finds herself by Josephine Elder having enjoyed the titles by her that Greyladies have republished. The books are only generally available from the publishers, or via independent booksellers, but I was delighted to spot a selection in Foyles when I visited (and came away with an EBD for my collection).

Are there any other publishers re-publishing children's books that I should know about? And are there any authors that you would like to see back in print? (I will follow up with my answer to this later in the week!)

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Anglo-Saxons

Part of the reason for agreeing to do The Great East Swim at the weekend was that it would give us the opportunity to visit Sutton Hoo, a group of Anglo-Saxon burials in Suffolk where amazing hordes of treasure were found amid the graves. I heard about these when I studied the Anglo Saxons in my first term at university. I didn't enjoy studying them at first, I found it all quite impenetrable, given that I had predominantly been studying Hitler and Stalin for the past two years. Despite the fact that my father is a medieval historian, I had little interest in such early history, although I think this was part of a conscious desire that if I was going to follow in his footsteps and go to Oxford to read history, I would do it differently from him.

However, one book made the period accessible and converted me to the wonders of the Anglo Saxon world. This was The Anglo Saxons by James Campbell who is perhaps one of the foremost Anglo-Saxon historians. The book is lavishly illustrated and extremely readable; it synthesises much of Campbell's other work on the period and makes it understandable. However, I think that the book is worth buying for the wonderful photographs alone. The photograph on the cover is part of the armour dug up at Sutton Hoo.

We didn't actually make it to Sutton Hoo in the end as we decided we'd rather come home and sleep in our own beds after the swim, but it should still be there next year, and I'm glad that planning to visit that area of the country made me get this book off the shelf. Plus, it was quite timely to revisit the Anglo Saxons given the news reports of the discovery of an Anglo Saxon hoard in Staffordshire. This is really exciting, and I hope that the treasure will eventually be on display in the British museum.

PS: If you are interested in the Anglo-Saxons, then another must-read is this, Asser's Life of King Alfred the Great (the one who burnt the cakes (perhaps if a bake of the week goes wrong I will write about him)) - it is the account of the great medieval king written in 893 by a monk. It is hagiography for sure, but that in itself is interesting because it tells us about what people were writing about (and reading!) in the 9th century.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Over at Paperback Reader today :)

I'm off to Suffolk, for The Great East Swim, which I was somehow persuaded to sign up to in the heady hours after completing The Great North Swim. I've only just recovered from the GNS (and it took a long bath and a lot of cake and over a week of taking things easy), so I must be completely mad. The weather forecast looks good, and we hope to visit Sutton Hoo on Sunday, which will enable me to write about one of my favourite history books when I get back. And hopefully I'll have another medal and t-shirt to add to the collection.

Anyway, in the absence of a proper blog post here this weekend, I've written a Guest Post for Paperback reader which I hope you'll enjoy.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Some bookish postcards

I just can't think of what to write about today, not because there has been an absence of book buying, book borrowing or book reading (although being back in the swing of work and trying to do fun things as well as keep up with the housework has cut into my reading time), but because none of it feels exciting and interesting enough to share.

So here is a picture of three wonderful postcards that I picked up in Heffers bookshop in Cambridge earlier this month. What fantastic quotes!

(I'm sorry that the picture isn't better quality, the cards are very shiny and difficult to photograph)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Notwithstanding : stories from an English village (Louis De Bernieres)

I sometimes feel that I am the only person left in the world who still hasn't got around to reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin. However, I have heard such good things about Louis De Bernieres that when I was offered a copy of his latest book by Harvill Secker (to be released on the 1st October), I had to say yes, to find out more about this writer, even though it is a book of short stories and I am not a great short stories fan.

Before I go any further, let me just say that saying "yes" proved to be a good decision, and may even have changed my feelings about books of short stories. These are not discrete short stories, but connected by the village of Notwithstanding in which they are set and characters reappear throughout the stories which builds up a picture of the whole community. Many of these stories have previously been published in various newspapers and magazines, but some have been written for the volume, and one would not guess that it had not been writen as a whole.

The tales from the village of Notwithstanding draw upon the experiences of Louis De Bernieres childhood in the south of Surrey in the 1960s and 1970s. According to the afterword, he chose the name because he felt that the rural idyll that he remembered had "notwithstood". But actually, the more he thought about it, some elements of the village were still there. I grew up in a small Devon village in the 1990s, and the book was strongly reminiscent of life there.

The coincidences of every day life are brought out in a most amusing fashion. This is particularly apparent in my favourite stories: The auspicious meeting of the first two members of the famous Notwithstanding wind quartet, The auspicious meeting of the third member of the famous Notwithstanding wind quartet with the first two and The auspicious meeting of the first member of the famous Notwithstanding wind quartet with the fourth, which describe the happy circumstances whereby two musicians eventually find a bassonist and flautist to join them in forming a wind quartet.

The book also makes reference to changes in the village, for example the influx of newcomers who aren't wholly at one with the country life: "They moved here in search of picture postcard Englandand are uncomfortable with a real countryman who knows how to wring the neck of a chicken and has no compunction about drowning kittens in a bucket"

I loved the story about The Girt Pike, in which young Robert is promised peanut butter sandwiches by Mrs Rendall if he can catch the pike from her pond which is eating all her baby chickens and ducklings.
""Please do come up and catch it. I'll bring you cups of tea and as many sandwiches as you can eat, I promise."
"Peanut butter?" asked Robert, aware that posh people sometimes put truly revolting pastes made of rotten anchovies into their sandwiches.
"Peanut butter, or jam or anything," said Mrs Rendall, much amused.

Other stories include Broken Heart, in which an elderly gentleman is persuaded to move away from the village by his daughter to raise some capital and sadly dies because he cannot bear no longer living there and Obadiah Oak, Mrs Griffith and the carol singers which describes a lonely woman who for once decides to be hospitable to carolling children, only to find herself not visited this year as she has not been welcoming in the past.

I thought this book was truly wonderful, and the stories are definitely ones that will stay with you for sometime. It's a book to dip into or to read in a longer session, and I certainly hope that this book will be as popular as his other works. I am now very keen to try one of his novels. The obvious one is Captain Corelli, but I wonder if anyone else would recommend any of the others?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Bake of the week: Chewy gooey flapjacks

This week's bake of the week was an Autumnal themed cake, but unfortunately it all got eaten before I remembered to take a picture of it. So it was back to the kitchen, and time to do one of the recipes from my "wish-list". I recently acquired two new books on baking - BBC Good Food's 101 Bakes and cakes and Mary Berry's Baking Bible - and drew up a list of things that I want to make this Autumn. First up, the Chewy gooey flapjacks from 101 Bakes and Cakes. Essentially these are banana flapjacks, only involving fresh banana rather than banana chips which seemed to be an interesting idea. Pretty yummy, but not quite as good as my favourite apple flapjack. Hopefully we'll have some left to take with us for the Great East Swim on Saturday as I think they are the perfect swimming fuel...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Miss Read

The onset of Autumn makes me feel a bit nostalgic for my childhood, particularly for new things for school and for living in a village. Somehow, the change of the seasons feels less significant living in a town. So I've been re-reading some of my favourite village life fiction by Miss Read, and as I haven't seen much written about her I thought I would encourage you all to seek her out.

Miss Read is the pseudonym of Mrs Dora Saint, a school-mistress born in 1913, who wrote two series of novels between the 1950s and 1990s which were set in the first half of the century. These are set in the two fictional villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. I think the Fairacre books are my favourite because they have an obvious autobiographical element; the principal character is "Miss Read", an unmarried school teacher in the village school. Both of the series deal with village life and the characters therein and are wonderful evocations of the countryside, nature, the changing seasons as well as involving a degree of social commentary on the villages and some gentle humour.

"The first day of term has a flavour that is all its own; a whiff of lazy days behind and a foretaste of the busy future. The essential thing for a village schoolmistress on such a day is to get up early. I told myself this on a fine September morning, five minutes after switching off the alarm clock. The sun streamed into the bedroom, sparking little rainbows from the window's edge, and outside rooks cawed noisily from the tops of the elm trees in the churchyard" -- Village School

I've just discovered that you can get a preview of Thrush Green and Village School, the first book in each series on Google Books (just search for "Miss Read") and hopefully that might be enough to tempt you. The books were originally published by Penguin, in a variety of editions (see below) but have recently been republished by Orion (bottom picture). Penguin also produced compendium editions, which would be wonderful to get your hands on if you spot them in a second hand bookshop.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Ultimate Student Cookbook (and bonus bake of the week)

When I stopped being a student and started living by myself and working, I had to start cooking. Luckily, I had an excellent vegetarian student cookbook which I'd acquired as a student but never had the opportunity to use (3 course formal dining 6 nights a week in Oxford for £1.60 (this was 5 years ago!) made the need/desire to cook a little superfluous), called Beyond Baked Beans Green by Fiona Beckett. This is part of a series of books aimed at students (or those wanting easy to follow recipes that don't involve complicated ingredients/procedures/equipment) called Beyond Baked Beans.

Beyond Baked Beans has an excellent website, which is worth checking out at the moment as they are running a series of articles under the theme "Students can cook" which includes a number of recipes donated by celebrities (I'm particularly looking forward to trying the River Cafe Tomato soup). And they also have a page on Facebook involving debate about cooking and where students (and others, such as myself!) can post pictures of recipes made. It is an excellent resource for seeking advice on cooking, sharing recipes and talking to others about food!

As a result of my involvement with the Facebook page I was sent a copy of The ultimate student cookbook. This takes recipes from the three Beyond Baked beans books and puts them together with new ones and loads of advice on how to cook to produce what is literally the Ultimate Student Cookbook.

I was pleased to see that some of my favourite recipes from Beyond Baked Beans reappeared such as the Moroccan spiced chickpea recipe and the Sad Unloved Vegetable soup, and not owning the other books, many of the other recipes were new to me. I'm particularly looking forward to trying the Spiced sweet potato, pepper and aubergine bake.

The author, Fiona Beckett, is an established food writer, and this really comes through in the book. The book also incorporates the recipes and advice of three student co-authors, James, Sig and Guy, and I love the way that each recipe has a comment by another one of the authors, suggesting ways to serve it or vary the recipe or including a tip for successful cooking.

Anyway, given that my favourite sort of cooking is baking, I figured that I should start with a recipe from that category. I made the Chewy Chocolate Cookies (pictured on the left of the tin) and I also made the variation of the recipe, which involved adding a spoonful of cocoa and replacing the dark chocolate chips with white chocolate chips. I think I cooked them a bit too long as they weren't exactly chewy, but more biscuity, but I dispatched them with Ken to his work on his birthday and apparently they'd all gone by 10:30 and everyone was very complimentary. I next plan to make the Chocolate and raspberry brownies....mmm...I'll post pics when I've given them a go!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Getting rid of books (and acquiring books in charity shops)

Shelf space has reached crisis point in Cardigan Girl's Flat (and I am still feeling extremely guilty that the majority of my boyfriend's books reside in boxes in a storage unit). Although I have made some temporary measures, I did also get rid of a few books the other day. It was a bit strange deleting them from my librarything account, but it does mean that the day that I reach 1000 books is a tiny bit further off. I contemplated offering my rejects on here, but I'm not sure about the principle of providing booklovers with books that I didn't like/didn't want to read. So I took them to Oxfam.

Thinking about getting rid of books also made me think about the stock in charity shops. Obviously many of us find wonderful things, but surely in the majority of cases they are other people's rejects - books that have been read once but not loved enough to have house room, or presents which have not been touched at all. I suppose I should be more discerning and think to myself "someone didn't like this" when I pick up something in a charity shop, but more often than not I am just grateful that someone else didn't like a Virago Modern Classic very much.

Do the rest of you ever get rid of books that you didn't enjoy reading/know that you'll never get around to reading? And what do you do with them?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Enchanted Cornwall (Du Maurier)

Having enjoyed writing about all of Daphne Du Maurier's Virago Modern classics over on my other blog, I was very excited to discover the existence of another book of hers which I did not know about. Unlike Vanishing Cornwall, it has not been republished by Virago, but having borrowed it from the library I was forced to get my own, second hand from Amazon (don't you just hate it when a free service ends up costing you more money?).

I took it to Cornwall with me, but it was not until last night, after my first day back at work that I got around to looking at it. Filled with wonderful pictures of Cornwall I'm not sure whether it helped or hindered my post-holiday blues!

This is probably a book only for the die-hard Daphne Du Maurier fan, but that certainly describes me. It was written quite a while after DDM had written her last novel and is a mix of autobiographical memories (including how she came to Cornwall the first time) and descriptions of how she came to write each of her books, with very substantial extracts from the titles. It was interesting to revisit these, but in terms of autobiography, you're much better off with a copy of Myself when young. It didn't quite live up to Vanishing Cornwall, and I would recommend you bought that first, but it was still extremely enjoyable and another piece in the jigsaw of Daphne Du Maurier. I found myself contemplating an alternative trip to Fowey and the south of the region as a change from our usual North Cornwall...

As my own copy has yet to arrive, and the library copy has now gone back, I wasn't able to take a picture of the title, so I leave you with one of my holiday snaps that certainly fits the theme - it was taken in Boscastle.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Those who marched away : An anthology of the world's greatest war diaries

This immense tome arrived on my doorstep from Canongate the other day, and I have finally got around to having a proper look at it. Edited by Irene and Alan Taylor it is a vast compendium of diaries from an immense variety of people who have lived through wars and fought in them across a wide range from periods, from the 17th century, through 2 World Wars to the present.

What is special about this book is the way that it is arranged; rather than seeing each diarist as individuals we see them chronologically - there is a diary entry or several entries for each day of the year. This makes it possible to compare diaries from different periods in a different way. And it really shows that unfortunately war is not an isolated experience, it recurs.

For yesterday, 16th September, 8 entries were given. The diarists include Anne Frank, the politician "Chips" Channon, Lord Reith, Joan Wyndham and Leo Tolstoy. So, very many high profile people are included. In the index of biographies included I recognise many names such as Violet Bonham-Carter, John Evelyn, Edward Ardizzone, Goebbels, Hitchcock - so people intimately involved in fighting wars but also those observing it. The list however also includes names that one would not recognise, such as lowly privates and foot soldiers. I like the way that this "rediscovers" writers who otherwise might be forgotten or overlooked.

I have to say that I think this would make a wonderful Christmas present; it would be lovely to be given this at the start of the year and be able to dip into it each day to read about different events. It is being released on 1st October.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I've enjoyed reading other bloggers replies to this, so thought I should definitely give it a go myself! I haven't had a chance yet what with being on holiday to join in with Book Bloggers Appreciation Week so this is my contribution.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I don't snack and read as I find it difficult to wield the book and the food, and I hate making books sticky. However, I do love to read while I eat, so usually catch up on magazines, or the odd library book (invariably already sticky) if I'm on my own.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Absolutely hate it, I did use postits whilst doing various degrees, but they're not that good for books.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Whatever scrap of paper is to hand.

Laying the book flat open?
Absolutely not, can't stand wrinkled spines.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Generally fiction, but I do read cookery books, and books about Cornwall and biographies.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
I don't listen to very many audiobooks but we have had a couple whilst making long trips recently - it's good if there isn't anything interesting on Radio 4.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
Ideally the end of the chapter, but will stop anywhere.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Not generally.

What are you currently reading?
Just about to start The Haunted House by Wilkie Collins. Also have Below Stairs by Margaret Powell on the go to read in bed.

What is the last book you bought?
In the "withdrawn from library stock" I earlier picked up two books published by Virago, one for my Virago Venture, which is The echoing grove by Rosamund Lehmann (actually I have already read this but was happy to get my own copy so cheaply) and another volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I generally have at least 2 books on the go at once.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
Whilst waiting for my boyfriend to get home from work.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Generally stand alone books - sequels, although one is often desperate for them, are somehow never as good.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Hmm, not one that I keep recommending, but I love Daphne Du Maurier.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Genre and alphabetically for fiction, although there are some exceptions!

Bake of the week: Birthday cake

It is my boyfriend's birthday today and I've just spent the early part of the day making his birthday cake and decorating the flat for when he gets home. The cake is BBC Good Food's White and Dark cake which I've been longing to make for ages. Unfortunately, the dark cake broke in half when I cut it (hadn't discovered the trick to cutting cakes in half which is to hold them horizontally) but it still looked good when cut!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Beatrix Potter Country

I've been lucky this year to visit a couple of Enid Blyton places, and
with the trip to the Lakes this weekend for The Great North Swim, there
was no question about seeing a literary landscape on the way. My
boyfriend spent most of the weekend reading about Arthur Ransome places
in Christina Hardyment's Captain Flint's Trunk, and it felt like there
were so many literary connections in the area, not to mention seeing
places which have inspired artists and musicians. However, in my mind
there was only one place that I really wanted to go, and that was
Beatrix Potter's farm - Hill Top

The property is in the pretty village of Near Sawrey, which features in
many of her books, and is halfway up the hill. It is divided into two
parts, the working farm, and the half of the house that was inhabited by
the tenant farmer, and the half where Potter lived. It was bequeathed to
the National Trust on condition it was left pretty much as in Potter's
life, and is thus still a working farm. Potter was not only a children's
book writer but actually a businesswoman, heavily involved in the
running of this farm, and the other 13 that she owned. The part of the
house that can be visited is very small, and timed tickets are in operation
- I still felt that despite this measure it was very crowded. There
were only 6 rooms to see, but many of them had Peter Rabbit memorabilia.
There was also a fascinating Gerard's Herbal from 1623; before she started
writing books, Potter was hugely interested in Botany and did some research
which according to the room steward was well ahead of its time - however,
because she was female, it couldn't be submitted to the Royal Society.

We also loved the cottage garden; it was easy to see how this was
inspiration for her drawings.

After this visit, we still had some time before we left for home, so
decided to go and do the "Beatrix Potter Attraction" with Peter Rabbit Garden. It was
cheesy, and it was mainly designed for the younger end of the tourism
market, but actually it was rather fun. There was a short film about
Beatrix Potter, tableux of many of the stories, information about each
of the books, and the Peter Rabbit Garden where we saw a real mouse!
They have identified the plants featured in her illustrations, and
intriguingly, the famous picture of Peter Rabbit does not depict him
eating a carrot but a rare variety of radish. Worth the £6.75 entrance
fee just to learn that!

I resisted buying any biographies of Potter whilst at the house,
although unusually for me, I did buy the guidebook "Beatrix Potter and
Hill Top" which has a short account of her life and pictures of the
farm. However, at the Beatrix Potter attraction I gave in and bought the
Margaret Lane biography, The tale of Beatrix Potter. It's not the most
recent, but it was the first major, authorised biography of Potter and
is definitely worth a read.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Not drowned, nor duffers...

(thanks to Geraldine in the comments of my last post for reminding me of that wonderful Arthur Ransome quote).

I am just back from the Lakes where I did not drown, nor was I a duffer. It was an amazing experience and we've raised nearly £1500 for Mind, the mental health charity.

Here's some pictures:

Lake Windermere, where the swim was held:Just after completing the swim:
Me, back at the guest house after a long bath, proudly wearing my Great Swim t-shirt and medal, which I've been wearing again today!
We had fun in the Lakes too - I'd never been and enjoyed seeing the amazing scenery for the first time. We also did a bit of a Beatrix Potter-thon today before heading home. Still two more days left before going back to work - I hope to blog about our visit to Beatrix Potter's house and subsequent reading, and I'm going on a bake-a-thon as it's Ken's birthday and I want to review The Ultimate Student cookbook. I also have a couple of books which I've received from publishers which I want to review, so busy busy busy!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Off one more time, to get very wet indeed.

Last trip of the summer (though we're wondering if we can fit in an Autumn night away as our Christmas skiing holiday seems so far away) this weekend.

And it's The Great North Swim. I've been preparing for this challenge since March, when we entered, mainly by swimming half a mile before work almost every day since then. But I have also done some longer swims, and have swum the distance (a mile) twice with the Oxford triathletes. I'm still really nervous as the water will be a lot colder than I am used to (even with my wetsuit). And it is quite a big deal to me as I'm doing the swim in memory of a friend who committed suicide in 2005, so there are a lot of emotions attached. We've raised quite a lot of money too for Mind, so I can't let all of the sponsors down.

Have some Lake District themed reading packed; we're taking Christina Hardyment's Captain Flint's Trunk which is about the places which inspired the Swallows and Amazons books. My boyfriend has a book about Fell Running, and I still need to get hold of a biography about Beatrix Potter as we're hoping to visit her house on the way home. Haven't managed to find any watery reading though.

I'll let you know how I get on and whether or not I've drowned next week...

Friday, 11 September 2009

Pictures from Cambridge

Just got back and before I go and repack my suitcase with wetsuit rather than work clothes, I thought I'd share a few pictures from my trip to Cambridge. I can't wait to go back sometime with my boyfriend and see the place properly without a conference to get in the way!

I stayed at Clare college...
...which is right next to the river, and I had to walk over this bridge several times a day to go between the meeting room and my room...

My room was amazing, nothing like my student days (and I did rather well if I'm honest)
Edwina, my teddy bear agreed with me.

I did some library tourism, following find the Trinity Wren Library...
...and to go on a tour of the library at Gonville and Caius...
I had a yummy meal out in the Rainbow cafe:

And I bought some books...
Which I've just unpacked and am now once more feeling a LITTLE (ok, a LOT) overwhelmed by TBRs...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Cambridge Day 2

It's been another action packed and book buying packed day here!

This morning's papers fell into two halves; the first discussed how funds might be raised by libraries wanting to acquire rare items and the second half discussed theft from libraries and how books might be recovered and how libraries and the book trade can work together to prevent this.

I then missed lunch in order to bookshop, although I did squeeze in a toasted teacake in M and S. I found their Oxfam bookshop which was rather good, although also rather expensive.

I picked up three items in there:
A lovely green VMC of A compass error which looks wonderful and which I will be reading very soon for my VVV blog.
Path to the silent country by Lynne Reid Banks - this is the sequel to her book Dark Quartet which I own, about the Brontes. I think I've had it from the library but now my set is complete.
Let the Hurricane Roar by Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder). Again, I've read this.

Next door but one was a shop called Galloway and Porter, and we had been given a 10% off voucher. It seemed mostly to be a remainder shop but I picked up three more books there:
Mother country by Elisabeth Russell Taylor, another VMC, in a new edition.
Cat Sanctuary by Patrick Gale, one of his I haven't read and set in my beloved Cornwall.
These two were £2.99, new, before discount, and on the way out I spotted a copy of
Hard work by Polly Toynbee which I've read before but is an interesting journalistic investigation into the world of low paid work. The man in the shop let me have it for 50p!

This afternoon was library visits time and I had a wonderful outing to the libraries of Gonville and Caius, and Trinity colleges. The latter has a particularly famous library designed by Wren which I was recommended to see. All fascinating, but lots of walking around Cambridge - I feel I am getting to grips with the place now (which is good as I have lost my map!) and have really enjoyed the chance to see the city.

It's a beautiful evening and I am now off for another reception, this time in the beautiful Fellows Garden of the college in which I am staying. I am however footsore, and exhausted, and homesickness is beginning to bite. Today is the first day in over a year that I haven't seen my boyfriend and I really miss him. :(

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

From Cambridge!

My boyfriend managed to get my laptop going enough for me to take it away, and happily there is an internet connection in my room (along with the tv...I don't remember tvs being provided when I was at "the other place" 4 years ago!), so I can blog LIVE from Cambridge! Unfortunately my laptop won't run my photo software, and the cable is in the other place, but I promise some pictures of the amazing place where I am spending 48 hours next week.

It's been an exhausting day (bear with me, there are some bookish bits!). I felt really uncertain about coming away and made Ken late for work as I couldn't bear to let him go, and then had to dash to the pool to fit in a quick swim. It was very quick! Then back home to tidy up, hide lots of little notes and magazines around the flat and put out those cakes before packing the car and heading off to Cambridge. You can tell that Oxford and Cambridge types are not designed to mix - it is a very long journey, down the M40, round the M25, up the A1... Unfortunately, I then got lost as I came into Cambridge as there was a road closure which my directions didn't take account of. Poor Ken was rung up and asked where I was; eventually I turned the map up the right way and found where I was supposed to be going.

Luckily, although I missed getting given my information pack and badge I was in time for the talks. They've been interesting and provoked quite a lot of discussion (e.g. if a book comes onto the market which several people have claims to, who should the booksellers offer it too). One of the most interesting points is about the way in which the nature of rare books collecting is changing; previously it was extremely important to enable people to have access to the text, now this is often available online and collecting becomes more important about the individual volume - its binding, its owners and provenance and annotations.

One of the speakers showed a slide of a librarian at Cambridge called JEB Mayor, who was around at the beginning of the last century; I know FM Mayor (a VMC writer) lived in Cambridge, I wonder if they were related.

The highlight of the day was definitely the reception at Heffer's bookshop, the main bookshop in Cambridge. It was very similar to Blackwells in Oxford, but had a much better (smaller but cheaper) second hand section. As they were offering us 10% off for the evening (how wonderful it is to be in a bookshop when it is closed and they are offering 10% off) it was difficult to resist and I bought the following 5 books for £9.90:

* 29 Inman Road (Ena Chamberlain) - an autobiographuy of 1920s London "in the classic tradition of Cider with Rosie and Lark Rise"
* Love is Blue (Joan Wyndam) -(I wrote about her earlier VMC auobio on my other blog) and although I've read this, it's nice to have a copy.
* Odd girl out (Elizabeth Jane Howard) - looked like an interesting story.
* The realms of gold (Drabble) - not one I've read and looked interesting.
* Cobwebs and Cream teas (Mackie) - I read thsi years ago and am pleased to finally have my own copy - it's an autobiographical book about a couple who work for the National Trust.

I've come back to my room as I am really exhausted and need to wind down; it is nice having the TV though so I may not read at all (I feel I overdid the reading material, especially since I went shopping).

Away again

Yes, it was time to pack my suitcase again yesterday as I'm off to Cambridge for a Rare Books conference. I'm quite nervous about going since I received a bursary to attend, and will have to write a report on it afterwards. I don't know many of the other delegates and I've never been to a conference or even Cambridge before. Some of the programme looks really fun- such as a reception in Cambridge's main bookshop, Heffers, hehe, as well as the visits to various libraries, and it will be interesting to hear the speakers.

Anyway, I am lucky enough to be able to drive to the conference and have packed my suitcase full of books. Just. In. Case. (I went to a summer school last year and had to travel by train, so couldn't take my laptop and only packed 4 books. There wasn't anything to do in the evening and without PC or TV I had finished my books by the end of day 2. I resorted to the newspaper and then my Mum visited and kindly lent me enough books to see me through the last night and the train journey home).

It's a motley selection and includes some quite light reads. I'm most likely to read Ladies of Lending (whose title reminds me of working in the public library as a teenager, since the main department was called "Lending"and most of the staff were Ladies), and the Katherine Rowntree. I've also got a pile of the rest of last weekend's newspapers and some magazines, including Cosmo and Library and Information Update.

I digress. I must go and pack the car. Hope you all have a good rest of week.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Bake of the week

I didn't think I'd have time to do a bake of the week this week, but you're in luck! I picked up these gorgeous cupcake cases earlier today and had to use them. As I'm off away to my conference in Cambridge and this is the first time I've been away from my boyfriend since he moved in a year ago, I thought I'd make him a little surprise for when he gets back from work tomorrow. I'm also filling the fridge with packed lunches, fruit and vegetables, and feeling faintly ridiculous about being so pathetic when I'm only going for two nights!

These are cherry cupcakes - the usual cupcake recipe with a couple of tablespoons of black cherry jam stirred in.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Fidra books

As regular readers will know I am interested in publishers who are taking the time to reprint "forgotten" books, and I also love old fashioned children's stories. So I was very excited when in Foyles a fortnight ago with Paperback Reader to find a section in the children's department which is devoted to re-published children's books. There were a couple of publishers featured, but the ones that caught my eye were Fidra books, who I'd seen on Amazon, but not in the flesh, and I came away with two books. Fidra specialise in "rescuing neglected children’s fiction and making it available to a new generation of readers...[Their] books range from 1940s adventure stories to iconic 1960s fantasy novels, and from pony books by Carnegie medal winning authors to rare boarding school stories from the 1990s."

The two books that I came away with were both by Mabel Esther Allen, an author I'd encountered before, but didn't realise how prolific she was until I saw the list of titles at the front of the volumes.

I bought Chiltern Adventure, and The School on Cloud Ridge, and read them in that order, which proved to be the right way around as some of the characters from the former appeared in the latter. The first was an enjoyable story about some children who spend the summer alone at a cottage in the Chilterns, and essentially about what they get up to. The second I found more interesting as it was about the foundation of a progressive school, with a school council and where methods are not along traditional lines, and how everyone adapts to the school (we have the usual characters - the homesick girl, the girl more interested in fashion and boys). I really enjoyed the chance to read these stories which I might not have otherwise been able to get hold of, and they were a nice light element to my holiday reading.

I see that Fidra have published one more MAE book, The school on North Barrule, and I am likely to treat myself to that for my next holiday.

The well and the mine (Phillips)

Virago books recently contacted me via Twitter and asked me if I'd be interested in receiving a review copy of The well and the mine, a book by Gin Phillips which is being published at the start of November. Of course the answer was "yes", and the book duly arrived. Finding myself all packed up but with nowhere to go until the next day, I decided to get my holiday reading underway early, and treat myself to this.

The book tells the story of 9 year old Tess Moore, who lives in a small town in Alabama during the 1930s depression. It starts with her hearing the splash of a baby falling into a well, and follows her as she tries to find out who would do such a thing. The story is told from the persepective of both Tess and the rest of her family members, father, mother, sister and brother, and builds up a picture of their life, the circumstances of the mining community within which they live, and her parents lives before they settled down. An impressive number of issues are covered by the story - having children and responsibility, growing up, poverty and working in the mines, and I found it an absorbing read where I learnt a lot about the period as well as being gripped by the story.

The writing itself is also extremely powerful, such as this passage where Albert the father reflects on his role as a miner: "Half my life was spent taking things out of the ground, the other half laying them in. Trying to dig my way into the dirt from up here, then praying I could get to the surface from down here"

I also loved this extract where Tess is describing tomatoes: " "They're happy vegetables aren't they Papa" asked Tess, chomping great chunks out of hers. "Cheerful and excited. Like lemons are pouty and peaches are flirts".

I thought this book was absolutely wonderful, and the story stayed with me right into my holiday. I'd really recommend getting your hands on this when it comes out, and I would not be at all surprised to see it on the Orange longlist next year.

Persephone Reading Week: Final prize award

I do want to say thank you all once again for participating in Persephone week, I'm only sad that I missed the end of it by going on holiday! I was especially excited however to return to an invitation to the bookshop for cake; Nicola has been hugely supportive of our challenge, and Claire and I have done a comprehensive round up of posts and finally, after much deliberation chosen our favourite.

We loved Booksnob's Latecomer post, because of the way it summed up so much of what we feel about Persephone books and mirrored the love of the books which had led us to hold the week.

Rachel, if you email your details to Claire, she will get the book out to you!

We would also like to give a special mention to the following posts, which you must have a look at if you missed them earlier.

Fleurfisher's What is a Persephone book and her very generous giveaway.
Stuck in a book's post featuring baking from one of the books
Book Psmith's bookmarks
and Darlene's reading corner.

Review wise we loved:
Nymeth's review of Saplings
Claire's Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary
Swati's Round about a pound a week
and Tracey on The wise virgins

I could mention so many more posts, but I have lots of washing to get on with! Can't wait for another Persephone reading week :)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

I'm back!

Back from Cornwall and back to blogging (ish) - I did pop in a couple of times and loved seeing the rest of the posts from Persephone week. Claire and I have been in consultation about our favourite posts and I'll be announcing the winner sometime tomorrow. Thank you all again for your enthusiasm and participation.

Just before I left, I thought that perhaps I should have run some competitions in my absence where you could place bets on a) how many books I read while I was away, b) how many books I bought while I was away and c) how many books arrived at my house while I was away. The answers are 18.5 (I've got a half read book to finish tonight), 0 (unless you count the map I bought of the Bude area so we could do a walk at Boscastle without getting lost), and 2 (1 expected, and 1 a surprise from Canongate).

Of the books I took with me (here they are piled up in the holiday home, next to my boyfriend's reading pile)...

...I read....
  • Fortnight in September (Sheriff) - last Persephone week read.
  • Head girl's difficulties (Brent-Dyer)
  • Zennor in Darkness (Dunmore)
  • Fixing Kate (Murphy)
  • Excellent women (Pym)
  • Maiden's trip (Smith)
  • Well tempered clavier (Coles)
  • The tent, the bucket and me (Kennedy)
  • Surf Nation (Wade) - from my boyfriend's pile
  • A chiltern adventure (Allen)
  • A cast of smiles (Brookfield)
  • The great lover (Dawson)
  • Flight of the maidens (Gardam)
  • The sea lady (Drabble)
  • Tales from an island (Atkins)
  • Guppies for tea (Cobbold)
  • School on cloud ridge (Allen)
  • Guernsey literary and potato peel society (Shaffer)
  • Summer's Day
The stand out reads were Fortnight in September, Zennor in Darkness and The sea lady.

I hope to write about some of these in due course...

I also read a wonderful book called The well and the mine, which Virago sent me to review the night before I left, and I will DEFINITELY be writing about that this week.

The b files will continue to be a little sporadic - I'm off to a Rare Books conference in Cambridge Weds-Fri and then off to the Lake District for my Great North Swim which I'm quite nervous about as I haven't had a chance to have a proper swim all week, although I have been battling with my wetsuit and acquiring a warming layer of fat by consuming plenty of clotted cream. But I shall post when I can and look forward to doing some more baking soon!