Sunday, 27 February 2011

High Wages: Initial Thoughts (Persephone Reading Weekend)

My first Whipple has proved to be an utterly charming read.  I'm 100 pages into the story and am absolutely captivated by Jane's independent mind, quiet determination and hunger for life.  Jane is almost nineteen and she is fortunate to secure a job as an assistant in a draper's shop in a market town in Lancashire.  There she makes friends with fellow assistant Maggie and her boyfriend Wilfrid, who works at the Free Library, and who develops a crush on Jane.  Wilfrid reintroduces Jane to the world of books and she finds her spirit and courage expanding through reading.  Jane also befriends Mrs Briggs, the wife of one of the partners of a cotton mill in the town, and we can see how the people around her are starting to shape her and open her up to a world that had previously appeared restricted.

I love the way Dorothy Whipple writes, the dialogue she uses and the dialects (which are not at all intrusive) that are sparingly interspersed.  She is skilled at painting a picture of a cotton mill town after the turn of the century and in portraying the different classes.  We are not only privy to Jane's thoughts but also to the thoughts of others in a higher social circle.

I can already tell that this book is going to be a favourite of mine.  It is evocative and entirely gripping.  I feel as though I am following Jane around during her morning duties or her ablutions at night.  I now finally understand the Whipple attraction and fully comprehend what other readers meant when they said that it was her writing style, rather than what actually occured, that captivated them.

I was hoping to have moved on to another Persephone today but I don't want to rush this beautiful book.  I want to savour it slowly and enjoy every minute that I spend in its company.  As the highly enjoyable Persephone Reading Weekend draws to a close I would like to thank all my fellow bloggers for such fantastic posts and recommendations.  And a special thank you to Claire and Verity for hosting yet another successful event.  It's been bliss!

Pop over to the Persephone Reading Weekend host blogs for interesting posts and fabulous competitions. Hosted by Claire and Verity.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Aesthetics of Persephone (Persephone Reading Weekend)

I must confess: I'm a little shallow when it comes to certain books, especially Persephone Books.  I pass judgement on appearances and texture, colour and font and I covet the book for its looks.  The content is sometimes secondary to considerations but I find that a beautiful Persephone boosts the reading experience and cements a memory of a happy reading session.

I felt this when I held Miss Buncle's Book in my hands for my first ever Persephone reading event.  It was smooth, it was substantial... the pages were clean and white and crisp.  It had a pleasant 'new book' smell inside - a signature scent particular to Persephone books - and it seemed to add to the pleasure of reading the text.

It was a tactile experience and a feast for the senses when I opened the smooth dove-grey covers to reveal a symphony of colour and pattern within.  It was a cosy read, thanks to
D. E. Stevenson, and Persephone made it even cosier by its exquisite taste in printers.

So thanks to that first experience, which is being repeated as I hold my first Whipple, I long to engage as many senses as often as I can.  A little shallow but I think I am among friends who understand...

Happy Persephone Reading!

Pop over to the Persephone Reading Weekend host blogs for interesting posts and fabulous competitions.  Hosted by Claire and Verity.

Friday, 25 February 2011

And the Winner is...

The draw for the Mapp and Lucia Vintage edition giveaway took place today at 09:55 UK time.  A number was assigned to each person who left a comment and the range entered into a random number generator.  The winning number is... lucky number 7....

CONGRATULATIONS DARLENE!  Please e-mail me at with your name and postal address so I can get your prize dispatched to you as soon as possible.

Thank you to everyone who participated and left such interesting and lovely comments!  Sadly, there can only be one winner but I hope that you will be able to get hold of a copy of Mapp and Lucia and be introduced to the wonderful world of Tilling!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Book Giveaway Reminder

A quick reminder for those of you who haven't entered yet that the giveaway closes this Thursday at 23:59 UK time.  I will draw a winner at random using a random numbers generator on Friday morning and will post the winner's name on my blog, so please do check back to see if you were lucky!

You can still enter by leaving a comment here - this giveaway is open to all and if you don't have a blog, please leave your e-mail address in the comments too.  Thank you to all who have left such kind and interesting comments so far.  Good luck!

Preparing for Persephone

Narcissus (1912) - John William Waterhouse

Persephone Reading Weekend is fast approaching and I have gathered the only unread Persephone Books that I have with me and thought that I'd share them with you.  I hope to make a start on the first book tomorrow so that a review will be ready by Friday.

My first selection is Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey.  This is a short novel (novella?) and should hopefully be a quick read to help jump-start the reading weekend.  It is described as a domestic comedy and revolves around a couple's wedding day.  I absolutely love these end-papers with the butterflies and subtle tones. 

Next, I hope to read Dorothy Whipple's High Wages and, being my first Whipple, I am really psyched about it.  I have heard such good things about this title from fellow bloggers so I look forward to following in the protagonist's footsteps in setting up her own gown shop.

And if there's still time, I might finally crack open my 1950 copy of Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski, which I was lucky to spot last year in a second-hand book shop.  It's a Persephone title that people have raved about and that deals with a man's search for his son who was lost in France during WWII.  It sounds like quite an emotional ride but I'm sure it'll be worthwhile... as long as I don't start blubbing.

So those are my selections and I hope I will get through most of them this week.  I look forward to seeing you all over at Claire and Verity's blogs to exchange thoughts, opinions and recommendations.

For those of you new to Persephone Reading Weekend, please do visit these blogs for more information and to participate... it's always so much fun and there are 10 Persephone books to be had as prizes as well as a special prize for Persephone first-timers.

What will you be reading?

Monday, 21 February 2011

In My Book Bag (1)

[In My Book Bag highlights library loans and book purchases (second-hand and new) that make their way into Rochester Reader HQ.]

This past week saw a trip to my local library and an outing to a couple of second-hand book stores.  The hauls are modest as I am trying to read through the books I have on my shelves although I am always tempted to bring back Viragos and other books that I know I probably won't get to read for a long while. 

First up are the second-hand books.  I found a Penguin edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark with a cover that I haven't seen before.  It has a photo of the beautiful and graceful Geraldine McEwan (a.k.a Lucia and Miss Marple) who played the titular role in a 1978 TV serial adaptation.  I've been wanting to read this for a long time and, quite frankly, given what a well-known book this is, I'm surprised that I haven't come to it sooner. 

I also picked up a new copy of Ellis Peters' A Morbid Taste for Bones as I remembered that it is the next title for the Cornflower Book Group.  It is the first novel of the Brother Cadfael mysteries.  I've only read one ages ago and it was half-way through the series but I enjoyed it.  I am also a fan of the Derek Jacobi adaptations so I think this may be an interesting read, especially as it's set in the beautiful Shropshire countryside during the middle ages.

Then there's a copy of The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot by Anne Hart, although I have a copy on the other side of the world!  This is a non-fiction book containing interesting nuggets of information about the famous sleuth.  It is now a little out-of-date in terms of  its list of screen adaptations but it is an excellent 'biography' of the detective and a great reference book for the enthusiast.  I thought I'd like to dip in and out of it during my Agatha Christie Challenge.

Next up are the three library books...  I picked up a copy of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers whilst I await my new copy to arrive in the post... just in case I get too itchy and simply have to immerse myself in Lord Peter Wimsey's world.  This is book two in the series and part of my As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge.

I also brought home Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale simply because I liked the title and I recall reading and enjoying his short stories in school.  It's an old Penguin edition and it appears to be regarded as Somerset Maugham's best novel which is "a delicious satire of London literary society between the Wars".  I really like the Vintage cover for this book (pictured above) - simple and elegant.

And finally, I was happy to spot a pretty Dover Thrift Edition of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.  I've been wanting to read Wharton for months ever since listening to an engaging BBC radio play of The Custom of the Country.  This book will fit nicely into my Classic Challenge.  I love the charming cover depicting various flowers and birds.  It reminds me of the Persephone endpapers and I thought that it might be taken from a fabric but the back cover informs me that it was designed by Teresa Delgado.  Sadly I couldn't find any information on this illustrator but I am quite looking forward to reading this book. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Serial Anticipations for 2011

08 - A Red Herring without Mustard (Flavia de Luce 3) - Alan Bradley
Still haven't started on this series but the first book got mostly favourable reviews by bloggers. 
22 - One of Our Thursdays is Missing (Thursday Next 6) - Jasper Fforde
I really enjoyed Fforde's first novel in this series (The Eyre Affair) when I read it last year so I am glad that there are now another five waiting to be read.  Witty sci-fi with a bit of mystery and lots of literary references thrown in, this is certainly worth reading.

03 - The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies' 12) - Alexander McCall Smith
I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency TV series and loved playing 'Spot the South African actors'.  The African backdrop was breath-taking and the series really took off after the pilot (the pilot had a few cringe-worthy moments!).  I am still not sure if this is an AMS that I'll enjoy or not as I have yet to dive in... but I'll take the plunge soon.  Any fans out there?
04 - Bones Under the Beach Hut (Fethering Mysteries 12) - Simon Brett
This is a light and breezy mystery series set in the South Downs in West Sussex (one of my favourite places) and I am glad that Brett continues with it, especially since he seems to be quite busy with talks and writing another series (Blotto, Twinks and...).  Looking forward to getting my hands on this one as I have exhausted all of the Fethering novels.

01 - A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs 7) - Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs is truely a treasure and an exemplarary female protagonist.  I have read up to book 5 so far but can't help gazing at this cover.  If you have not yet met Maisie, you're in for a treat.  The first novel is more psychological than mystery and deals with back stories and establishing her character but the books thereafter get better and better.  If you enjoy strong, independent heroines as well as reading and learning about the inter-war years, this is for you.

15 - The Complete Mapp & Lucia Volume One and Two - E. F. Benson [Wordsworth Classics]
What can I say about the Mapp and Lucia series that hasn't already been said by so many?  Please read them... they're great and this edition is attractive and very generously priced.

01 - A Conspiracy of Friends (Corduroy Mansions 3) - Alexander McCall Smith
Book 3 of McCall Smith's online serial novel from the Telegraph.  I tend not to read these online anymore as I like to go through it in book form.  It's still online if you'd like to read it here - plus Andrew Sachs also narrates these on the same site - available for download or as a podcast.

26 - A Bedlam of Bones (Francis Oughterard 5) - Suzette A. Hill
The latest exploits of the Rev. Francis Oughterard, Maurice the cat and Bouncer the dog.  This is an unusual mystery (although there isn't always one) that is very well written and witty.  Set in a 1950's Surrey, it has a very cosy feel to it despite the reverend's unexpected shenanigans.

09 - Rack, Ruin and Murder (Campbell and Carter 2) - Ann Granger
The first book in this series following two Cotswolds police officers was promising and it's taken two years for its sequel to appear.  It's a good read and fans of Ann Granger's other series should hopefully agree.

01 - The Herring on The Nile (Elsie and Ethelred 4) - L. C. Tyler
These are brilliant!  Light spoofs of golden age crime with wit, fun and quite a lot of deceit thrown in as you follow crime and romantic writer Ethelred Tressider and his opinionated agent Elsie Thirkettle.  I have enjoyed these immensely and look forward to this very Christie-like title.  The covers are always a delight!

01 - Heartless (Parasol Protectorate 4) - Gail Carriger
Ah... the Parasol Protectorate... this is a truly escapist, laugh-out-loud and grin from ear-to-ear read.  If you haven't read this series - please avoid reading any blurbs, reviews or write-ups on book sites as each book after book 1 contains big spoilers.  If you're looking for an entertaining read, pick this up.  It has paranormal elements and a parallel Victorian London but the prose is good and the author's humour is refreshing.

06 Sep - Pirate King (Mary Russell 11) - Laurie R. King
I've only read the first book so I have quite a few to look forward to.  This series has been growing from strength to strength and gathering a lot of fans.  It follows Holmes' apprentice and how their relationship and equal partnership develops.  Again, another series to be savoured in order.

06 - Unusual Uses of Olive Oil (von Igelfeld 4) - Alexander McCall Smith
Another AMS!  The advent of this book has been announced by the author and his publishers for years now and the publication date keeps getting pushed back.  Fingers crossed this will be the year.  I've listened to the first two instalments of the wacky Prof. von Igelfeld's adventures narrated superbly by the multi-talented Hugh Laurie.  Highly recommended in audiobook form!  Laurie's various foreign accents are side-splitting if sometimes a little wonky.  His English, though, is smooth and silky.

11 - The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie 8) - Alexander McCall Smith
Isabel Dalhousie - sleuth or nosy parker?  Set in a beautifully-evoked Edinburgh, this is not really a crime mystery but AMS' philosophical ramblings and love-letters to Edinburgh keep me coming back for more.

What series books do you follow and what are you looking forward to in 2011?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Keeping Calm...

I'm quite fond of the Keep Calm and Carry On WWII posters that were 'rediscovered' a couple of years ago and have since been everywhere.  It's a great credo to live by in difficult times and I have a teal poster on my wall above my desk, thanks to my dear friend T. who reminds me to KCACO in times of stress.

Recently I've seen Keep Calm and Drink Tea (so pertinent and such good advice!) on a few blogs and this led me to investigate some other Keep Calm variations that might apply to me. Here are a few that I found at the etsy Keep Calm Shop that I think are applicable to this blog and that might strike a chord with fellow bloggers and readers.  If you pop by the shop you'll find a plethora of different sayings in a large selection of beautiful colours.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

New Collections of Mapp & Lucia and a Giveaway!

I was very happy to discover these new editions of the Mapp and Lucia sextet recently.  They're only due to be published on the 15th April but at a super-economical retail price of £1.99 (and currently on pre-order at the Book Depository at £1.49), I thought it was worth a mention.

Wordsworth Classics have always striven to provide access to classic literature at an affordable price and I'm so glad that these witty tales have been added to their illustrious ranks.

I quite like the cover art as it appears to depict the river in Rye (a.k.a. Tilling in some of the novels).  The first volume reminds me of Lucia's first home in Tilling, Grebe, located among the marshes and the second volume appears to be a view of the canal from a vantage point in the town.

I'm tempted to buy these, even though I have the lovely Black Swan paperbacks, the Penguin volumes and the exquisite Folio edition (an extra birthday present from a very special friend).  Naughty, I know, but at such a wonderful price I think I might not feel guilty for too long.

So... as a celebration of the enduring appeal of Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels (and as a belated blog birthday gift), I'm holding a Giveaway. The prize is a brand new copy of the gorgeous recently published Vintage edition of Mapp and Lucia.

To entice those of you new to Mapp and Lucia, the blurb below (from the Prion edition) gives a humorous outline of the series and this book is an excellent place to begin:

"Mapp and Lucia is the centrepiece of E.F. Benson's series of Lucia novels - bringing together for the first time the eponymous middle-aged doyennes of polite 1930s society, Miss Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia to her friends).

Lucia, recently widowed, is the newcomer to the village of Tilling and eager to wrest the reins of social supremacy from the incumbant Miss Mapp and install herself as its benevolent dictator. In their polite acts of sabotage and ruthless jockeying for the position of cultural arbiter Mapp and Lucia tear up the conventions of drawing-room bridge evenings as their deadly weapons.

Things finally come to a head with Miss Mapp's audacious attempt to steal her rival's celebrated Lobster a la Riseholme. E.F. Benson's charming satrical bent turns the pretensions and snobberies of English village life into a vicious comedy."

Anyone can enter - whether you'd like to read M&L for the first time, simply covet this edition or would like to add it to the rest of your collection - everyone is welcome!  To enter, please leave a comment and I will hold a random draw on Friday, 25 February 2011. I am happy to post anywhere in the world (to be fulfilled by the Book Depository) so please don't hesitate. Good luck!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

"As My Whimsy Takes Me" Reading Challenge

I read Dorothy L. Sayers' first Lord Peter Wimsey novel this year for the first time (review to follow soon) and I loved it!  Prior to that, I was already a great fan of the BBC's radio adaptations of her novels starring the wonderfully charismatic Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. I also had the great pleasure of viewing the three television adaptations with the graceful Edward Petherbridge and the admirable Harriet Walter.  I therefore resolved to make my way through the whole of the Lord Peter books in chronological order. There are only 11 complete novels and 4 short story collections but I thought that it would be fun to set up an informal challenge. This will hopefully keep me focussed and will also serve as a place for a review of each book as I complete it. 

If you'd like to join me, the more the merrier! Help yourself to the button above and link your reviews and/or posts back to this page ( as well as a comment at that page so I can add your review.  You will find updates at that link or you can click on the page above (in the menu bar) entitled "As My Whimsy Takes Me".

Update: I've added a Mister Linky to the "As My Whimsy Takes Me" Challenge page to keep track of participants.  Please pop over to add your name.

You can join me in a chronological reading/re-reading of the books or just dip in and out during the year.  It's quite informal but a review of the books you read would be appreciated.

I hope to learn a lot more about Lord Peter - and to savour the wit and intelligence of Sayers' prose - by reading these novels. I look forward to sharing thoughts and opinions with you and to enjoy a crime writer who has so far elluded me.
Dorothy L. Sayers

Books (in order of publication):

1. Whose Body? (1923)
2. Clouds of Witness (1926)
3. Unnatural Death (1927)
4. Lord Peter Views the Body (1928) [Short Story Collection]
5. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
6. Strong Poison (1930)
7. Five Red Herrings (1931)
8. Have His Carcase (1932)
9. Hangman's Holiday (1933) [Short Story Collection incl. non-Wimsey stories]
10. Murder Must Advertise (1933)
11. The Nine Tailors (1934)
12. Gaudy Night (1935)
13. Busman's Honeymoon (1937)
14. In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939) [Short Story Collection incl. non-Wimsey stories]
15. Striding Folly (1972)

Optional (books by Jill Paton Walsh):

16. Thrones, Dominations (1998) [unfinished manuscript completed by Jill Paton Walsh]
17. A Presumption of Death (2002)
18. The Attenbury Emeralds (2010)

Ian Carmichael as Wimsey and Glyn Houston as Bunter (circa 1972)

Duke Of Denver: Armorial Bearings

Arms: sable, three mice courant argent
Crest: A domestic cat, crouched to spring, proper
Supporters: Two Saracens armed, proper
Motto: I Hold by my Whimsy or As my Whimsy Takes Me
Badge: a noose
Source for above:

 Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey (circa 1987)

Monday, 14 February 2011

A Big Hug to All My Lovely Readers

May you have a soothing cup of what you fancy and a very cosy read.  Have a great day!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mrs Ames

Mrs Ames is a delightful novel dealing with the dynamics of married life and the usual social one-upmanships that have been wittily portrayed in Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels.  However, this novel delves into the more serious topic of marital infidelity and Benson's touch is therefore more sympathetic and introspective.  Published in 1912, it predates the first of the highly popular Mapp and Lucia novels by eight years but one can already see Benson's trademark observances of day-to-day petty preoccupations and rivalries between neighbours.

This novel is set in a hilly Kentish village named Riseborough and we are introduced to a group of characters (indeed mostly all married couples) who are largely retired and who fill their days with the three G's: golf, gardening and gossip - and relentless stabs at social supremacy.  The undisputed doyenne of the village social scene is Mrs Amy Ames, a fifty-something lady married to a Major ten years her junior.  With a son at Cambridge, and obscure connections to royalty, Mrs Ames sets an example which all follow... until the recently arrived doctor's wife, the dubiously shy Mrs Evans, takes an interest in Major Lyndhurst Percy Ames and unintentionally begins to usurp the throne.

The book opens sedately on a scene of domestic life between perhaps the only couple in the book who are truly comfortable and happy with each other.  It proceeds at a gentle pace as we are acquainted with the main characters and tension slowly begins to build as events unfold.  I found Benson's treatment of middle-age quite touching as he seems to understand women's preoccupation with greying hair, wrinkles and so on and Mrs Ames' endeavours to turn back the clock were humorously though sympathetically portrayed.  Indeed, all of the main woman characters are quite solidly portrayed whereas the men appear a little more like caricatures and regarded with greater mirth.  It is a tribute to his writing that I started out liking all the characters (whilst having luke-warm feelings about Mrs Ames) but by the middle of the novel I could not stand Mrs Evans and was wholly on Mrs Ames' side!

There are quite a few surprises in this book - for its time - such as a comic portrayal of a suffragette uprising and one or two schemes that go awry, including a farcical fancy dress party.  The novel is delivered in beautiful prose - such as I have come to expect from Benson - and is peppered with witty phrases and portraits.  This is not of the same sharp quality of the Mapp and Lucia novels but it is a worthy read.  If you are new to E. F. Benson, and are not sure if this is your cup of tea, I would highly recommend starting with Mapp and Lucia or even his excellent stand-alone novel Secret Lives, before acquanting yourself with the indomitable Mrs Ames.