Wednesday, 31 March 2010

March Reading

It's been another busy month in terms of reading; my stomach problems really flared up and I spent three weeks incapable of doing much else outside of work apart from reading. The total of 95 books would in fact be even higher had I not succombed to a sick-virus last week where I went for 36 hours without opening a book! (This is unheard of for me - I can't remember when I last went so long without reading, definitely an indicator of being really poorly!).

As you can see I carried on reading my way through my shelf of Virago Modern Classics (do see my other blog for some reviews). I reread some more favourite children's books, including three of Jean Estoril's Drina books, and I also read three of her other ballet books which were new to me and which I very much enjoyed.

Highlights included two titles from the Orange longlist - This is how and Hearts and Minds, Legend of a suicide (which I finally got from the library), and A month in the country (recommended by a former colleague), and The cleaner (for which I nearly, but didn't quite break my lenten book buying ban). In terms of Virago Modern Classics, I especially enjoyed Elizabeth and her German Garden and The solitary summer, both by Elizabeth Von Arnim, to be reviewed soon.

Plans for April? I have caught up with the backlog of Virago Modern Classics for my Virago Venture, so it will depend on what new ones I acquire and find in the library as to how many I read during April. I will certainly be reading the two remaining Angela Carter VMCs that I have yet to read as part of Paperback Reader's Angela Carter month.

I've got a huge pile of library books that is split fairly evenly between chicklit and titles that were previously listed for the Orange prize. I'm intending to read from the back list of Orange titles over the next few months to continue my Orange Wednesday feature, so you can look out for more of those posts! I've also got a library copy of My driver, which is Maggie Gee's follow up to My cleaner.

I have a parcel of books from my parents for my birthday, and another book from a friend to open on Saturday; I gave them a wishlist of books to choose from so I have no idea what I will be getting, but they might end up being read in April. And of course, I'm off on holiday on Friday with a stack of lovely books, so I am looking forward to indulging myself in lots of books that I have been saving for sometime, and there is some new children's fiction from favourite authros in which to indulge.

Here is the full list:

The wrong Chalet School EBD C RR
The way things are Delafield, EM VMC
The man who disappeared Morall, Clare
Two serious ladies Bowles, Jane VMC
Caught in Cornwall Bolitho, Janie
It's hard to be hip over thirty Viorst, Judith P
Somewhere more simple Molteno, Maria
The difference a day makes Matthews, Carole
Chatterton square Young, E.H. VMC
Providence Brookner, Anita
Sing me who you are Berridge, Elizabeth
A model childhood Wolf, Christa VMC
A gate at the stairs Moore, Lori
House on Clewe Street Lavin, Mary VMC
Swimming pool season Tremain, Rose
Act of love Dale, Celia
Facing the music Torvill and Dean AB
The ice cream girls Koomson, Dorothy
The ballet family Estoril, Jean C
Manja Gmeyner, Anna P
The sweetest thing Shaw, Fiona
101 teatime treats BBC Good Food NF
Strike for a kingdom Gallie, Menna
Beside the sea Oemi, Veronique
The ballet family again Estoril, Jean
The witch of Exmoor Drabble, Margaret
Size 12 is not fat Cabot, Meg
How to break your own heart Alderson, Maggie
Cotter's England Stead, Christina VMC
Legend of a suicide Vann, David
Brief lives Brookner, Anita
Precious bane Webb, Mary VMC
Love in a headscarf Zahra, Shelina
My world Andrews, Julie AB
Ballet twins Estoril, Jean C
Tortoise by candlelight Bawden, Nina VMC
Dear Austen Bawden, Nina AB
A tea rose Donnelly, Jennifer
O Pioneers Cather, Willa VMC
Life at the palace Birch, Carol
Drina dances in Italy Estoril, Jean C RR
Life before man Atwood, Margaret VMC
Gluten-free cookbook for kids Rabovich, Adrina NF
Perfect meringues Graham, Laurie
Trouble at Ponyways Beresford, Judith C
Ruffian on the chair Bawden, Nina
Temples of delight Trapido, Barbara
Drina dances in Madeira Estoril, Jean C
The rising tide Keane, Molly VMC
The wife's tale Lansens, Lori
How to be married Williams, Polly
Kinflicks Alther, Lisa VMC
Maddy Alone Brown, Pamela C
Work Toynbee, Polly NF RR
The little company Dark, Eleanor
Grumpy old men: secret diary Prebble, Stuart
Month in the country Carr, JL
Boy trouble at Trebizon Digby, Anne C RR
Never more than human Laverty, Maura VMC
According to Lubka Graham, Laurie
Tennis term at Trebizon Digby, Anne C RR
Familiar passions Bawden, Nina
The cleaner Gee, Maggie
The lacquer lady Tennyson Jesse, F VMC
Solitude of prime numbers Giardino
The heir Sackville-West, Vita VMC
Leaving earth Humphreys, Helen
This is how Hyland, MJ O
The match-maker Conlon-McKenna, Marita
Elizabeth and her German garden Arnim, Elizabeth von VMC
Hearts and Minds Craig, Amanda O
Blue skies and gunfire Peyton, KM C
Cherry Ames: visiting nurse Wells, Helen
The ice house Bawden, Nina VMC
Where are the snows? Gee, Maggie
The secret son Lalami, Laila
Cherry Ames: boarding school nurse Wells, Helen
Tell me a riddle Olsen, Tillie VMC
Truth about melody browne Jewell, Lisa
Princess diaries: to the nines Cabot, Meg C
Fine of two hundred francs Triolet, Elsa VMC
A week in December Faulks, Sebastien
Julie Andrews: an intimate biog Stirling, Richard
Married with baggage Chidley, Elise
Love Morrison, Toni
Company of swans Ibbotsen, Eva C
Solitary summer Arnim, Elizabeth von VMC
Savage lands Clark, Clare
The river Wastvedt, Tricia
Kife after lunch Harrison, Saraha
Mealtimes and milestones Barker, Constance AB
Unlit lamp Hall, Radclyffe VMC
Keeping up with Magda Dewar, Islar
Afternoon of a good woman Bawden, Nina VMC
Fasting and feasting Desair, Anita
Trespass Tremain, Rose

Orange Wednesday: Hearts and Minds (Craig)

Wow! I thought that This is how was a riveting read; Hearts and minds by Amanda Craig was even more gripping and packs more of a punch than anything I've read in 2010 so far. I couldn't describe it as a favourite read, because it's not comforting or feel-good, but it is absolutely tremendous, weaving an intriguing plot around the central theme of Britain's immigrant workers.

There is a large cast of characters. We meet Polly, a human rights lawyer, a white divorced mother of two, who is hugely reliant on Iryna her illegal immigrant au pair, who suddenly mysteriously disappears. We meet Anna, who has come from Lithuania in an attempt to start a new life for herself in England, but finds herself the victim of a prostitute trafficking ring and sold into a brothel. We meet Job, the taxi driver, a teacher in Zimbawbwe, but reduced to driving Londoners around to make a living, and so little thought of by his employers that they don't even use his name, just a number. Katie, an American, came to London to marry an American, but finding out that he was unfaithful just before their wedding, is forced to go it alone - she may be better off than Anna or Job, with her job on a magazine, but she can only afford to rent a flat in the same building as Anna's brothel and finds herself socially isolated and without friends.
The book is also social commentary on the first decade of the twenty-first century; Craig deals with the subjects of failing schools, a not always competent police force, terrorism, and the NHS, giving a fantastic insight into today's London and Great Britain.

I've seen this book compared to Dickens in other reviews, and I think that that is quite a good analogy given the masterful combination of characters, plot and social commentary. But it also fits into the grain of recent books about London life or Great Britain in the noughties- I'm thinking about William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms, Blake Morrison's South of the river and Ian McEwan's Saturday or even Phillip Hensher's Northern Clemency (although that is obviously Sheffield based!)

At the end, Amanda Craig says that some of the characters in this book appear in her other novels; I did read her Love in idleness last year, but it didn't stay with me like this book has done, but I'm now intrigued to read some more of her books, particularly A private place, and A vicious circle. Is anyone else familiar with her? She has a website, and writes here about her experiences which led to writing Hearts and Minds.

Can I also just say that I think that the cover art on this is absolutely fantastic? I love the way that symbols are superimposed over the coloured lettering.

I wasn't intending to stick my neck out and say whether I thought that an Orange longlisted book would make it onto the shortlist, but I will make an exception for this one. Do go and get a copy!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Holiday reading

As you all probably know from my trail of Cornish Cornucopia posts, I have been anticipating my holiday to Cornwall for quite some time. An important part of any holiday is definitely the reading matter; this is especially important when going on a self-catering break somewhere in England where the weather may not be hugely favourable. I have to confess to having started getting out my books for this holiday in January (it was partly an exercise to assist in tidying up my TBR bookcase), but with two days to go, the collection has been finalised. As we're going in the car I don't have to stint on the books that I'm taking (and I can always hope to find a few books in the chalet) - I don't intend to read all of the books I've got out but it's nice to have a choice - I've also tried to choose books that I don't intend to blog about because it's frustrating to be away without a computer and also it would create "homework" for me to catch up on when I get back! But do let me know if you are especially interested in hearing about any of them!

Of course I have some Cornish reading, and am looking forward to Angela Du Maurier's Trevelyan - I've read her memoir but not any of her novels. I have Wilkie Collins' Rambles beyond railways which I took last year but never got around to reading. And I have a trilogy of Janie Bolitho Rose Trevelyan detective stories, a series that I have really got into this year. I've also got the only DDM that I have yet to read.

I have two Greyladies titles - Death on tiptoe (RC Ashby) and Clothes-pegs (Susan Scarlett). I do enjoy these titles (and am hoping to perhaps get a couple more for my birthday). I've got another Noel Streatfield book too, her first, The whicharts.

I've got a couple of recent books - Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked and Angela Huth's Once a land-girl; I very much enjoyed Huth's Land girls which came out a very long time ago, so am excited that she has written a sequel.

Jane Gardam's book, Faith fox, is somewhat older, but I have read a lot of Gardam over the last year and this is one of the few that I haven't read. Hunting and gathering is a book I've had for a while but not yet got around to reading. The enchanted April seems an appropriate choice for a holiday in April, and The captain's wife is a Honno Classic that I've had lurking for a while now.

I have some republished children's fiction, The vicarage children a Lorna Hill Vicarage series book, and Steer by the stars, a horsey book by Olivia Fitzroy. We're also taking the new Winnie the Pooh sequel, as I thought this might be fun for us to read aloud in the evenings. And Louisa by Pamela Brown which hasn't been republished.

I've also got my usual travel guides and Cornish place names book!

There's still potential for me to add to the collection - I'm still trying to resist the Waterstones 3 for 2 as there are three books I would like to add to the collection - How to paint a dead man, The story of Lucy Gault, American wife which I've wanted for ages and The making of Mr Pettigrew. Ok, that's four books...I've dropped a couple of birthday hints, in fact many birthday hints about books that I would like, so I'm hoping that there may be a little pile of bookshaped packages waiting for me on Saturday morning.

Only three days til we're off, but at least I have the books covered!

Do any of these particularly tickle your fancy?

Monday, 29 March 2010

More ballet books

The comments on my Lorna Hill post the other week reminded my that actually I had a couple of ballet series in my collection which I had not mentioned, so I thought I would share them with you here, particularly as I went to see La Fille Mal Gardee two weekends ago and saw Cinderella this Saturday last. I think I loved ballet books so much when I was little, partly because I would have loved to be graceful enough to dance, but also because they were often set in boarding schools, fitting in with my love of this genre. At the moment in miserable February, ballet books are proving to be the perfect comfort re-read.

Dorothy Richards
This trilogy of books tells the story of Moth, a girl who wanted to dance, and eventually goes to ballet school. I read these at primary school, and ended up getting my own copies last year.

Mal Lewis Jones
These six books are about Cassie, a young dancer who wins a place at the Redwood Ballet School, and the friends that she makes there. The books deal with some quite serious issues, such as anorexia, and two of the books involve mysteries and adventure. I loved the boarding school setting of this book as much as I loved its ballet, and remember buying the books with birthday money. Lewis Jones has written a more recent series of ballet books which I have seen in the library but not read.

Jean Estoril
Drina Series
Jean Estoril, the pseudonym for Mabel Esther Allen who you may have noticed being republished by Fidra books, wrote this series of 11 books about a girl who is the daughter of a ballerina, and eventually gains success in her own right. Unfortunately I only have three of the titles, but I remember borrowing the rest from the library

Ballet Family series
Whilst looking at the bibliography for Jean Estoril's Drina series, I found out that she wrote another series of four books called The ballet family series. A quick visit to ebay, and I managed to pick up three of set which I'm looking forward to reading very soon when they arrive (the other being prohibitively expensive!)

And how could I write a post on children's ballet books without mentioning what was probably my first ballet book - Angelina Ballerina? I actually picked up a couple of Angelina Ballerina DVDs in a charity shop last year and was impressed with how the books had been translated to the screen. If only I had an appropriately aged relative to watch and read them with!

I'm wondering now about adult ballet books - Rumer Godden has been mentioned, and Geraldine suggested Adele Geras' Hester's Story which I read a while ago but are there any others?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Anniversary cake

I apologise for the hiatus in blogging (well, you may not have noticed since I had posts scheduled!) and replying to emails and comments. I went down with a horrible stomach bug on Wednesday, which on top of my existing stomach problems completely wiped me out. I was especially gutted as I wasn't able to properly celebrate the the three years since my fiance and I went on our first date (it took us another 5 months to get together, so we celebrate two anniversaries, and why not?!). Especially as, as you know, I like baking, and I love making things for my fiance, and had been saving this new heartshaped baking tin that I found in the Lakeland shop. But I did eventually get to make a chocolate sponge in it :)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Cornish cornucopia #8

I think I'm at the end of my Cornish cornucopias for a while now - they have sustained me through the winter and it is less than a week until I will be heading for the county myself!
I'm packing some Cornish reading (and some other books too - I'll be posting about my holiday reading when things are finally finalised!)....

I fully intend to carry on with my Cornish reading over the next few weeks and months; I am sure that Fleurfisher will continue to tempt and inspire me with her posts on the subject.

So to conclude, here are 6 Cornish things that I love:
1. Cornishware pottery - I don't own any of this, but would love to have some of this distinctive tableware.

2. Saffron loaf - see here for a recipe!
3. Beautiful scenery:
4. Tide-timetable books:
5. Bodyboarding!
(not sure it will be warm enough for this this time, but I'll certainly be taking my pink bodyboard down to make the car look sporty!)

6. Building sandcastles:

(I don't really need to make an extra number 6 for Cornish books, we can take that as read :) )

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Orange Wednesday: This is how (MJ Hyland)

As UK readers will know, Orange Wednesday is when those with mobile phones serviced by Orange can go to the cinema on 2 for 1 tickets. I thought I'd borrow their phrase to organise my blogging about the Orange longlist; I wrote last week that I intend to read and blog about some of the longlist. I also decided that I want to go back over the previous longlists and use them to inspire and broaden my reading over the next few months - it turns out that I have been reading more of these since I originally looked at the longlist of longlists and I'd like to read more. So over the next few weeks and months you can expect an Orange Wednesday post devoted to a title from an Orange longlist.

My first title is from this year's longlist, and is This is how by MJ Young, which Canongate kindly sent to me after the longlist was published last week.

It's slightly difficult to write about this book without spoiling the plot; the blurb on the back of the book suggested that something was going to happen which would be key to the plot (it was slightly more explicit than I am being here!), and I spent most of the first 130+ pages waiting for the event to happen and to see what it was! This was a little disappointing as rather than being swept along with the story, I was just waiting... So if you are going to read the book, then please don't look at the back beforehand.

The book is about a man called Patrick. He has just moved to a seaside town in search of a new start, having broken up with his fiancee. He finds a new home in a boarding house, gets a new, well-paid job as a car mechanic, and meets a waitress in a nearby cafe to whom he takes a fancy. Hyland really gets inside Patrick's head, revealing him to be a loner and socially awkward. It's a tense and claustrophobic read; somehow despite Patrick's desire to start afresh, nothing goes quite right, and quite without the spoiler, the reader is waiting for something to happen.

I don't want to write anymore about the plot, but I want to say how very gripped I was by the book. I literally was unable to put it down until I had finished, and stayed up until midnight to do so. For several days afterwards, Patrick and his story occupied my brain, and it is extremely rare for a book to do that to me.

MJ Hyland is certainly an author that I want to encounter again, and I see that her earlier novel Carry me down, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize previously made it to an Orange longlist.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Library loot

Following on from my Lenten post yesterday, I should have mentioned that the library has been augmenting my TBR bookcase quite considerably over the last few weeks. I've indulged in some reservations (85p each, so have to be fairly restrained as the cost can still add up quite a lot), but the most recent batch of books were all chosen from the open shelves.

Of all of my library loot, I was most excited about My driver by Maggie Gee. As I mentioned yesterday, Jackie had recently reviewed it which led me to read its prequel, My cleaner last week, and having enjoyed that so much, I was extremely pleased to be able to get a copy straight away.

I also picked up another Maggie Gee book, Where are the snows, as this sounded extremely interesting from its synopsis on Amazon. I think I intend to read more of Maggie Gee over the coming months as I had only read one of her novels before this week.

I spotted The solitude of prime numbers on the recent books table in Waterstones last week; the title sounded interesting, as did the plot centring around the issues of adolescence. The author Giardano is only 25 and in the middle of a scientific Phd!

I picked up Eva Ibbotsen's The company of swans as it came to my attention when I was thinking about ballet books recently (and I have another post on that subject for you to look forward to next week!)...

...and while I was in the children's library finding that, I spotted a KM Peyton which I hadn't read - Blue skies and gunfire. I love KM Peyton's books, especially the Flambards trilogy, and it looks like this is something in a similar vein, a love story set during the war with a strong female heroine.

Really looking forward to all of these books! Hurrah for libraries!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Lenten update

As you know, I gave up buying books for Lent, and thought with less than two weeks to go, it was time to make a report on my progress...

It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't exactly been as hard as it could have been. I've recieved several books from Virago (The wife's tale, No more than human, and The solitary summer), and am promised a couple of Orange longlisted titles from other publishers. I've also discovered the website Bookhopper, where you can upload details of books you have which you no longer want and swap them for books which other people don't want - I picked up a few books that way! And Geraldine who reads this blog kindly sent me a typescript of a book by EJ Oxenham which was a lovely surprise.

I did sort of fall off the bandwagon last Thursday, but one could argue over the technicalities of "buying" books. I was having an extremely miserable day and found myself at lunchtime in Waterstones perusing the three for two. I swiftly spotted three books that I *really* wanted, but managed to put them back in favour of a book not in the offer, The cleaner, by Maggie Gee. I'd recently read Jackie's review of its sequel, The driver, and thought that I had read this, but it turned out that I hadn't. As I had £8 of Waterstones points on my Waterstones points reward card I decided to "buy" it. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether that broke my ban or not!

Positively, I have also had a really good go at my bookcase of shame, reading books from it, and getting rid of books on it which it turned out that I didn't really want to read. As you can see it from the picture below, it looks a lot more healthy, and the piles of books on their sides are in any case earmarked for holiday reading.

My frugality has been going well otherwise; I have made a lot of dinners out of food that was already in the cupboard and have tried to direct my baking towards using up ingredients that I had already. This slightly backfired when I decided to make a mincemeat and marzipan loaf to use up half a jar of mincemeat left from Christmas as I realised I didn't have any marzipan - I did buy some marzipan, but will use the rest in an Easter Simnel Loaf :)

Thursday, 18 March 2010


I made my first attempt at piping icing onto cupcakes at the weekend, and here is the result. I didn't quite get it right, but I couldn't resist sharing the picture because of the lovely sparkly pink heart sprinkles that I found to go on top!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Orange Prize

At risk of boring everybody with another post about the Orange Prize, I did just want to jot down some thoughts in response to today's announcment of this year's longlist. The Orange Prize is something that has interested me for many years, since I was working in public libraries at the start of the decade. In 2003 we had a big Orange Prize promotion and all of the staff were encouraged to read at least one title from the longlist; it was great fun discussing the books in the staffroom over tea and I challenged myself to read as many as I could so that I could join in all of the discussions. I didn't quite get through the whole list that year, but I managed a fair number. I wrote quite early on on my blog about the number of Orange longlisted titles that I have read since the prize started. What I loved (and still love) about the Orange prize list is the fact that it introduces me to authors that I might not otherwise read, and read types of books that I would usually pass over.

This year's list is interesting, especially as there were lots of authors that I was expecting to see on the list which weren't there (Sarah Dunant, Lori Lansens, Anna Pietrioni, Rose Tremain and Margaret Forster). I don't intend to read my way through the longlist - I don't especially want to read Wolf Hall, but I have asked for a couple of titles from obliging publishers and reserved a couple of interesting looking titles at the library...

I intend to read:
Hearts and Minds (Craig)
This is how (Hyland)
Secret Son (Lalami)
The still point (Sackville) - though it's not yet in the library
The very thought of you (Alison)
The Lacuna (Kingsolver)

and have already read:
The way things look to me (Farooki) - very enjoyable read which I definitely recommend
The little stranger (Waters) - wonderfully gripping ghost story, although not perhaps my favourite of Water's novels
The Long song (Levy) - very well constructed read, but again not my favourite of the author's work
A gate at the stairs (Moore) - only read this last week actually, and enjoyed it - had not come across Moore before until Amazon suggested it to me.
Small Wars (Jones) - absolutely loved this when I read it in the summer. Again a big fat recommendation for that one.

(So my favourites out of the 5 that I have read are the Farooki and Small Wars, not necessarily the ones that I think are likely to win, but the ones that I have most enjoyed reading)

I'm not going to make predictions about what I think will be on the longlist; I don't even promise to review all of the books on the longlist that I read as it can get a bit tedious when everyone is blogging about the same books, but I hope to join in plenty of discussions about the prize in the next few weeks and hope to once more broaded my reading horizons.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The wife's tale (Lansens)

Having read both of Lori Lansen's earlier books, Rush Home Road, and the Orange-listed The Girls, I was particularly keen to read The wife's tale, and was happy that Virago were kind enough to send me a copy to review.

This is a novel about a woman finding herself and being transformed in the process. Mary Gooch is morbidly obese; this is one of the first and most important things we learn about her. The first chapter sees her stuffing herself with food to feed the hunger within herself; we then begin to learn how the pounds piled on after the deaths of her parents, and after miscarriages, and other unhappy life events. On the face of it however, Mary doesn't seem completely unhappy - she loves her husband and they are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

The night before the wedding anniversary, Gooch, Mary's husband doesn't come home. He leaves a note saying that he has won the lottery, deposits some money in their jont account, and vanishes. Mary sets off on a journey to find him, but in the process ends up finding herself in a way that she never had the chance to do. There is trouble along the way - lost passports, unfriendly in-laws, but each time Mary manages eventually to pick herself up and start again, becoming stronger in the process. Throughout the book I was hooked to find out what would happen to Mary and whether she would find Gooch. I won't giveaway what happens at the end, suffice to say that the book concludes with Mary making a normal tuna sandwich and eating it out of hunger rather than comfort.

In some ways, Lori Lansen's writing and stories are reminiscent of those of Anne Tyler or Carol Shields, dealing with small town life in the US/Canada, but I felt that this novel had a lot more pace than either of the others. If you like Anne Tyler or Carol Shields, then do seek out Lansens, although I think that The girls, dealing with the lives of a pair of conjoined twins, is slightly more gripping due to its extremely unusual

Monday, 15 March 2010

Refreshment Sunday

Mothering Sunday is traditionally "refreshment Sunday"; a halfway house during lent. I frequently covet books, but this becomes more severe during times of book-buying ban, so I thought I'd make yesterday list with pictures for my refreshment Sunday - not that I'll need reminding when Easter arrives.Elizabeth Taylor's short story volumes are something I'm hankering after. I raced through Elizabeth Taylor's novels last year and feel sad that there aren't any more to discover. However, since my foray into the world of the short story, I'm keen to read her short stories collected in three volumes; Devastating boys; Hester Lilly and A dedicated man. Unfortunately they're all rare and expensive.
I'm particularly keen to own more of the Virago 30th anniversary hardbacks; I have three and the book collector in me wants to own all eight, even though I have other editions of a couple of titles. Top of the list are 84 Charing Cross Road (which I don't actually own), and the beautifully covered Their eyes were watching God.

I enjoyed Celia Dale's Virago Modern Classic, Sheep's Clothing, and more of her books have been published as Faber Finds.

There are more Faber Finds that I would like. Having loved the Persephone collection of Elizabeth Berridge's short stories, I would love to read some of her novels:

I'm also keen for two more Grey Ladies titles, so that I have the complete collection and 15 more Persephone titles for the same reason (they're listed on the left of my blog).

A birthday wish-list perhaps that I should point my fiance and parents towards?!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Cornish Cornucopia #6 Mary Wesley

One of Cornwall's most well-known authors is Mary Wesley. I wrote about the film of her book, The Camomile Lawn at the start of my Reading Cornwall venture, have mentioned her lovely book of memoirs, and I have previously read a number of her novels. It was definitely time to read her biography. On discovering that this was still in print, I asked Vintage if they could send me a copy, and Fiona kindly obliged, and also supplied me with a few of her novels.

Mary Wesley had a hugely intriguing life. From being presented at court at the age of 18, she quickly fell into an unsuitable marriage, that did not last, but gave her a brief titled existence. During the Second World War she was recruited into MI5 where she worked on de-coding German ciphers, before resigning, pregnant with her second child to move to Boskenna in Cornwall, and embarked on a somewhat promiscuous life that led to her husband divorcing her for desertion in 1945. She then lived with a married man, Eric, but it was seven years before they could marry, as his wife refused to divorce him (this was such an engrossing part of the tale). In the mid 1950s they moved to Dartmoor and hoped to make their fortunes from writing literature, but both remained unpublished. When he died, in 1970, Mary was left without a pension or any money and took a procession of jobs to try to make ends meet. Deeply depressed she turned to writing and finally had a small success with her first novel, Jumping the queue. This gave her the motivation to continued, and nine more novels followed.

Thus, as Mary came late to writing, only the last part of the book really deals with her life as a novelist. But the best bit I found were the parts where events in her books were related to events in her life; for example drawing parallels between Wesley and Calypso and Polly in The Camomile Lawn. Both Wesley and Polly worked for MI5 during WW2, and Marnham suggests that Wesley's sexual experiences shaped both Calypso and Polly's attitude to sex.

I found Wesley hugely inspirational; to perservere with her writing and then to achieve huge success in old age is surely a lesson to all of us who are tempted to give up early on. It is clear that her rich life experience was invaluable to her creativity and providing ideas for her work.

My one quibble with the book was that although it is obviously hugely well-researched there were a few gaps. In Wesley's Part of the scenery, she mentions holidaying at Polzeath during the First World War. This wasn't mentioned in the book, yet a picture of her on holiday in "Cornwall" during that period was included. I was able to identify this as being Polzeath, but perhaps I am overzealous with regard to one of my favourite places.

Out of her novels, The Camomile Lawn is undoubtedly her most famous and most Cornish; it is certainly my favourite out of all of her novels which I have read so far. If you haven't read any Mary Wesley, then do check this one out as it is a wonderful period piece. I am looking forward to reading Second Fiddle and An imaginative experience which Vintage also sent me. I can't quite remember which of her novels besides The Camomile Lawn were set in the county - can anyone help out?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Beautiful butterfly baking

It's my morning off, and though sunny, it's very cold, so I decided to bake some treats for my fiance and use my new butterfly cookie cutter. I've wanted one for years but it was only this weekend that I spotted one in the Lakeland store.

Anyone for a lesser striped flutterby shortbread?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The world of work

I've written before about my interest in autobiographies focussing on the world of work, and I wanted to mention two more books that fit into this category which I've enjoyed recently.

A don's life by Mary Beard actually started out as a blog on the Times website; this book is a compilation of some of her best blog posts, and what was especially good about the collection is that some of the comments were included as well. Mary Beard is a lecturer in classics at Newnham College, Cambridge and the articles cover a broad spectrum of themes, from life as a college tutor, to life in a woman's college, to topics from the classics. As a member of The Other Place, I was interested to see the similarities between the two Oxbridge institutions - the poor provision of toilets for ladies for example, and the general incompetence of students. But I also learnt a lot from the articles about classics, such as what romans really wore under their togas! (The answer is generally something, but togas were only really the equivalent of black tie so most Romans wouldn't have been wearing them except for special occasions) Some of the posts are controversial, for example on whether there is a point to teaching Latin anymore, which can be seen in the comments made about the post. But overall I found this an intellectually stimulating, intelligent and entertaining read - best of all the articles are bite-size so it could easily be dipped in and out of.
The checkout girl was a title that I picked up randomly from the library. The author took a job at Sainsburys, partly to supplement her credit crunched finances, but also to find out what life in a supermarket was really like for the purposes of writing this book. Life as a COG (check-out girl/guy) sounds pretty grim - the need to meet targets for swiping groceries, the insistence on making conversation with the customers, having to do "reverse shopping" (putting back abandoned groceries on the shelves), minimal breaks and frequently having to work beyond the end of ones shift are just a few examples. It certainly made me be even more determined to be nice to the people on the checkouts when I go shopping. The other interesting element in the book was about how the credit crunch is affecting shoppers - Ahmad reveals the increasing desire of shoppers to lower their grocery bills and their horror when the total is invariably more than they expected. She also points out the success of the supermarkets in selling - people who come in for one specific item inevitably go out with several other things.

I wonder if I should write a book about being a librarian?!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

It's hard to be hip over thirty (and other tales of married life)

Another success for Persephone books in getting me to enjoy a genre that I wouldn't otherwise choose to read - this time, poetry.

It's hard to be hip over thirty, by Judith Viorst is an entertaining collection of poems devoted to the trials and tribulations of trying to be a grown up, inspired particularly by her experiences of marriage and motherhood.

Here is an extract from my favourite poem in the book Maybe we'll make it which really encapsulates the difficulties of living with someone. I so identified with this and its other three verses....

If I quit hoping he'll show up with flowers, and
He quits hoping I'll squeeze him an orange, and
I quit shaving my legs with his razor, and
He quits wiping his feet with my face towel, and
We avoid discussions like
Is he really smarter than I am, or simply more glib,
Maybe we'll make it

Viorst uses another poem to make the point that it is worth it. Here are some lines from Married is better:

Married is better
Than sitting on a blanket in Nantucket
Where you get blotches and a red nose instead of adorable freckles and golden brown,
Hoping that someone with whom you would not be caught dead
From September to June
Will invite you to dinner
And it is better
Than riding a double chair life up at Stowe
On your way to an expert trail and you're a beginner
Hoping the fellow for whom you are risking your life
Will invite you for dinner
And one night, when you land at Kennedy, and no one is there to meet you except your partents
And you suddenly realise you never saw the Parthenon because you were too busy looking around for a Greek god,
You suddenly realize
Married is better...

...And married is better
Than the subway plus a crosstown bus every morning,
And tuna on toasted cheese bread, no lettuce, at Schrafft's.
And a bachelor-girl apartment with burlap and foam rubber and a few droll touches like a Samurai sword in the bathroom,
And going to the movies alone.

I couldn't agree with all of these lines more; it was a message that I liked , heading towards thirty and married life myself. It's difficult learning to live with someone - I'll spare you from a catalogue of the things that my fiance does which annoy me, and the things that I do which I think must annoy him - but it's worth it.

I think the only other Persephone of poetry is Arthur Clough's Armours de voyage which I didn't get into, but having enjoyed this volume I should probably give it a go.

The funky endpaper by the way is a 1960s Liberty fabric called bangles. Unfortunately as my copy was second hand, it lacked the bookmark, so I must pick one up in the shop to match! I love to have the coloured endpapers poking out of the grey volumes.

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Dolls House

I was talking to Claire from Paperback Reader about dolls houses the other day, and took this picture of mine to show her, and thought that it would be something nice to share with my readers! My Grandad built this house for me when I was quite small and it now dominates my living room; inside there is a shop, hallway, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor, upstairs sitting room, hall, bedroom and bathroom on the first floor and I have been collecting things for it for many years. I never had dolls house dolls, but my Sylvanian Family toys were the right size and preferred occupying such a glorious residence to their Sylvanian dwellings.

Following my chat with Claire, I was inspired to read Katherine Mansfield's short story - The doll's house which I know is one of her favourites. I'd not read any Mansfield before, but took down my Persephone collection - The montana stories - and greatly enjoyed it. In fact I then went on to read most of the rest of the volume which was a wonderful introduction to Mansfield's writing (why had I left it so long?!), although I found myself slightly frustrated by the number of unfinished stories included in the volume. There's a link to the story here if you want to read a charming short story with a dolls house as centre stage.

I then remembered reading another book featuring a dolls house - by Rumer Godden, entitled The dolls house. So I went and borrowed it from the library to re-read. It's a children's book, but one which would certainly also appeal to adults. (Intriguingly I found out that it had a television series made by Oliver Postgate which was a wonderful coincidence with my other reading). It's the story of Tottie Plantaganet, a dutch doll, and the rest of her family, who get to move into a beautiful antique dolls house and live happily until another selfish doll called Marchpane moves in. The dolls are wonderfully described, but they are also characters as well as cloth people.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Cornish Cornucopia #5 The Isles of Scilly

"The thing about an island," she said, "is it has edges, so you know exactly where you are" (Molteno)

The Isles of Scilly are an area that is within the county of Cornwall, but somehow slightly outside it. I'd be interested to know how the Cornish view it actually. It's not somewhere that I have ever been, although my parents visited on a rare child-free break when I was a toddler and brought me back an amazing selection of shells but I would absolutely love to visit the region (one thing I am wondering about doing is this trip swimming around the Scilly Isles – wouldn’t that be a good way to see it?!). So I thought it would be a good idea to do some Scillian reading as part of my bookish tour around Cornwall.

Somewhere more simple by Marion Molteno is the beautifully told story of a woman named Cari, who was captivated by the Scilly Islands as a child, and who comes back as an adult to teach in the secondary school as a maternity cover, having sought an escape from her gruelling job in an inner-city school. Her story becomes intertwined with two other people who have moved back to the islands - Anna, a doctor who is grieving for her son who drowned, and Hugh, left by his wife.

What fascinated me most about the book was the insight it gave me into life on the Scilly Isles.

Describing the main island, the school's headmaster says:

"It's a small piece of earth we're on...two and a half miles at its widest, under nine miles all the way around. An environment that takes your breath away every time that you stop and look. Still does that to me after twenty-five years. Safe. No traffic, no crime, everyone knows everyone. You couldn't find anything more ideal for the younger children. But for the older ones - too little stimulus for growing minds. No challenge - they settle too easily for the average."

As a result, the school arranges trips to the mainland where the children can learn how to navigate around the towns, and this provides a central episode in the novel.

It creates an isolated state of mind:

For example, Andrew, Cari's husband is watching tv one night:

"Cari joined him on the sofa, but he knew it was just for the cuddle. Things happening on the mainland seemed to her to have lost reality. Island vision, he called it privately, like tunnel vision but leading nowhere."

I felt that the book realy evoked the landscape and atmosphere of the islands, or at least enabled me to imagine it, and overall, I loved Molteno's style and storytelling, and although she has not written anymore novels set in Cornwall I am certainly going to seek her out and am sorry that I had not come across her before.

I plan to do some more Scillian reading and read An island parish (Nigel Farrell). It ties in with the TV series, A seaside Parish, following members of the Scillian community over one summer.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Fairtrade fortnight cake

I wrote earlier in the year about my desire to make the most of Fairtrade Fortnight and try to use more fairtrade ingredients. I haven't done much baking this year for various reasons, but I did make this fairtrade cake to celebrate. It smells absolutely wonderful and I wish I could indulge, but at least I will get pleasure from seeing my fiance work his way through it...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My secret diary (Wilson)

"Hello. I've nothing to write about as today was so quiet and ordinary, so I'll write down anything that comes into my head. The nice thing about this diary is that I can write anything without being laughed at; I can write down secrets with no fear of them being told; I can jsut scribble away to my heart's content. I don't even have to worry about writing or spelling because I don't mind a bit if I'm untidy. You get a lovely sense of freedom this way"

I came across Jacqueline Wilson's My secret diary at the library the other week (I was in the branch library where the children's/teen books are in the same room) and couldn't resist borrowing it! Although Wilson has had most of her success after I was a bit too old to read her books, I still enjoyed reading them as a child. But this book is absolutely fascinating!

Wilson has unearthed the diaries that she kept as a child and used them as the basis for writing a second volume of autobiography (the first is Jacky Daydream, which I haven't read but would quite like to seek out now). So the book features extracts from her diaries, contextualised by her memories of the period.

What I loved is the way that the diary deals with the extremely mundane - what happened at school, what she had for dinner, the holidays that she went on, the boys that she had a crush on, and the books that she read (this was perhaps the most fascinating bit from a bibliophilic perspective - she was a big fan of I capture the castle, read Peyton Place surreptitiously (and didn't understand what the fuss was about - she'd read far more racy things without her Mum knowing!), loved Billy Liar, liked Monica Dickens and enjoyed Gone with the wind partly for its great length. I was also interested that she had had to read Emma Smith's Maiden Trip as a class reader).

In fact, Wilson's diaries are very similar to my own from my early teens, and I dug them out. I had a hugely entertaining evening rereading 1995 (the only complete record year - my Mum bribed me £5 to keep a diary for a year (as my fiance points out this wasn't a very good return on my time even in 1995).

Here are a few sample entries (I didn't write much each day, luckily there wasn't space)
Saturday 4th February: "Quite a boring day. Worked on my project and helped to make lunch. I made beefburgers for my tea. Yum. Watched Noel's house party"
Sunday 9th February: "Went to church. The service was 1 hour 20 minutes long. I was totally bored. The same vicar is taking the service for Easter next week - arghh"
Saturday 19th August: "Went to Padstow. Had a great time in the bookshop. Bought two books. GREAT".
Tuesday 12th September: "We had double history today it was ace. Triple hockey in the afternoon sucks. Becky came round for tea"

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

On the other side - Letters to my children (Mathilde Woolf-Monckeberg)

Letters to my children is a Persephone title that I might not have picked up had I not decided earlier in the year to try and obtain (and read!) the complete set of Persephone books. Written by Mathilde Woolf-Monckeberg in Germany during the Second World War, these letters were the letters that she was not able to write to her children:

"My beloved far-away children, everything I was not able to tell you in my letters during the first year of the war, was not allowed to say, because the censor waited only for an incautious word in order to stop a message from getting through to you, all this I will now put down on paper under the title "Letters that never reached them" so that much later perhaps you will know what really happened, what we really felt like, and why I had to reassure you repeatedly that the "organisation" was marvellour, that we were in the best of health and full of confidence"

The author was 60 when these letters were started; she had five grown up children, having married young. Having separated from her first husband, she had remarried by this point to a Professor of English at Hamburg University. The children lived across the globe, in Wales, Chicago, South America...

Life in wartime Germany was harsh. In the first letter we read about the shortages, but also about the conditions being imposed on Jewish friends, which had led to many committing suicide. It was almost impossible for Tilli to communicate with her children; she relied on news being sent via the family in Chicago, but even then she had to wait a long time for news of her latest grandchild. Similarly, when her son Jan died of a ruptured bowel after surgery in South America she did not hear for a while. It's difficult to imagine not being able to be in touch with those who one loves.

The letters continue into 1945, describing what life was like after Germany lost the war. Like Britain, the hardships continued well into the 1950s, and were not mitigated by the sense of victory. Tilli's husband however was appointed to the position of Rector at Hamburg University, and at least the threat of bombing had disappeared.

Domestic life is a common thread amongs many of the Persephone series and this book is no exception. We read about Tilli queuing for frozen vegetables and her joy at coming away with three packets of apple sauce.

Persephone mention on their website that this book was partly published to provide a counterfoil to Vere Hodgson's Few eggs and no oranges; it is certainly easy to forget that the German people suffered just as bad deprivations as those in England, and suffered just as much, if not more in some ways. Allied bombing was just as traumatising, and people in Germany lost relatives and friends as a result too. Letters like this did not get out of Germany because the country had to promote an image of a nation that was able to defeat the British in order to destroy British morale.

This Persephone edition is particularly interesting because it contains an afterword written by Tilli's daughter Ruth, who discovered the letters languishing in a drawer in the 1970s and translated them for publication. There is also an afterword by Christopher Beauman which contextualises the letters historically and a preface which provides the background to Tilli's circumstances.

I thoroughly recommend this fascinating and engrossing account to provide a counterpart to reading about the Second World War in England and for supplying an insight into what domestic life in Germany was like at this time.

Monday, 1 March 2010

February Reading

I read 102 books in February. Somewhat excessive, but it reflects the fact that:
1. my fiance is doing most of the household chores as he's not currently working
2. I now have a job with proper tea-breaks
3. Continuing ill-health is limiting my social life to the sofa
4. It's too cold to go out and do anything in the evenign anyway
5. After a day spent staring at the computer screen I'd rather read than watch tv or blog (which is why I've only written about a handful of these titles).

As you can see this month I've re-read a lot of Lorna Hill books and Chalet School books. The former fitted in with my trip to the ballet and acquiring them; the latter are just perfect comfort reading. I've also continued to read plenty of Virago Modern Classics. I also got seriously stuck into some Cornish reading, and particularly enjoyed discovering Janie Bolitho Highlights were Jacqueline Wilson's My secret diary (post to come), Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg's Letters from the other side (ditto), Oliver Postgate's memoir, and the two Helen Humphreys books that I read. The VMC highlights were more Elizabeth Von Arnim, particularly The caravaners and Vera , Sheep's Clothing (Celia Dale), Mary Lavelle (Kate O'Brien) (reviews for these are all queued up and will be appearing over the next month), and The Valley of the Dolls.

My plans for March include reading the rest of the Lorna Hill books I acquired lately, as I have two more ballet trips lined up, and carrying on with my Virago Modern Classics. It would be lovely to get some books off my TBR pile too as lots of the books have been sitting there for a while - I've got a couple of Honno classics that I just haven't yet had time to read and still a couple of Persephones that I'd love to indulge in. From my library pile I want to read Good companions by Priestley and the new novel by Clare Morall. A large part of my TBR shelf has been moved into a suitcase pile (this is a clever reorganisation to make it look smaller), but I need to work out exactly which books I want to take when I go on holiday at the beginning of April...

Here is the list in its entirety....

The passion of new eve

Carter, Angela

Suth of the night

Toibin, Colm

A sensible life

Wesley, Mary

New mistress at the Chalet School



Fortune house

Scott, Kirsty

Mr Skeffington

Arnim, Elizabeth von


The Casino

Bonham, Margaret


Magic of a line

Knight, Laura


Careless in red

George, Elizabeth

Excitements for the CS


Land girls gang up

Peters, Pat



Figes, Kate


The barren ground

Glasgow, Ellen


Plotted in Cornwall

Bolitho, Janie

Coming of age of the CS



Two days in Aragon

Keane, Molly


Village by the ford

Channer, Gordon


A year at Polverras

Duston, Sylvia

Part of the scenery

Wesley, Mary


Tell it to a stranger

Berridge, Elizabeth


Richenda at the CS




Warner, Sylvia Ashton


Pattern on the jigsaw

Drabble, Margaret


Pirates at play

Trefusis, Violet


Seven sisters

Drabble, Margaret

Recipe for scandal

Holt, Debby

Rough guide to the Lake District


The caravaners

Arnim, Elizabeth von


Saving grace

Bolitho, Janie

No castanets at the wells

Hill, Lorna


Anna Apparent

Bawden, Nina


A gull on the roof

Tangye, Derek

Sheep's clothing

Dale, Celia


Paying the price

Bolitho, Janie

Jane at the Wells

Hill, Lorna


Mary Lavelle

O'Brien, Kate


Main cages

Marsden, Philip

After image

Humphreys, Helen

Age of innocence

Wharton, Edith


Masquerade at the Wells

Hill, Lorna


School house in the wind (trilogy)

Treneer, Anne


Check out girl

Ahmad, Tazeen


The fire-dwellers

Laurence, Margaret


Quickening ground

Gabriel, Hayden


Humphreys, Helen

Wheel on the Hayle

Channer, Gordon



Arnim, Elizabeth von


Whole wide world

Woof, Emily

Anything for love

Webb, Sarah

Dancer's luck

Hill, Lorna


Richer the poorer

West, Dorothy


Proper education for girls

Di Rollo, Elaine

Duchess of Bloomsbury

Hanff, Helene


Cornwall and Devon holiday diaries

Haywood, Beryl


Belle's best move

Moss, Alex


Miss Herbert

Stead, Christina


It's a don's life

Beard, Mary


Joey and Co in Tirol



Betrayed in Cornwall

Bolitho, Janie

Summer in February

Smith, Jonathon

Women against men

Jameson, Storm


Wild Mary

Wesley, Mary


Losing Battles

Welty, Eudora


Nine wartime lives

Hinton, James


Manna from Hades

Dunn, Carola

Change at the CS



Painted clay

Boake, Capel


Seeing things

Postgate, Oliver


A proper place

Lingard, Joan


Megan (3)

Hooper, Mary



Jones, Christina

A Saturday life

Hall, Radclyffe


Both ways is the only way I want

Meloy, Maille

In my own time

Bawden, Nina


The Montana Stories

Mansfield, Katherine


A load of old tripe

Phinn, Gervase

Valley of the dolls

Susanne, Jacqueline


Second fiddle

Wesley, Mary

Two sams at the CS



They tied a label on my coat

Hollingsworth, Hilda


Dancer in the wings

Hill, Lorna


Twenties girl

Kinsella, Sophie

Miss Mole

Young, E.H.


Helping hand

Dale, Celia

Life of Reilly

Burke, Paul

The diviners

Laurence, Margaret


Full circle

Bolitho, Janie

The three Miss Kings

Cambridge, Ada


The wooden doctor

Evans, Margiad

Letters to my children

Wolff-Monkeberg, Mathilde


Seven secrets of happiness

Owens, Sharon

Summer at Gaglow

Freud, Esther


Devanny, Jean


The peppered moth

Drabble, Margaret

The Garrick year

Drabble, Margaret

My secret diary

Wilson, Jacquline



Arnim, Elizabeth von


The long song

Levy, Andrea

The winged horse

Frankau, Pamela


Dubious legacy

Wesley, Mary

Memoirs of a not so dutiful daughter

Murray, Jenni

When to walk

Gowers, Rebecca