Sunday, 28 February 2010

Snapshot Sunday

A view of Lamb House (the house on the right with the black door) and its adjoining garden as seen from the top of St Mary's Church in Rye, East Sussex.  This is the house (Mallards) and secret garden that is featured in the Mapp and Lucia novels where Miss Mapp climbs to the top of the church tower and spies the 'apparently' flu-ridden Lucia exercising in the garden.  The crooked chimney belonging to Mallards Cottage, where Georgie lived, is visible in the forefront.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

World Book Day and a Giveaway

It's World Book Day on Thursday, 4 March 2010 and it is a day to promote, share and enjoy the pleasure of reading books.  This year sees events taking place in various areas around the UK.  You can visit the World Book Day website for a list of events or check out your library, favourite bookstore and local newspaper for additional events, promotions and talks.

To celebrate World Book Day, and in anticipation of the next book in this series to be published in July, I am giving away a brand new, unread hardback by one of my favourite writers, Alexander McCall Smith.  The book is The Unbearable Lightness of Scones and is the fifth instalment in the 44 Scotland Street series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, it was originally published in The Scotsman newspaper in daily instalments and follows the comings and goings of a group of people who share an address in Scotland Street.  It bears McCall Smith's characteristic humour and charm with a dash of philosophical musings (usually witty) and each chapter is a self-contained gem, making it easy to read in small bites if required. 

Edinburgh is a beautiful character in this series and many places are featured in the book.  Check out this link for a free location guide to 44 Scotland Street - a handy little guide (which opens in pdf format) for when you're next in Edinburgh and hoping to place the book in context.

Whether you're a McCall Smith fan, or McCall Smith curious, please feel free to enter your name in the draw by leaving a comment on this post.  I am happy to post anywhere in the world.  This draw is open until the end of Friday, 5 March 2010 (UK time).  The winner will be drawn from a hat and announced on Saturday, 6 March 2010.  Good luck!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Capuchin Classics

Today I received one of the loveliest catalogues.  Capuchin Classics is a publishing house that concentrates on "reviving great works of fiction which have been unjustly forgotten or neglected" and they have created a strong, identifiable brand within the aesthetics of their books.  Each book appears with an attractive sketch on a paperback with serene green bands across the top of the book.  I was surprised to find that the 'book' in my package today was in fact the 2010 catalogue; a collectable in itself.  The catalogue devotes two pages to each of their publications with plot outlines and brief bios of the authors and foreword writers accompanied by a sketch and a quote pertinent to each book.  A charming compilation.   I came across a few books that entice me, particularly The Unbearable Bassington by Saki, Juan in America by Eric Linklater and Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford. They are currently doing a 3 for 2 on online orders and also invite suggestions for books for publication.  Their website and blog are well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

This novel is Persephone Books' best selling item and reviews are bountiful on the Internet, along with reviews about the film that was released in 2008.  I won't repeat the plot, as I'm sure most readers are aware of it, but I will touch upon my impressions of it.  I also hope to post a short review about the film soon and to briefly compare the two.

I found the book on the whole to be charming, diverting and fun although there were doubts about its frivolity along the way.  I don't think that I am over-the-moon about the book (as I expected to be after reading a few reviews) but I did enjoy it.  I liked Miss Pettigrew's character and loved it when she found secret reserves of courage within herself and took charge of a volatile situation.  She is a downtrodden woman who lacks experience in love and the "finer things in life" but she is self-reliant and independent, even if she struggles to pay her way in the world.  Her experience of life may be limited but it is solid and useful and underpinned by her intelligence and integrity. 

The funniest scenes in the book are right in the beginning when she mimics people from her past in order to get the better of an adversary.  Her newfound friend, Miss LaFosse, is her opposite.  She is frivolous and completely devoted to leading a pleasurable life at the expense of others (she relies on men to buy her things and keep her in a luxurious apartment).  A few characters within the book rely upon Miss LaFosse's judgement and intelligence but I found no evidence of such astuteness in her actions.  I'm afraid that to me, she came across as empty-headed and lacking in self-worth as she was easily led astray by men and their influence.   Perhaps I am being prudish, but near the beginning of the book I felt my interest wane as it was revealed that she had a couple of lovers on the go and was tempted to try cocaine.  I persevered and things got better... she did display a kind and giving nature but I felt that this was tinged with her lack of loyalty towards her lover(s) and her failure to be an independent women.  It may be a mark of the times that women were dependent on men and marriage in order to be financially secure, but I found it ironic that the sexually liberated Miss LaFosse was the one who was entirely dependent upon the generosity of men and that the conservative and sexually repressed Miss Pettigrew was the one who (out of necessity) relied only upon herself for her daily bread and butter.

The book is perhaps a peep into the social mores of the time in the late thirties (which makes references to promiscuity and drugs even more shocking to my mind - what did readers of the time make of that?) and as such is interesting from that point of view.  Although set in London, it had a bit of an American flavour to it with its slang and Chicago-style nightclubs.  But it is ultimately a Cinderella story and has a happy ending for our heroine, Miss Pettigrew, which I found the most thrilling bit of all.

I adored the vivid illustrations by Mary Thomson, which add to the richness and gaiety of the book, and help to bring the various characters to life.  One of my favourite characters is the indomitable Miss Dubarry who is confident, successful and happy to help other women in bettering themselves.  Although she too initially relied upon a man in order to make her way in the world, she took the initiative to learn about matters of business and ends up owning her own company.  It is thanks to her that Miss Pettigrew is given a glimpse into the life of the chic and graceful sirens when she is transformed into a beautiful swan by Miss Dubarry's skilful hands.  Miss Dubarry is also quick to assure our Miss Pettigrew that beauty is not always based upon substance and that any woman can improve upon nature... something that a lot of women still practice today.  The book is therefore peppered with dark and light moments and little moral tales, if you ponder upon it long enough, but it is ultimately a happy and comforting read, to be approached lightly and without over-analysis (which I am afraid I am sometimes guilty of!).

This is my second Persephone book and I possess both a copy in the classic grey cover and the colourful Classics edition.  I was fortunate enough to find them each in a charity shop over the course of a few months.  The end papers in the grey edition are graceful and warm and suit the book perfectly.  Persephone books are truly a tactile pleasure as they feel so solid and comfortable, yet light and smooth between your hands... a perfect reflection of the story within this particular book.


Sunday, 21 February 2010

Snapshot Sunday

"We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221b, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows."

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Jane's Home

Thanks to the entertaining Jane Austen Today blog, I revisted parts of Jane's home via slideshow on the PBS website.   I was fortunate to visit Jane Austen's home in Chawton, Hampshire in 2005 and it was a special feeling to walk through the rooms that she inhabited so many years ago.  It is today a museum and it houses a number of her family's furniture, including her writing table and bed, and other bits of personal items, writing implements and letters.

Jane's kitchen has only been open to the public since last year and that seems a good enough reason to me to make another trip to the area soon.  It is a beautiful village, with a teashop opposite the house and it is quite glorious in Summer.  I should also pop over to 'nearby' Bath to visit the Jane Austen Centre and to once again enjoy the setting of 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Persuasion'.

Please do pop over to enjoy the slideshow here.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Latest Library Loans

It was a really beautiful day here in Kent with a wide blue sky and enough sunshine to make you feel as though Spring had sprung.  But alas, it is now freezing again and I just hope that the little primroses I planted outside today will survive.  They were given a protective layer of mulch but I could feel the sweet little petals were quite icy this evening.  I thought planting a few coloured blooms were in order to cheer things up and today was the ideal day.  Above is a photo of milk-white Thalia Narcissus - quite elegant and heady with a strong masculine fragrance.  All the blooms are now open and they bring a little of Spring indoors .

I've been meaning to blog about my latest library acquisitions from a week or so ago and a new addition to the pile.  I'm terrible at getting through library loans - I always find so many books of interest to take home and then take ages to read them, having in the interim added to the pile yet again.  Not fair on other library members that may want to borrow it on a whim.  So this year I am trying to increase the turnaround time for reading these and you'll see from my left sidebar that two of them are on my bedside table waiting to be read.

The Girl with Glass Feet - Ali Shaw
This sounds like a fairy tale for adults and I made a special trip to the library yesterday to collect it for the Not the TV Book Group meeting that is being held this Sunday over at Savidge Reads.  I hope to read it within the next few days in time to take part in the online discussions.  I'll post a review of the book shortly after.

A Walk with Jane Austen - Lori Smith
This a work of non-fiction and the title and the cute photo caught my eye.  I hope it's not too focused on searching for Mr Darcy and instead concentrates on visiting Austen's literary and real-life landmarks. Taking a year out to explore Austen country whilst in search of yourself sounds like a dream!

Silent in the Sanctuary - Deanna Raybourn
This is the second book in the 'Silent in the ...' series.  I really enjoyed the first one after a slow start and will publish a review sometime soon.  These books are described as historical mysteries with a bit of romance thrown in and they are set in Victorian England.  The first one was well written and quite atmospheric and rich in period detail as well as possessing an interesting (though bizarre) murder weapon.

Manna from Hades - Carola Dunn
This will be my first book this year for the as yet unofficial Reading Cornwall challenge that was conceived by Fleur Fisher.  The challenge is to read books set in Cornwall, although I'm not sure what the parameters for the challenge will be, I have been inspired by her posts and those of Verity at The B Files to read this sooner rather than later.  It is a murder mystery set in Cornwall and is the first book of an intended series.

Sick of Shadows - Marion Chesney (a.k.a. M. C. Beaton)
I love these Edwardian Mysteries that are penned by M. C. Beaton of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth fame.  I find the writing quality of these much higher than the Agatha Raisin stories and the period detail is entertaining and instructive.  M. C. Beaton used to write under other names and initially wrote an impressive number of historical romances.  This knowledge and research seems to have been combined with her new chosen genre (crime).  Sadly, M. C. Beaton only published four books in this series and she confirmed that there would be no more.  This was due to them not selling as well as her other books and the limited time that she has to write.  I have therefore been saving this title as there is only another one left for me to enjoy.  They are light mysteries with a very soft touch of romance laced with humour: a perfect cosy read.

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
I am the first borrower of this book and I do love to read a pristine copy, its inner pages untouched by fellow reader's hands.  I greatly enjoyed The Eyre Affair and I will be sampling its sequel soon, although I am very much tempted to dive into this novel first... but then I fear I may disturb the space-time continuim. 

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Meditative Art of Knitting

I rediscovered knitting a little over a year ago when I came across a few bloggers who blogged about their knitting endeavours.  Somehow, I started to get itchy fingers and felt as though I wanted to knit again.  The last time I knitted was in primary school and that was a very small but fashionably purple vest (a. k. a. tank top) as prescribed by our Home Economics curriculum.  We little girls were quite impressed with the act and I recall knitting a few other things at home for fun but I can't remember what they were.

Many years later, I found myself on a day out in London and I sought out a trendy little knit shop and purchased a couple of pairs of needles and three balls of yarn that appealed.  I tried the yarn with the needles when I got home - without consulting the Internet or a book - and I found to my amazement that my fingers remembered how to cast on and how to knit the basic garter stitch.  Wow!  Not being someone who is naturally gifted with her hands, I was impressed.  Strange how your body can recall actions from years ago even if your brain doesn't.

My first item was a thin, whispy multi-coloured scarf knit in garter stitch (the most basic there is: just knit every row) on thick needles.  I did it in a few hours that evening and was quite happy at having created my first item of clothing!  After that, I tried a thick scarf (are you beginning to spot a theme here?) in a red chilli colour in a ribbed stitch (a sequence of knit and purl stitches).  I had to look up how to do the purl stitch as, alas, my fingers had amnesia on that one.

I have since progressed onto other types of scarves, a couple of hats and mittens, and last year attempted my first sock on double-pointed needles.  Yikes!  I was scared of those for a while... but it is working out and is still a work in progress.  The Internet is an invaluable tool (thanks, You Tubers) for self-instruction and there isn't anything that you can't do. 

So at the moment I am busy on a very simple scarf - knitting every row - simply because I like knitting scarves and I love this teal colour.  This is taking much longer than my other scarves did as it's thinner yarn but I like the calming repetitivness of the act and the colour cheers me up.  Knitting is great for thinking and contemplating and your mind can wander if your pattern isn't too complicated - an advantage of this simple scarf.

Sometimes, though, you might just want to give your mind a rest.  Although knitting can take away from precious reading time, I've found listening to an audio book or a radio adaptation a great substitute and much better than knitting and watching TV.  You can keep your eyes on your work and enjoy the story.

I love the texture of yarn and the smoothness of needles and I usually rub fragrant hand lotion onto my hands before knitting and the uplifting or calming scent is transferred onto the item.  Once the garment or item is complete, and I wear it again months later, I can strangely recall what I was listening to, pondering or watching whilst knitting... as if my thoughts and emotions were woven into each stitch.  The light scent of the hand lotion also acts as a trigger. 

I'm still a beginner but I enjoy the act of knitting.  Sometimes I pick it up out of a creative urge; sometimes out of a meditative urge.  Either way, it's a great way to keep occupied in these chilly dark days and you can also get a set of lovingly-made hat, mittens and scarf out of it.

The cute little cats above were created by the talented Sheila Sargent based in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Snapshot Sunday

Low trees (?!) in Bloomsbury, London

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Book Lust

Serendipity strikes again and tugs at my heart (and purse) strings.  This week my thoughts turned to E. F. Benson's glorious Mapp and Lucia novels after reading an excellent post by Desperate Reader.  Shortly after, I was excited to learn from Library Thing that The Folio Society have recently reissued the boxed set of the Mapp and Lucia novels, first published by Folio in 1994.

I have been coveting this beautiful box set for over a year but could not afford the second hand price tag that ranged from £60.00 to £100.00!  I think it's wonderful that there is now the option of possessing it in a freshly printed condition... although now it costs more... £120.00.

This new edition appears to be identical to the previous one with the exception of the slipcase being a pastel blue instead of pink, and the books are not in individual shades.  But the graceful and witty illustrations of Natacha Ledwidge are present on each cover and this is part of the attraction for me.  I have yet to peruse an individual book and have only been able to gaze at the photographs that proud owners have been kind enough to share.  Sigh!

Above photo's borrowed from the excellent E. F. Benson Page

Friday, 12 February 2010

Do You Wodehouse?

P. G. Wodehouse is a name that has lingered in the back of my mind through the years yet I never picked up a single book of his until last year.  I wonder if anyone else is in the same boat?  Wodehouse is usually credited with being the most popular English humourist of all time and he has a legion of fans both in this country and abroad so I did feel a little embarassed at not having read any Wodehouse all these years.  I hadn't even seen the Jeeves and Wooster television series until a couple of years ago!  Crikey!

It was, in fact, the television series that got me into reading my first Wodehouse.  Stephen Fry (Jeeves) and Hugh Laurie (Wooster) were superb and thoroughly entertaining and I loved the banter between the two.  I watched the whole series over Christmas with friends (what a jolly way to spend it!) and simply breathed in the jazzy notes of the theme-tune and the set pieces and costumes of the thirties.  I even managed to get my hands on the very rare soundtrack, which in itself is hilarious, and features may songs of the era sung by the multi-talented Hugh Laurie.

Well, what was my first choice when a year later a Wodehouse book finally caught my eye?  Sadly, the excellent television series spoilt the Jeeves and Wooster stories for me as - upon checking out Wikipedia et al - I discovered that the series took heavily from the initial books.  The plots were still fresh in my mind and I confess that all the constant engagements and dis-engagements in the series grated after a while.  Indeed, a lot of the plots seemed to usually revolve around someone getting engaged to the wrong person (a lot of the time Wooster) and then trying to comically get themselves out of it. So when in a bookshop, I spied the freshly printed covers of a line of Wodehouse novels published by Arrow Books, I was inspired to read him.  The cover and plot of The Adventures of Sally took my fancy and seemed to promise a light and cheerful read.  This is a standalone novel and I was charmed in the initial parts of the book and then the famous Wodehousian complications took off.  I enjoyed it and have since read another stand-alone Wodehouse entitled Quick Service, which was also fun.

I have a teeny tiny collection of Wodehouse (pictured left) and have tried to read the first short stories about Jeeves and Wooster without success, as I know how the stories will end.  Perhaps I need to give it more time?  Wodehouse was immensely prolific and created various worlds and recurring characters, as well as several stand-alone novels.  The worlds of Psmith, Blandings, Ukridge as well as Jeeves are revered in many circles and I feel the need to enter them and experience the magic that so many others speak of.  I confess that the TV series and books I read have not delivered entirely to this degree but they have been pleasant.  I keep thinking that I'm missing something and that I should read on...  Anyone else feel this way or still having to really get into Wodehouse?  To date, I consider E. F. Benson to be my favourite English humourist and I took to his Mapp and Lucia novels instantly.  I feel that I have to work a little with Wodehouse as so many of the plots I've picked up for perusal have revolved around couples in love trying to get married or get out of the wrong engagement.  What say you? 

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair is my very first Jasper Fforde novel and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and suitably wowed.  In it, Fforde creates an alternate time to ours which, at first introduction, appears like ours except that there are small (and big) things that take this world into the realms of fantasy - or science fiction - depending upon how you look at it.

The time is 1985 in England - an England that is still at war in the Crimea and in which Wales is a republic.  There are time rippers, dodos have been brought back from extinction and a multinational corporation called Goliath seems to have its finger in every pie.  Society is virtually obssessed with literature and dead authors are regarded as uber celebrities.  The written word seems to rule in this time and prose and poetry is highly regarded and is considered the backbone of society.

Enter our heroine, Thursday Next, a Literatec (literary detective) working in SpecOps 27, who has been called in to investigate the theft of Dickens' manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit.  The suspect is a super-villain named Acheron Hades who appears to be invincible and destroys all in his path - except for Thursday, who knows how his mind works and manages to survive his initial attack.  

Throw into this mix Thursday's time-jumping Chronoguard father and her eccentric inventor uncle and we have a story that begins to take you into the fantastic.  Her uncle and aunt are kidnapped and literary characters start to disappear from important works of fiction.  Only Thursday has the intuition and determination to track down Hades.

The Jasper Fforde novels are very prominent in bookstores and libraries and the interesting blurb of the first book in the Thursday Next series ensured the book made it to my TBR pile, even if I had a few reservations about a world with dodos and Jane Eyre running around in it.  But these reservations were unfounded.  Fforde pulls this off in a masterly way and successfully creates a believable alternative world with wit, fast-paced action and lots of word play.  Devoted readers will love how he plays around with established cannons and eminent figures such as the Bard and there are puns and literary quips aplenty that will entertain and amuse.

Sweet little touches like keeping dodos as companion animals and having access to Will Speak machines - arcade-type dummies quoting Shakespeare when you insert a coin - just add to the colour of this world and make you smile.  I thoroughly recommend this book to any lover of literature who wants an entertaining, sometimes thrilling - sometimes fast-paced, witty read.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

Snapshot Sunday

Only in London!  A cosy restaurant in Soho operating from a retired Routemaster bus serving freshly cooked vegan organic food.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bloomsbury Group 2010

Early last year, I learned of the Bloomsbury Group from the blogosphere.  Bloomsbury Publishing had decided to bring back into print a number of early twentieth century books that they regarded as "lost novels" and that were "recommended by readers for readers, being brought back into print for a new audience".  They asked friends, colleagues, authors and book bloggers for suggestions of favourite books that could be revived.  The result was a release of a total of six books in 2009 (staggered from July to November) with charming silhouette pictures against pleasing pastel-shaded covers, creating a strong brand and making a literary impact.  These books are beautiful to look at, to hold and to read and sometimes I just want to caress them.  The quality is that good and pleasing to the eye inside and out, especially my Henrietta which boasts delightful sketches by the author.

I purchased two at the time, Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys and Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson, after reading about these on the blogosphere.  I became acquainted with
D. E. Stevenson via the blogosphere's praise of the sublime Persephone Books and after falling for the premise of Miss Buncle's Book.  Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing, I discovered Stevenson's Mrs Tim and, as with Miss Buncle, looked for and found that sequels were written!  It amazed me that such charming books have been forgotten but thanks to publishers such as Persephone and now Bloomsbury, these forgotten classics are being appreciated by a new generation.

Believe it or not, I have read neither of the two novels as I know (based on respected bloggers' reviews) that these two are going to be wonderful reads and I am trying to savour them.  Henrietta is waiting to be read very soon and after snooping around Amazon a few days ago, I discovered that the sequel is to be published as well!

According to Amazon UK, there are four lovely Bloomsbury Group novels set to be published this July.  The Bloomsbury Group page still shows the previous six novels but you can find information on the individual additions under the search button on their site.  They sport the same beautiful silhouette images but on a bolder colour cover, with the same recognisable branding of the Bloomsbury Group novels.

I am quite excited by these new novels as three of the four authors are favourites of mine.  I read Paul Gallico's Mrs Harris Goes to Paris when I was in high school and have fond memories of that novel.  I will love reading it again and will have the added bonus of reading Mrs Haris Goes to New York, which is also included in this edition.

Even more exciting is the prospect of an E. F. Benson novel!  I am a great fan of the Mapp and Lucia series as well as his wonderfully delicious Secret Lives.  I have Mrs Ames in a Hogarth imprint but am seduced by the Bloomsbury edition!

As mentioned above , Henrietta returns in Henrietta Sees it Through and I know that quite a few bloggers (myself included) will be pleased that Bloomsbury have decided to publish this sequel so soon after resurrecting the first book.

Lastly, Let's Kill Uncle, is by an author who is new to me... so another new discovery!  The plot sounds a little macabre but Bloomsbury promises that it's "playful, dark and witty... a surprising tale of two ordinary children who conspire to execute an extraordinary murder – and get away with it".  I'm intrigued.

I think I'll be ordering all four books come July, as they are too much of a temptation.  Oh the agony of waiting...