Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Persephone Biannually Spring/Summer 2011

Cover: Alice Ashley on a Green Seat by Donald Towner (1937)

It's arrived!  Well in the UK at least and a very good friend has sent it winging its way to me in Africa.  I should have it in my hot little hands in 5 working days along with the colourful book mark that goes with The Sack of Bath.  The Biannually is one of the few catalogues I look forward to receiving and I find it such a shame that Persephone no longer publish it on a quarterly basis (alas, I never experienced the anticipation of receiving the Quarterly as I only learned of Persephone Books a few years ago).
I love the cover of this Biannually... a lady sitting outside on a comfy swing seat doing her knitting whilst having a newspaper on her lap and a book beside her... a glass of lemonade nearby with an opened letter next to it... is it news from a dear friend?  Such a relaxing and tranquil scene that lends itself to a story.

Some of the items that I look forward to reading in this edition include articles Persephone in Sicily and Battered Bath: the Case for Freezing a City, as well as an article by Maureen Lipman.  There is a short story entitled The Real Thing by Diana Athill and info on the three books for Spring/Summer:

Miss Buncle, Married by D. E. Stevenson
Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill
The Sack of Bath by Adam Fergusson

Forthcoming events that I wish I could attend include an afternoon walk in Bath, a lunch talk with Felicity Jones (star of the film adaptation of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding) and the good news that Persephone are reviving 'Possibly Persephone' which is being held on 25 May and where you can put forward suggestions for future Persephones!

I hope that they will eventually publish ALL of Dorothy Whipple's novels as I so enjoyed High Wages that I have a feeling she is going to become a favourite author.  I wish I could get hold of a beautiful Persephone copy of Miss Buncle, Married - which is silly since I have a 1970's paperback with me here.  Sadly it just doesn't feel as luxurious as a Persephone... I may read it yet and I hope that it is as good as the first novel.

Have you received your Biannually yet and what are you looking forward to reading?  Have you placed an order for any of the new publications?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

High Wages

I finished this beautiful Persephone book early last month as part of Persephone Reading Week and have been meaning to share my verdict for quite a while.  The plot and my initial thoughts on the novel are chronicled here.  This novel has been a perfect introduction to Dorothy Whipple and this is now one of my favourite Persephones.

It is a charming, heart-warming read with enough daily ruptures and minor occurrences to keep things interesting.  The main protagonist, Jane, is a worthy heroine - head-strong, independent, hungry for knowledge and graced with a kind heart.  The novel started off very cosily with Jane fortuitously securing a position at a draper's and we learn of her ambition to own her own clothing store.  The characters surrounding Jane are all realistically and skilfully drawn so that you feel as though you are right there with Jane.
The book progresses through Jane's friendships and her ultimate independence but then it takes an unusual turn with an unexpected and complicated romance.  I wasn't too sure about Jane's choice (I can't say more or I'll ruin the surprise element) and I found myself feeling quite anxious for her and hoping that she would come to her senses.  There is also one character who appears a little creepy in the beginning but he improves as the novel progresses, although I think that Whipple was a bit harsh with him by inflicting quite an injury.  Whipple certainly manipulated my emotions towards the end, which just goes to show what a superb writer she is.

I find myself wanting to read more Whipple but I am without any other of her novels... I must try to remedy that.  I have a copy of Someone at a Distance in the UK (the beautiful Persephone Classics edition) but I fear that I shall be in for constant heart tugging with that one.  Any suggestions on what should be my next Whipple fix?

Dorothy Whipple

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Travelling Matchmaker

Being a fan of M. C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Edwardian Murder Mysteries series, I thought that the attractively reissued novels from the Travelling Matchmaker series might be fun.  These were originally issued under the pseudonym of Marion Chesney in the 1990s but have recently been reissued by Constable Robinson this year.  I started with the first in the series of 6 novels.

These novels follow the matchmaking (or meddling) adventures of Miss Hannah Pym, a housekeeper of the 1800s, who inherits a substantial sum of money after her employer passes away.  Miss Pym has always dreamt of travelling on the Flying Machine - the stagecoach - and realises her fantasy once she finds herself a gentlewomen of independent means.

Each book appears to deal with a different heroine that Miss Pym encounters on her travels and your usual dashing male hero.  The first novel is fairly light with a few touches of humour and the prose is superior to some of Beaton's current Agatha Raisin offerings but I found it a little predictable.  I was also disappointed not to actually read much about Exeter as most of the novel is set in an inn en route to that town.

On the whole, not a bad novel and probably a decent low-key historical romance but without much substance and certainly without the whimsy that I anticipated.  There were nuggetts of historical information about travelling in England in the 19th century as well as inteteresting descriptions of dress and household concerns.  It was a quick, undemanding read that helped pass the time whilst waiting to been seen to in hospital (just a routine appointment for my Mom).  I'm not sure if I'll follow the series through as I read this more for the ambience of the titular towns but I doubt that much of the books actually deliver in this regard.  I was particularly looking forward to getting to the second book, Belinda goes to Bath, but alas that also appears to be thin on the Bath front.  I read this on my Sony Reader after purchasing it from Amazon at a discounted price... a nice way to try out an unfamiliar series.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Manna from Hades

Set in a fictional north-Cornish village, with a pseudo-sixties timeline, this cosy mystery novel is the first book in a new series by prolific author Carola Dunn.  This novel introduces us to Eleanor Trewynn, a widow who previously travelled the world working for an international charity, who has returned to Cornwall and has settled in the picturesque village of Port Mabyn.  Eleanor lives above a charity shop with her charming West Highlands terrier Teazle and spends her days driving around her corner of Cornwall collecting donations and items to sell in the charity shop.
Port Isaac, Cornwall

It is during one of these outings that she discovers that a briefcase filled with jewellery has been deposited in her car.  Later she discovers the body of a teenager in the charity shop's storeroom and realises that the briefcase is gone, although she had the foresight to stow away the jewellery in her own safe.  The mystery revolves around identifying the victim and unravelling the motive for murder, not to mention the mystery behind the generous donation of jewellery.

This is a smooth, comforting read with enough references to Cornish places to please and create the appropriate atmosphere.  It is peopled with likeable characters such as the indomitable vicar's wife, the dotty vicar, a witty artist as a next-door-neighbour and Eleanor's niece, Megan, who works for the Cornish Police in Launceston.  The grumpy Superintendent Scumble's frustration and sarcasm in dealing with Eleanor's constant forgetfulness and woolly thinking raises a few chuckles.  We are also reminded that women police officers were not the norm at that time and it is interesting to observe how Megan deals with prejudice and misogyny as she goes about her duties.

The adorable dog Teazle is beautifully drawn and her antics and personality shine through.  I found the dialogue and description of the countryside and people's movements and day-to-day tasks quite evocative and I found it an enjoyable read.  The only criticism I have is that Eleanor's constant lack of locking doors and her revealing information to the police piece-meal was a bit irritating, especially since you are several pages into the novel and you just want to shout at her to get on with it and tell the police about the pertinent clues she found but forget to mention.  I found that this stretched my patience a bit but it did eventually get better.

I read this novel as part of the Read Cornwall challenge devised by the lovely Fleur Fisher and will be seeking out the second instalment in the series.  Although it's set in the sixties, without mobile phones and other modern-day conveniences, I found that it worked quite well and I did picture myself in Cornwall throughout, which is a lovely bonus.

Friday, 1 April 2011

March Roundup

Man Reading - John Singer Sargent

Manic March is over and I fortunately managed to complete a few books towards the end of the month.  Poor Pickwick is still on my bedside table awaiting another reading session but I did manage to read my second Lord Peter Whimsy novel to add to the As My Whimsy Takes Me challenge.  I also took part in Cornflower's Book Group for the first time by reading the first Brother Cadfael novel by Ellis Peters. 

I acquired a lovely midnight-blue Sony Reader in the middle of the month which has been a boon in terms of enabling me to read novels that I am finding difficult (or too expensive) to acquire here in South Africa.  The McCall Smith novel was my first ebook read on this device and I was quite impressed!  This won't replace the luxury of books but it is invaluable when you are struggling to get hold of a book that you've been pining for.  And it's great to take with me on long journeys.

So not a fantastic month for me but not bad... certainly better than this time last year.  There just aren't enough reading hours in the day!

The books:

1. High Wages - Dorothy Whipple
2. Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers
3. The Charming Quirks of Others - Alexander McCall Smith
4. A Morbid Taste for Bones - Ellis Peters