Friday, 30 April 2010

April Reading

There's not been much let-up in the number of books read here at the B Files in April. 110 was this month's total, taking me to 375 for the year so far. It's been a slightly different month to those earlier in the year; I spent the first 10 days on holiday in Cornwall, and treated myself to reading many lovely books that I had been saving. This included several republished children's books and some Greyladies titles (of which I was lucky enough to have three more from my parents for my birthday!). I spent quite a bit of time reading Orange related titles, from both this years list - an especial highlight was The still point, which was another birthday gift - and from previous longlists, and I intend to continue my project of reading from previous longlists over the next few months, with an "Orange Wednesday" feature on my blog. I have also read a lot of baking and cake decorating books (which I shall be posting about over the weekend). I also reread some favourite books, starting on the Sue Barton nurse books which I haven't read since I was at school. As a result, I have read less VMCs, none of which particularly stood out.

Apart from The still point, my favourite reads this month were: Treveryan (Angela Du Maurier), Rambles beyond railways (Wilkie Collins), Clothes Pegs (Susan Scarlett), The white family (Maggie Gee), Still missing (Beth Gutcheon - review to come during Persephone Reading Week) and Sex and stravinsky (Barbara Trapido - I am going to hear her talk about this book at the end of May). Fiona Cairn's cake book - Bake and decorate - and Jane Brocket's The gentle art of domesticity were the stand out non fiction rads.

What are my plans for May? It kicks off with Persephone Reading week, and I mentioned my plans for that yesterday. I've still got a stack of library books which have been chosen from Orange longlists. I've got quite a pile of interesting looking VMCs which I've acquired over the last week or so. And I intend to read some more about sugarcraft and cake baking (or at least admire the lovely pictures!). I am sure I will be borrowing many other books from the library too!

Rites of spring Jessica Duchen
Pissed off parents club Mink Elliot
Return of the soldier West, Rebecca VMC
The passion of Alice Grant, Stephanie
My driver Gee, Maggie
Steer by the stars Fitzroy, Olivia C
Snapped in Cornwall Bolitho, Janie
Treveryan Du Maurier, Angela
Clothes Pegs Scarlett, Susan
Once a land girl Huth, Angela
American wife Sittenfeld, Curtis
Life with the lid on Hopkinson, Nicola AB
How to paint a dead man Hall, Sarah
Barbara Hepworth : a memoir Gardiner, Margaret
Buried in Cornwall Bolitho, Janie
Framed in Cornwall Bolitho, Janie
Taking the plunge Lewis, Stacey
Rambles beyond railways Collins, Wilkie
The marriage book Lee, Sila NF
Convent on styx Mitchell, Gladys
Dry rot and daffodils Mackie, Mary AB
Hunting and gathering Gavalda, Anna
Eliza's common Douglas, O
The charm of North Cornwall Drew, Alan NF
Louisa Brown, Pamela C
The Vicarage Family Hill, Lorna C
It's only the sister Du Maurier, Angela AB
Faith fox Gardam, Jane
Death on tiptoe Ashby, RC
The whicharts Streatfeild, Noel
Hungry Hill DDM VMC
Frogspawn and floor polish Mackie, Mary AB
Control freak chronicles Tucker, Sarah
The village Farrell, Nigel NF
The still point Sackvill, Amy O
We met our cousins Cannan, Joanna C
A proper place Douglas, O
Sweet intensity of everyday life Nicholson, William
Jurassic Mary Pierce, Patricia B
One day in May Alliott, Catherine
A woman's guide to adultery Chewlow, Carol VMC
The white woman on a green bicycle Roffey, Monique O
Still life on sand Hayes, Karen
Island of adventure Blyton, Enid C RR
Alexander's bridge Cather, Willa VMC
Twisted Heart Gowers, Rebecca O
Miss Dahl's voloptuous delights Dahl, Sophie NF
Falling angels Chevalier, Tracy
The clash Wilkinson, Ellen VMC
The last weekend Morrison, Blake
Touch and go Berridge, Elizabeth
101 recipes for kids BBC Good Food NF
Several perceptions Carter, Angela VMC
Call of Cornwall Baker, Frank NF
How the light gets in Hyland, MJ
Bobbin up Hewett, Dorothy VMC
The earth hums in B flat Strachan, Maria
Positively yours Hearty, Amanda
Solar McEwan, Ian
Shiny pennies and grubby pinafores Foley, Winifred AB
Sue Barton : student nurse Boylston, Helen Dore RR
Three sisters Sinclair, May VMC
To heaven by water Cartright, Justin
The devil's music Rusbridge, Jane
Memoir McGahern, John AB
Wintle's wonders Streatfeild, Noel C RR
The last summer O'Brien, Kate VMC
Joy luck club Tan, Amy
Taxi driver's daughter Darling, Julia
Where the apple ripens Kessoon, Jessie VMC
The hours before dawn Fremlin, Celia VMC
In and out of the forest Foley, Winifred AB
The white family Gee, Maggie O
Something borrowed Reilly, Tina
She knew she was right Litivinoc, Ivy
Junior officer's reading club Hennessy, Patrick NF
Fireworks Carter, Angela VMC
Major Pettigrew's last stand Simonsen, Helen
Sue barton: senior nurse Boylston, Helen Dore RR
The camping book Douglas, Ed NF
Bake my I'm yours…cookie Smith, Lindy NF
The hummingbird bakery cookbook Malouf, Talek NF
Dancing girls Atwood, Margaret VMC
Foolish lessons in life and love Rudge, Helen
Mother's guide to cheating Long, Kate
Still missing Gutcheon, Beth P
Some sunny day Lynn, Vera AB
Offshore Fogle, Ben NF
Princess Priscilla's fortnight Arnim, Elizabeth von
The crimson rooms MacMahon
Sue Barton: visiting nurse Boylston, Helen Dore RR
Sapphira and the slave girl Cather, Willa VMC
The bonesetter's daughter Tan, Amy O
The gluten-free casein free diet Lord, Susan NF
Gentle art of domesticity Brocket, Jane NF
Paradise Morrison, Toni O
Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad Rowlatt, Bee NF
Advice for strays Kilkers, Justine
Bake and decorate Cairns, Fiona NF
At the still point Benson, Mary VMC
Sex and Stravinsky Trapido, Barbara
Sue Barton: Rural nurse Boylston, Helen Dore RR
The spoilt kill Kelly, Mary VMC
Old maid remembers Du Maurier, Angela AB
Healthy eating for IBS Braimbridge NF
The sufferer's guide to coping with IBS IBS Research Update NF
Understanding your irritable bowel Silk, David NF
Cupcakes Blake, Susannah NF
The world of Thrush Green Miss Read AB
Prefects at the chalet school EBD C RR

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Persephone Plans

Only three days to go until the start of Persephone Reading Week! I hope you all have piles of Persephone books at the ready - it seems like a lot of people are planning to I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone decides to read...and reading some of my own (and new!) Persephone books.

When we planned the week, I only had three Persephone books left that I hadn't read. But when I checked, I realised that there were a few more that I had neither read nor owned, so I thought that the Reading Week would be a good excuse to get them, and I managed to pick up some second hand copies. And then Persephone brought out their Spring I bought both of those, plus another one to take advantage of the special offer on buying three books from the shop.

They have all now arrived and this is the pile of books that I have to choose from - I intend to read 5 of them during the week.

Still Missing (Beth Gutcheon)
Dimanche and other stories (Irene Nemirovsky)
The Hopkins Manuscript (RC Sherriff)
The expendable man (Dorothy Hughes)
Good things in England (Florence White)
Julian Grenfell (Nicholas Mosley)
The woman novelist and other stories (Diane Gardner)
A new system of domestic cookery (Mrs Rundell)
The gardener's nightcap (Muriel Stuart)
An interrupted life (Etty Hilsum)

I think that these ten books really reflect the range of books published by Persephone - we have cookery, gardening, biography, novels, short stories and letters/diaries. I love the way that their list encompasses such a wide range of genres and thus manages to take my reading outside its usual foci.

(And in case you're interested, I'm now only 10 books short of the complete 88 - all of which I have read but which I hope to add to my collection in due course!)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Orange Wednesday: The river (Wastvedt)

For my next Orange Wednesday read, I couldn't resist The river, a debut novel by Tricia Wastvedt which was longlisted for the prize in 2005. Partly it was the setting which sounded interesting - a village in North Devon (an area with which I am familiar), partly it was the watery themed title, and partly it was the fact that a quote from a review on the cover compared it to Daphne Du Maurier.

It's a cleverly written story which deals with the aftermath of a tragic accident where two children drown at the beginning of the book. What is skillful about it is the way that the stories of the characters involved are not told chronologically, but in extracts from their past, so there are a number of threads to follow and piece together in order to understand the effects of the accident on the people concerned. It was a little difficult to keep track of the characters at first, and the move between different time periods, but once I got into it I thought it worked extremely well.

The book primarily tells the story of Isabel and Robert, the parents of the drowned children, whose lives are never the same after the accident. Thirty years later, a woman called Anna comes into their lives - she is pregnant. But her presence unwittingly leads to the resurfacing of the tragedy, beginning a horrible chain of events. I don't want to say more without spoiling the plot!

Wastvedt also devotes attention to describing the Devon landscapes as well as the characters, such as Edward the village doctor, Xavier and Adelie, a French couple who have settled in the village, and Constance, who runs almost all of the village in WI fashion, which I thought made the book extremely well rounded. I was glad to stumble upon such a good read, but was sad to discover that Wastvedt has not written any other books yet, but I hope that she will one day, as although moving, I did really enjoy reading this one.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Dear Austen (Bawden)

As regular visitors to my Virago Venture blog will know, I greatly enjoy Nina Bawden's fiction, particularly for their insight into family relationships and circumstances. Particular favourites thus far have included George beneath a paper moon and Anna Apparent.

You may have spotted her autobiography, In my own time, in my pile of library loot the other week. I didn't get around to writing about it, but it was a fascinating book and I could see how many of the events in her life had had an obvious influence on her writing -she was evacuated as a child which I am sure must have driven her to write Carrie's War, and her son Niki was schizophrenic, and this was reminiscent of the son in The birds on the trees.

But it would be impossible not to write about Dear Austen which I sought out after reading her autobiography. In May 2002, Nina Bawden and her husband Austen were on their way to an 80th birthday party in Cambridge, by train. They were involved in the Potter's bar train crash, and Austen was one of the eight casualties. In this book, Nina tries to come to terms with her bereavement by writing to her husband, telling him about the events, and becoming spokesperson for the survivors of the crash, and using the writing to try to make sense of the accident that left her injured and a widow.

It is incredibly poignant and it would be difficult not to be touched by this book. Bawen is such an accomplished writer that she really manages to convey her feelings, and many ring true for anyone who has been bereaved. Here are some passages:

"We had made such plans for that summer, do you remember? Among them was a cruise to the Arctic in August; a sentimental jounrey in memory of my father....we had already booked our tickets.."

"I miss you. All the time - not only when I cannot reach something off a high shelf, or need to fix the video-recorder, although of course there are many different occasions when I need your help for a specific reason that has nothing to do with our respective heights"

"The grey depression that had been lurking all week closed in on me. It is obviously worse when I am alone; especially at night, in bed...but it can descend suddenly, unexpectedly, an time, any place - like the men's clothing department on the ground floor of John Lewis...I have never, to my recollection, bought or been with you when you bought, any garment from that particular store, and yet whenever I go there I am assailed by such a choking sense of desolation...I wonder if I should by you something, a pair of socks, a tie....other places that you would expect to be more evocative do not have this effect. There seems to be no specialised location for grief".

"Obtaining compensation for injury rather than death is an obstacle is not enough to have been rendered unconscious and raving with legs, arms and ribs broken; evidence of continuing damage has to be proved by expensive medical specialists...No one seems interested in what yourabsence means for me practically, which seems to me pertinent - what you could be doing for me, what we could do for each other..."

Monday, 26 April 2010

Fidra Books

I promised the other week to write about Fidra Books, an Edinburgh based imprint, run by a team of people who also run a specialist children's bookshop in the city. Their focus is on republishing children's books which have gone out of print and which they feel are unfairly neglected. So, as regular readers will know, since I like Girls Gone By books (out of print neglected school and girls stories), Virago Modern Classics (the rediscovery and reprinting of women writers), Greyladies books (old adult books by children's authors), and Persephone books it is not surprising that I am a fan of theirs!

Somehow I find children's literature, particularly that of an older Vintage, extremely comforting - it doesn't require too much effort, and it is nice to reread familiar books. Having said that, I enjoy exploring new children's literature too, and this imprint is wonderful in that respect.

Fidra's list covers a wide range of authors, many of whom I encountered as a child - Anne Digby and her Trebizon books, KM Peyton, Pamela Whitlock (who wrote The far distant Oxus - an absolutely wonderful read), Ruby Ferguson (author of the Jill pony books), and as I mentioned the other week, Josephine Pullein Thompson.

I have also introduced myself to some new children's authors through the list. Last summer I treated myself to a couple of Mabel Esther Allen's to read while I was on holiday, which I greatly enjoyed, and this year I took Joanna Cannan's We met our cousins away with me. I'd read her book Princes in the land, which was published by Persephone, so it was rather nice to be able to read one of her children's books. She was the mother of the Pullein-Thompson sisters and credited with creating the Pony-book genre! I am also keen to investigate Elinor Lyon as her books look rather appealing.

The website has fascinating biographies and bibliographies of the authors in the list and it is well worth a persual if you are interested in children's literature. It is fantastic to see so many of these books coming back into print and hopefully being made available to a new generation of children. My only quibble is that the books are somewhat pricey at £12, which means they are unlikely to be bought by children, more likely by collectors such as myself, but perhaps collectors will be inspired to give them to the children in their life.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Big excitement here in Cardigan Girl's Flat....the Persephone BiAnnually arrived this week and featured an excerpt from my review of The world that was ours.

Of course, Persephone BiAnnually also means new Persephones, and I immediately ordered both Dimanche and Other Stories and Still Missing, plus Good things in England to take advantage of the discount in ordering 3 books. Wonderful - can't believe how quickly they arrived or how lovely the endpaper to Still Missing is.

Just in time for Persephone Reading Week...

The last weekend (Morrison)

I first came across Blake Morrison at school when I happened on his memoir, And when did you last see your father, an absolutely wonderful book about Morrison's father's last days interspersed with recollections of their lives together, which has also been made into an extremely moving film starring Colin Firth. I then encountered him as a novelist (he has written two) when his excellent South of the river was shortlisted for the Booker prize, which I found to be an absolutely terrific read. Having enjoyed it so much, when I saw that Random House were publishing his latest novel, The last weekend, I asked if they could send me a copy for a sneak preview, and Fiona very kindly obliged.

The best introduction to the book is this early paragraph:
"As to the events of August, I don't suppose I'll ever get over them. I'm the kind of guy who feels guilty even when he's innocent - who expects to be stopped going through customs even when he has nothing to declare. But what happened that weekend would surely have happened anyway. It's not like I'm a rapist or a murderer. Even if I were, I would be honest with you. I'm trying to tell the story, that's all - not to unburden myself or extenuate some offence by to set things straight"

What a fantastic piece of writing to open with - Morrison has set up a mystery - what are the events in August, and why does the writer (the principal character Ian) feel the need to exonerate himself?

The book starts with Ian being invited, with his wife Em, by his old university friend Ollie, to spend a weekend with him and his wife Daisy by the sea. It is somewhat of a surprise to Ian to be invited but he agrees to go, hoping for some rest and relaxation amid a stressful time. However, as the reader knows from the paragraph that I quoted, it is unlikely to be that. And as Em and Ian settle in, events from the past re-emerge, and Ollie and Ian resurrect a rivalry from their student days which has never been resolved. It's difficult to say more about the plot without giving the story away, but Morrison carefully builds up the tale, piece by piece, juxtaposing the events of the weekend with events of the past, eventually leading to an absolutely horrifying (and to me, unexpected) conclusion.

It is an incredibly well structured tale, tightly written, and an absolute page turner that I could not put down until I had finished. Coupled with Morrison's excellent prose I thought it a wonderful read. So definitely one to look out for when it comes out next week on 6th May.

The book comes out next week on the 6th May, so do look out for it as it is a wonderful read.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Two Cornish journeys

I have two absolutely wonderful books, written a century apart, both fantastic descriptions of the county of Cornwall. Whilst on holiday I read Wilkie Collins' Rambles Beyond Railways, and when I returned, Cath from Read_Warbler drew my attention to Frank Baker (yes, him of Miss Hargreave's fame!)'s Call of Cornwall which I read last week. And it is these two books which I am going to tell you about today, along with showing a few appropriate photos from my holiday!

Wilkie Collins' Rambles beyond railways is an account of what could be argued to be the first tourist trip into the county. Before the railway extended into the far South West, very few people made the trip into Cornwall, although Collins' title was somewhat obsolete as by the time the book was published in 1851, the railway had in fact made it into Cornwall, although only between Redruth and Truro - it was still a little while before Cornwall was connected to the rest of the country.

Today you can enter the county via Plymouth on the Torpoint Ferry as we did (the alternative being the A30):
but Collins had to utilise the services of a boatman:

"We were lucky enough to commit ourselves, at once, to the guidance of the most amusing and original of boatmen. He was a fine, strong, swarthy fellow, with luxuriant black hair and whiskers, an irresistible broad grin, and a thoroughly good opinion of himself. He gave us his name, his autobiography, and his opinion of his own character, all in a breath. He was called William Dawle; he had begun life as a farm-labourer; then he had become a sailor in the Royal Navy, as a suitable change; now he was a licensed waterman, which was a more suitable change still; he was known all over the country; he would row against any man in England; he would take more care of us than he would of his own sons; and if we had five hundred guineas apiece in our knapsacks, he could keep no stricter watch over them than he was determined to keep now. Such was this phoenix of boatmen --- under such unexceptionable auspices did we start for the shores of Cornwall."

Collins then makes a 214 mile pilgrimage around the county, visiting St Germans, Looe, Liskeard, Lostwithiel, Fowey, St Austle [sic], Truro, Falmouth, Helston, Lizard Town, Penzance, Trereen, Sennan, Lands End, St Ives, Redruth, Perranporth, St Columb, Camelford, Tintagel, Boscastle and Launceston.

Of course I loved best his writing about the places that I knew, particularly Tintagel and Boscastle and the myths that he describes relating to these places. It was fascinating to read descriptions of places that I know over 150 years later in the mid Victorian period. It was a different world, but also recognisable. But I also loved his writing about the people of Cornwall, and their work in the mining industry and as fishermen.

I picked it up halfway during our trip when we planned a walk on Bodmin Moor, following a suggestion from the Financial Times Magazine the previous week. The walk mentioned Collins' trip to the Cheesewrings, a rather strange structure of balanced stones at one of the highest points of the moor. Collins wrote:

“If a man dreamt of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile as the Cheese-Wring. All the heaviest and largest of the seven thick slabs of which it is composed are at the top; all the lightest and smallest at the bottom. It rises perpendicularly to a height of thirty-two feet, without lateral support of any kind. The fifth and sixth rocks are of immense size and thickness, and overhang fearfully, all round, the four lower rocks which support them. All are perfectly irregular; the projections of one do not fit into the interstices of another; they are heaped up loosely in their extraordinary top-heavy form, on slanting ground half-way down a steep hill. Look at them from whatever point you choose, there is still all that is heaviest, largest, strongest, at the summit, and all that is lightest, smallest, weakest, at the base. When you first see the Cheese-Wring, you instinctively shrink from walking under it. Beholding the tons on tons of stone balanced to a hair’s breadth on the mere fragments beneath, you think that with a pole in your hand, with one push against the top rocks, you could hurl down the hill in an instant a pile which has stood for centuries, unshaken by the fiercest hurricane that ever blew, rushing from the great void of an ocean over the naked surface of a moor.”
It was fantastic to have read this passage and then follow in Collins' footsteps, on what proved to be the most blustery walk I have ever been on. I'm surprised that I actually managed to get my head up l0ng enough to take this photo:
Fleur fisher has written a lovely review of the title here, which includes lots of quotations from the book, and also the chart outlining the walking tour and the distances covered between places, so do go and have a look for a far more comprehensive account of the book. AND, *more excitement*, you can actually read the title online for yourself here!

Move forward 125 years to Frank Baker's The Call of Cornwall. According to the blurb on the dustwrapper, a "book that had to be written", Baker produces an account of Cornwall, Cornish life, and Cornish places between 1930 (when he first visited the country) and 1976, when this book was written. Baker went on holiday to Cornwall in his late teens, and was so enchanted, seeing the potential for the life that he wanted to make for himself, that he gave up his job in London and moved down, hoping to start his career as a novelist. The first third of the book deals with his settlement in the South of the county, and his work as a church organist to pay his rent while he wrote! This section was more autobiographical than the rest. The later sections detail his marriage and further trips around the county, and the latter part deals almost exclusively with day trips he made in the 1970s to places further flung such as Bodmin and the North Coast. This was the part that I found most enjoyable because it described the places that I knew (I have to admit that in the first section I felt frustrated because it seemed to be yet another book concentrating on the south coast which I have not yet really explored!). Like Collins, Baker does not focus exclusively on producing a travelogue, but writes about the Cornish people, and I enjoyed contrasting his impressions with those of Collins.

Baker had a fantastic way of describing Cornwall. I was puzzled by a page which showed a stave with a musical chord on it between the introduction and the start of the book. All was revealed several pages later - this is what Baker believes to be the voice of Cornwall:

"What is this "voice" - how can I convey it in words?...but there is something deeper, certain vibrations words cannot easily communicate; a sense of the celestial at one with the terrestrial sealed by the "moving tides". Musi is more helpful, and one chord can contain it. I go to my piano. I strike the A an octave above the lowest note on the keyboard. Holding this with the soft pedal, I strike the E,C,E and B immediately above. Without releasing the pedal, I listen. I cannot say why, but this a minor chor held with its supertonic gives me the sound of Cornwall".

What a different way of describing things!

So, if you can't get to Cornwall, then I do recommend using these two books for some armchair tourism. If you can get hold of a pasty (probably more widely available than saffron loaf anyway) to eat at the same time, then all the better.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The earth hums in B flat (Strachan)

The attention grabbing title, The earth hums in B flat, has been on my radar for some time, but I have somehow never got around to picking it up from the library. I was very excited therefore when Andrea from Canongate, who occasionally sends me a selection of books that she hopes will interest me, included this in my latest batch of books. Having waited so long to read it, it didn't languish on my TBR pile for very long.

This utterly enchanting debut novel is about Gwenni, a young girl living in a small village in Wales in the 1950s. It's fairy taleish and utterly compelling.

The novel starts:
"I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I can't, even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wide awake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true? was hard to fall asleep. But when I did I left Bethan to spread herself across the whole bed and I soared into a sky that wrapped me in air as light and warm as an eiderdown. I listened to the town below breathe its shallow night-time breaths, in and out, in and out, and all around me the Earth sang".

The novel is essentially about Gwenni, describing life in 1950s Wales, the Sale of Work Meetings and their accompanying teas, egg sandwiches on the charabanc outing, going to church and the social control, gossip and community values that characterised it. And in particular the secrets that lay behind family's front doors. But there is also an intriguing story - when the father of the two girls that she babysits for goes missing, she decides to investigate, and gets caught up in unravelling the secrets around his death, unveiling a host of other secrets in the process, that she wishes she had not discovered.

The writing is extremely lyrical and I thought that Gwenni had an extremely strong voice.

"I peer through the front window into the parlour. The panes are clear and cold as ice under my palm. But it's dark inside and difficult to see anything. And what would there be to see? No shelves sagging with books, no fire flickering in the inglenook, no desk balancing towers of exercise books on its polished surface....before my head can decide anything, my feet begin to run, faster than they've ever run before, across the field, over the stile, through the gate, past Penrhiw, past the Reservoir hiding behind the wall, along the high street and they don't stop until I'm standing on my own front doorstep, still holding the bunch of Cornflowers. I sink down to sit on the cold slate of the step and dig my knees into my stomach to stop it hurting so much"

Definitely looking forward to seeing what Strachan produces in follow up to this!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Orange Wednesday: Love (Morrison)

For my first foray into the dark world of previous Orange long-listed titles* I chose a book by Toni Morrison, Love, which was longlisted in 2004. One of my great bookish friends, Claire from Paperback Reader, has long extolled Toni Morrison to me, and I know that her copy of Love is one of her most prized possessions, so looking along the Toni Morrison shelf at the library, it wasn't too difficult to pick this one out. I wasn't disappointed.

Love is the multilayered tale dealing with an assortment of women who are all involved in some way with a man called Bill Cosey, a now deceased hotel owner. They include his cook, L, his second wife, Heed, his grandaughter Christine (who is older than Heed!), Vida and Sandler who are former employees, and Junior, a girl from out of town who has not been around Cosey for as long as the others. The story centres mainly on Heed and Christine, who live together in Cosey's house but have a difficult relationship, which is understandable when it is revealed halfway through the book that Christine is Cosey's grandaughter, and was Heed's best friend at school until Cosey married her aged 11. By telling the tales of the characters through the myriad of different voices, we build up a picture of the women and their relationships and Morrison draws out insights into the intricacies of love and friendship.

I found myself mesmerised by her writing and insight into this black community, and was puzzled and intrigued by reviews on Amazon and which suggested that this wasn't one of her best novels! A mercy and Paradise were also long and shortlisted for the Orange prize and I shall certainly be including them in this reading project.

* I should mention a little bit about my methodology of the Orange Wednesday's project; unlike my Virago Venture, I am not planning to read ALL of the titles that have appeared on previous longlists, merely to use them as inspiration for my reading over the coming months. I'm going on the basis of recommendations, interesting sounding titles and looking up synopses on Amazon and library thing. I should make a list perhaps, but please do help me out by recommending your favourites (the original list can be found here)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights

I've been watching the Sophie Dahl cookery series on BBC2 on Tuesday nights, and whilst the programme has annoyed me slightly (I wasn't sure about making 6 individual chocolate pots for a night in alone!), I was tickled to spot her reading Barbara Pym's Excellent Women in 30th Anniversary Virago hardback, and enjoyed it sufficiently to seek out her book from the library. The book actually pre-dates the series by a year, which is unusual for a cookery programme tie-in, and this is reflected in the fact that you will not actually find all of the recipes from the series in it (which was something that I found somewhat disappointing).

The book contains five sections; one for each of the four seasons, featuring seasonal recipes for breakfast, lunch and supper, and a section on pudding. The book is also autobiography, about Sophie's love affair with food and her changing shape (she rose to fame, not just as Roald Dahl's grandaughter, but as a voluptuous and beautiful model. She then famously lost a considerable amount of weight and developed a twiggy-like figure, before returning to a more healthy size). We hear about the time she spent cooking with her grandmother and the importance of food in her childhood as well as the story behind her weight loss and subsequent discovery of healthy eating and living which informs the recipes in her book - in particular she doesn't eat much wheat and tries not to eat too much refined sugar. The recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs.

So what of the recipes? I'm aware that normally if I'm writing about a recipe book I'd want to cook one of the recipes, but I didn't feel particularly enticed by any of the cakes in the puddings section - they were quite pedestrian, including things like crumble, banana bread, flapjack, and flourless chocolate cake. I liked the focus on breakfast options - the cinnamon roast peaches from the summer section sounded appealing - and I liked the fact that many of the recipes were vegetarian (Dahl is a vegetarian, although unlike me she does cook meat!). The soup options looked good - beetroot, avocado, and lettuce were the three that sounded most appealing. I am definitely going to give the stuffed summer squash a go - summer squash is the one that has a spaghetti like texture, and Dahl suggests roasting it and serving it with a tomato sauce and pine nuts. Sounds yummy.

Overall, I don't think this is a book that I will buy, but I enjoyed flipping through it - it is a lovely girlie book, and although it annoys my fiance I will watch the rest of her series, and hope to spot her reading some more lovely books! She's a bit of a Nigella to watch (although lacking some of Nigella's stature), and the show is relaxing entertainment if not especially innovative or wonderful cookery.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Recent acquisitions

Quite a few books have entered my flat over the last week or so; in fact, a new bookcase has also entered the flat, because my shelves were so tightly filled that I felt that my books must be suffocating and it pained me to see them like that. This little bookshelf takes up the absolutely last bit of wall space in our flat; we are hoping to move in the next couple of months which will be a relief as the books are becoming somewhat overwhelming.

But back to the books. I've already mentioned my birthday books so I won't repeat myself again. I had three books kindly sent to me by Fiona from Random House. These were the new Blake Morrison which I am very much looking forward to reading, having greatly enjoyed his South of the River, which I came to through its Booker shortlisting, and two titles from the back catalogue of Orange longlisted titles, for my longer term Orange Wednesdays reading project, Paradise by Toni Morrison and Fall on your knees by Anne-Marie Macdonald which comes to me highly recommended by Claire from Paperback Reader. Andrea at Canongate sent me The earth hums in B flat which I have been wanting to read for a while but not got around to. I will be writing about all of these in due course.
And, just after I took that picture, three more books snuck in, kindly sent to me by Victoria from Abacus. Abacus is part of the Little Brown Family. Victoria sent me some really rather lovely books, including, Shiny Pennies and Grubby Pinafores by Winifred Foley, which contains the latter volumes of her autobiography (I loved her Child of the Forest and Back to the Forest books as a teenager), The many conditions of love which is Zama's follow up to his hilarious Marriage bureau for rich people book, and Foolish lessons in life and love which sounded like an intriguing title. More on these in due course!

I also treated myself to a couple of books for my birthday. I bought Gardener's Nightcap, which is one of the few Persephones that I have neither read nor own, and I thought it might be interesting to write about in the upcoming Persephone Reading Week. I also bought a copy of Six Ponies, by Josephine Pullein Thompson, which I spotted on Fidra's website shortly before my birthday. It turns out that this is a prequel to a trilogy of horsebooks by JPT which I absolutely adored as a child (Pony Club Team, Pony Club Cup and Pony Club Camp), and which I photograph here with my new Fidra copy*

I must be careful not to let the TBR pile up as I have an absolute stack of library books linked to my Orange Wednesdays project, and have been lent a stash of Virago Modern Classics by Simon from Stuck in a book! I need some restraint, but it's not easy...

* I must write about Fidra very soon as I seem to be building up a collection of their books and they definitely fit within my sphere of interest.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays: The white woman on the green bicycle (Roffey)

I spotted The white woman on the green bicycle in the library on Monday. I didn't connect it with the Orange prize as it was on the new books shelf, but I knew I'd seen it mentioned a lot in the blogosphere recently, and Claire from Paperback reader confirmed that it was indeed on the longlist. It hadn't initially appealed, but the intriguing title, and mentions on blogs, and the fact that it was a new book were enough to convince me to take it out.

The vividly evoked Trinidad setting provides the background for the story of Sabine and George, a couple who moved there in the 1950s, among the last colonials to settle there. Whilst George has found it easy to acclimitise to his new life, Sabine hasn't, struggling with the heat, the lack of friends and family, and the racial segregation. We meet the couple much later on, in 2006, when George discovers a cache of letters that Sabine has written, but not sent, to Eric Williams, a politician who is trying to rescue Trinidad from colonial rule. The letters reveal Sabine's frustrations with the country, and with their marriage, and George is stunned. The book cleverly works back through the past to build up a picture of their lives up until that point, piecing together their story.

My favourite part of the book was the second part, when Sabine and George arrive in Trinidad. The culture shock is immense, and not knowing the country/period at all, witnessing Sabine's attempts to learn about life there was hugely interesting.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I liked, as I've often said, having the opportunity to read a book set in a different environment to those that I would normally choose to read, but this one didn't have the star quality in terms of either plot or writing that my favourites from the Orange longlist have had. Having said that, I am really glad that it made it onto the list or it is another book that might have just passed me by, and I shall certainly look out for more by Monique Roffey

I hope you've enjoyed my week of Orange longlisted posts - I've now reviewed 7 of the longlisted titles, which with the 5 I'd read already means I've read 12 of the 20 titles. The only one I'd still really like to read is The Lacuna. Anyway, I will be hugely interested to see what titles are shortlisted! I'd love to see Hearts and Minds, This is how and The still point there. I suspect that The little stranger may well make an appearance and probably Wolf Hall.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays: Savage Lands (Clark)

Savage Lands did not immediately appeal to me, but Fiona from Random House very kindly sent me a copy, and I thought I would give it a go, principally because one of the things that I like about the Orange prize is its ability to broaden my reading. It's Clare Clark's third novel - I remember seeing her second The great stink on a previous Orange list, but it was not one that I ever got around to reading.

The book is set in the early eighteenth century and tells the story of Elisabeth, a girl from Paris, who is sent, along with a number of other "casket girls" to Louisana to provide wives for the early settlers. Elisabeth marries Jean-Claude, and is fortunate enough to fall in love with him, although trauma follows with a number of failed pregnancies. The book also tells the story of a young boy named Auguste, who is acting as a spy between the colonials and the "savages" who already inhabit Louisana, and the way that he becomes embroiled in the relationship between Elisabeth and Jean-Claude.

The book immediately grasped my attention, with Elisabeth proving to be a bookish girl after my own heart, taking out some of the heavy linen from her trunk in order to include more books ("She did not tell her Aunt") and recieving a presentation copy of Montaigne's Essais as a leaving present which she resists reading on the boat, in order to save it for Louisana. Unfortunately, once she arrives in America, reading is no longer so important, and it is only later on that she re-discovers reading. However, I found her becoming less likeable as the book progressed and she had miscarriage after miscarriage and seemed to have changed very much from the girl who set out - I suppose that was partly the point of the book.

The writing is vivid and the story has a good pace, so despite it being very different from my usual reading material I found it engrossing, although I think it was probably the Orange book that I have enjoyed least so far.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays: The secret son (Lalami)

The secret son was the third book that I picked off the Orange longlist this year that I hadn't already read; it had a lot to live up to after This is how and Hearts and minds, and although it was an interesting read, which whilst I enjoyed, I wasn't gripped in the same way that I had been by the previous two.

The secret son tells the story of Yousseff, a poor but intelligent college student, living with his mother in the slums of Casablanca in Morocco. He had always been told that his father, a teacher, had been killed in a tragic accident, but one day he discovers that his father was in fact a rich businessman, for whom his mother worked, and who is very much alive. Yousseff seeks him out, and they establish a relationship, Yousseff becoming in effect . Although his mother warns him against it, Yousseff takes advantage of his father's money, moving into a city-centre apartment and gaining work in his business. Essentially Yousseff has the opportunity to recreate his identity. But his father's family could not accept him, and after they find out about Yousseff's existence it is only a matter of time before his world is changed as dramatically again.

Lalami has a beautiful writing style and describes the slums and scenery of Morocco with wonderful detail. I think that this was what I liked most about the book - the opportunity to read about an unfamiliar culture and environment. Again this takes me back to what I like so much about the Orange prize - the fact that reading from the list transports me to worlds that I wouldn't necessarily normally read about.

The author, Lalami, by the way has an interesting blog which is worth taking a look at - she writes about her writing, and her work.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays : The very thought of you (AlisoN)

I would probably have picked up The very thought of you by Rosie Alison in due course anyway, had it not been on the Orange longlist, since I generally like good novels set during the Second World War (there are a lot of "historical romances" out there for this period which I tend to avoid), but the list brought it to my attention rather sooner.

Set at Ashton Hall in Yorkshire, The very thought of you deals with the experiences of evacuees from London centring around the character of Anna, a young girl. However, it is not a straightforward evacuee story. The plot revoles more around deals with the couple who own Ashton Hall, Thomas and Elizabeth and their disintegrating, childless marriage. Anna becomes drawn into their lives, and the couple's relationship. There are also subplots featuring Anna's father who is away fighting, and Anna's mother who is trying to work out a new way of life on her own in London.

The events at Ashton Hall during the war turn out to have a profound influence on the rest of Anna's life, and we revisit her later, still trying to make sense of the things that happened then and the relationships formed.

It didn't grip me in the way that Hearts and Minds or This is how did (I'm sorry, I know I keep banging on about that), but it was a lovely read that didn't take too much effort and I warmly recommend it to all of you who enjoy Second World War fiction.

Monday, 12 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays: The still point (Sackville)

I was very keen to read The still point by Amy Sackville - it was not a title I had come across until I saw it on the Orange longlist. My library was slow to get copies (I see it has some now, but with a hefty list of reservations), but Claire from Paperback reader kindly gave me a copy for my birthday! What a lovely and generous present.

I love to read presents straight away (although sometimes I like to save them), but it turned out that this was a book to be savoured, and I was extremely glad that I was not able to read it all in one go as I might have liked to have done. Both a wonderful and gripping story and an exquisite piece of writing, I think this is probably the book that I have enjoyed most from the Orange longlist (the debate being of course whether one can fully enjoy books like Hearts and Minds or This is how which are brilliant but ultimately quite grim).

The still point is a dual narrative; it tells the story of a day in the life of Anna, and her husband who live in London, intersperesed with the tale of Anna's great-great Uncle who was a doomed arctic explorer. Anna spends part of the day looking at letters and diaries from the expedition that he went upon, whilst reflecting on the effects that this had on her great-great Aunt Emily's life. At the same time, we see her and Simon thinking about the nature of their own relationship. Is it better to have a humdrum relationship, driven by the 9-5 grind and punctuated by dinner parties or one that is ripped apart by adventure?

Sackville's writing is so very lyrical that this book is an absolute pleasure to read for the writing as much as the story - and as I am a reader usually gripped by the storyline at the expense of the writing, I think this shows how special this book is.

One thing I'm wondering about - this is a debut novel. I wonder how it is decided whether a book will be entered for the main Orange prize or for the Orange new writers prize? I would be very disappointed if this book did not gain recognition somewhere!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Persephone Reading Week

While I've been away, it seems like people have started to get excited about the Second Persephone Reading Week, so I thought I would take the opportunity to write about it on my blog today. Persephone reading week started out last year, when, with a week off work, I decided to read a Persephone book every day. It was such a joyous experience that I decided to repeat it with my next week off work, Claire from Paperback Reader joined in, and it turned into a rather spectacular blogging event with people across the world reading Persephone books, taking part in competitions, blogging about their reading and entering giveaways.

So, we're doing it all again! The fun runs between 3rd and 9th May, and will be hosted here at the B Files and over at Paperback reader. There aren't any rules; to participate all you need to do is to read a Persephone book. You can read more if you like, and hopefully if you have a blog you'll blog about your reading too. If you don't, then Claire or I can put posts up on our blogs. Each day we'll round up the Persephone posts (you'll be able to post links in the comments of our blogs) so that everyone can share in the Persephone fun.

What will I be reading? Well, there are only 5 Persephone books that I have yet to read, three of which I own, and the other two I hope to own by then (I'm still not quite complete with my collection of books, but I have read the others in different editions).
I have waiting:
Julian Grenfell (Mosley)
The expendable man (Hughes)
The hopkins manuscript (Sherriff)

and hoping to obtain:
An interrupted life (Hilsum)
The gardener's nightcap

I'm sure it hasn't escaped your attention that 2 more Persephone books will be released on 22nd April, and I shall be ordering those from the shop to add to my selection.

Maybe it'll be time for me to do a reread of some of the books - it has been a long time since I read Family Roundabout. And I must find a recipe that I can bake to share with you all!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Return from holidays

I'm back! I've had a wonderful time, in Cornwall. There was a lot of weather, but we managed to get out and about and I was thoroughly spoiled on my birthday with sparklers and banners and candles. I was lucky enough to have a parcel of books from my parents, selected from a wishlist that I had sent them - this was a wonderful surprise as I didn't know until I opened it what I would get. It turned out to be three more Greyladies titles - Covent on Styx, Eliza in the common and A proper place, the first two of which I have already devoured. I also had a copy of Jane Gardam's Crusoe's Daughter from a colleague. My fiance treated me to three books while we were away, including a lovely book of old Cornish postcards, and two memoirs of a lady who worked for the National Trust (of which I already had the first)(he had made the mistake of pointing me in the direction of the second hand booksale while he went to look at some farm machinery, so it was only fair to expect him to buy me what I found!)

(And there were many book shaped packages waiting for my return also; Claire from Paperback reader kindly sent me The orange shortlisted The still point for my birthday, there were 3 books from Canongate, and a few other things besides)

I got through a large number of the books that I took, reading:
My driver (Maggie Gee)
Steer by the stars (Olivia Fitzroy)
Snapped in Cornwall (Janie Bolitho)
Treveryan (Angela Du Maurier)
Clothes Pegs (Susan Scarlett)
Once a and girl (Angela Huth)
American Wife (Curtis Sittenfeld)
Life with the lid on (Nicola Hopkinson)
How to paint a dead man (Sarah Hall)
Barbara Hepworth (Margaret Gardiner)
Buried in Cornwall (Janie Bolitho)
Framed in Cornwall (Janie Bolitho)
Taking the plunge (Stacey Lewis)
Rambles beyond Railways (Wilkie Collins)
The marriage book (Nicky Lee)
Convent on Styx (Gladys Mitchell)
Dry rot and daffodils (MAry Mackie)
Hunting and gathering (Anna Gavalda)
Eliza in Common (O. Douglas)
The carm of North Cornwall (ed Alan Drew)
Louisa (Pamela Brown)
The vicarage family (Lorna Hill)
It's only the sister (Angela Du Maurier)
Faith fox (Jane Gardam)
Death on tiptoe (RC Ashby)
The Whicarts (Noel Streatfield)
Hungry Hill (Daphne Du Maurier)

The highlights were Treveryan, Clothes-Pegs, The Vicarage Family, and Rambles beyond railways. I might write about some of these in due course.

By the way, if you're interested to know what I broke my bookban with, it was with a cheap set of the wonderful "English Journeys" books, which were brought to my attention by Thomas of My Porch, who is reading his way through them this April. When I saw the complete set for £15, less than £1 a volume, I just couldn't resist them as something rather lovely to dip in and out of. I'm particularly looking forward to Vita Sackville-West's Let us praise famous gardens, Vaughan William's Folk Songs, and Celia Fiennes Through England on a side saddle. I hope to see lots of mentions of places that I know, and to learn more about the history of England as a place. Now I just need to find somewhere to put them... Also whilst in Cornwall I bought a copy of Angela Du Maurier's It's only the sister (which I devoured lying in the sun on the beach).

Next week I'll be reviewing three more Orange long-listed titles in preparation for the announcement of the shortlist next week, so do pop by and see my thoughts and share yours if you've read any of them. I also hope to do an Orange themed bake! After this week I intend to continue my Orange Wednesdays series and review a formerly Orange longlisted title each Wednesday - until I get bored! I'm hoping that this will provide inspiration and direction to my reading as well as enabling me to read more modern women's fiction.

I'll start reading everyone's blogs again next week and popping by to say hello, and I'll also try to catch up on my emails!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy Easter

I'm off on my Easter and birthday celebration holidays, and will be taking a break from blogging from the next 10 days or so.

As we're self-catering, I've made an Easter Simnel Loaf to take with us, and I'll leave you with a picture of it!