Monday, December 24, 2007

A Lengthy Proposition.... and Jane Eyre

Well, long time no post. My apologies, but I have been caught up in life so to speak! Last weekend was our first wedding anniversary and we were busy celebrating that - but for the bulk of my absence I blame the ABC that waited until the end of the year to put all the good TV shows on.....The Vicar of Dibley, Monarchy, Beau Brummel, The Wind in the Willows have all been calling my name, leaving less time for reading and blogging. And tonight one of my absolute favourites - the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is on at 8:30....I just hope we get home from church in time.

Anyway, I have read a few books in the last couple of weeks which I want to briefly comment on. I saw Debs at War by Anne De Courcy yonks ago in a bookshop in Leura in the Blue Mountains. I was very tempted to buy it then, but held off - finally succumbing and buying it off the Book Depository. I am glad I did, because I enjoyed it. It is part of my pledge to my husband to read more non-fiction.

De Courcy starts off looking at what growing up in a privileged household was like in the 1920s, then how the girls made their debut into polite society. Then she looks at the options of war work available to the young women....the land army, the waafs, the Fany's, the ATS and factory work. I agreed with the sentiment of the girls that joined the waafs because of their nice uniform. I could see myself doing the same......the land army and ATS would definitely be out because I hate to get dirty. I found Debs at War a valuable read because it has provided me with an historical background for the many novels I read that are set in WW2. I will be on the look out for more of De Courcy's writing in the future.

Another non-fiction read was John Waller's The Real Oliver Twist - Robert Blincoe: A Life that Illuminates a Violent Age. I have had a newspaper cutting about The Real Oliver Twist pinned to my pin-up board since it was reviewed in The Australian last year. Still, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. I am gradually coming to the conclusion that I enjoy reading history books as long as they are domestic or social in nature.

Robert Blincoe was an orphan abandoned to St Pancreas Workhouse in the late 1790s. In an effort to cut down the cost of maintaining all the children in the workhouse, its governors started apprenticing them to trades - chimney sweeps and factory work. At age 7, Robert was apprenticed to a cotton mill in the north of England (when the original one closed he was indentured to another close by) . There he was physically abused, malnourished and worked half to death in very dangerous conditions. At age 21, with virtually no skills and a body twisted and deformed from the hard labour and poor food he was sent out into the world. What makes Robert an unusual parish apprentice is that he succeeded to make something of himself - rising to be solidly middle class. Yet, he did not forget those less fortunate than himself. He championed the rights of the young children working in factories... lobbying for ten hour days and educational rights. And, he saw his son go to Cambridge and become an Anglican rector....not many parish apprentices achieved that!

Another read (a very quick one) was Gerald Durrell's Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons. This is about his adventures in Mauritius trying to capture endangered species including skinks and pink pigeons. Durrell, as always, writes in a fun, witty style which means you just rollick through enjoying the story. I managed to pick this up in St Vinnie's for I am sure you could find a copy at a charity shop without a problem.

Finally......and I have saved the best for last! How could I not have read this before? I am in complete horror that we didn't have this as a set text in high school - at a girls' school too. I have just read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I was inspired to read it because ABC was showing the film adaptation and I always like to read the book before I watch the film. It is just brilliant. I think Jane is a spunky, inspiring heroine. This is definitely going down as one of my favourite reads ever!

Well, that wraps up my reading reports here. I can start posting afresh in the new year. I will be taking a break for a week as we are off to the Blue Mountains to relax in a cottage for a week. We are taking our darling dogs with that relaxing descriptor might not be the most accurate.

Anyhow, I want to take this opportunity to wish my readers a wonderful and blessed Christmas. Travel safely if you are going away and I hope to hear from you in the new year.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

All Passion Spent

I have finished reading All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I don't want to say too much here as I am keen to join in the discussion over on Cornflower on the 15th of December. The book is wonderful and I would encourage anyone who hasn't read it to scout out a copy. The plot is basic - 90 year old Lady Slane's husband dies and, for the first time in her life she decides to do exactly what she wants to do, and retires to a tiny house in Hampstead. She is surrounded by a cast of wonderful characters: her bossy and disaproving offspring, her French maid (Genoux), her landlord (Bucktrout) and an eccentric millionaire who loved her when she was young (Mr FitzGeorge). Oh, but the writing is beautiful and Sackville-West captures human frailty so well. One passage that appealed to me (probably because I often find myself in precisely this situation at work):

She had always taken an enormous amount of trouble to disguise her ignorance from Henry. In the end she had learnt to succeed quite well, and he would disburdern himself of his political perplexities wiithout the slightest suspicion that his wife had long since lost the basis of his argument. She was secretly and bitterly ashamed of her insufficiency. But what was to be done about it? She could not, no, she simply could not, remember why Mr. Asquith disliked Mr. Lloyd George, or what exactly were the aims of Labour, that new and alarming Party. The most that she could do was to conceal her ignorance, while she scrambled round frenziedly in her brain for some recollected scrap of associated information that would enable her to make some adequate reply.

I also did some cooking during the week. I made MommyCoddle's granola recipe. The second time I have done so. It is just delicious. I like having it with greek yoghurt and fresh berries. It makes a great start to the day.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have decorated the house for Christmas. I thought I would share a picture of our Christmas tree.

And, because we finally got a picture of our dogs TOGETHER (very difficult) I will share that too. Abby is the one on my lap and Monty is seated in front - looking a little stunned!

Well, I am off to have lunch and then indulge in a lazy afternoon with my latest read Debs at War by Anne De Courcy. I am about half way through and it is brilliant (my kind of history book). But, more on that later.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Weekend Ramblings

We had a brilliant weekend here, though not much reading got done. We had a theatrical bonanza on Saturday. First we went to see the Sydney Symphony perform the film music of John Williams. The first half of the programme featured music from, inter alia, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jurrasic Park and E.T.. I loved the violin solo from Schindler's List, and now I really want to see the movie. The second half was solely music from the Star Wars films.

Then in the evening we went to see the Australian Ballet perform The Nutcracker. The Australian Ballet has purchased the rights to the coreography, sets and costumes from the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I absolutely loved the ballet, and if the whole season wasn't sold out would be going to see it again. The costumes were amazing, and the sets sumptuous. And, of course, the dancing brilliant. I might be biased (as she is a fellow West Australian), but I thought Madeline Eastoe as the Sugar Plum Fairy was amazing!

We also got into the festive spirit and put up our Christmas tree, nativity scene and christmas candles. I love Christmas!! I know that you technically are supposed to put up the tree on Christmas Eve and take it down on Epiphany, but 12 days of decorations aren't enough for me; so I favour putting it up at the start of Advent!

I have finished reading the final Maisie Dobbs - Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear. As I have come to expect it was a good read. Maisie investigates the murder of artist Nick Bassington-Hope - well known for painting provocative scenes of real people.
I am now reading All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West for Cornflower's book group. I am about half way through and it is brilliant! Can't wait to join the forum to discuss it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Open Book...

And, finally, though I know that three postings in one night are a little excessive, but I do like to be on top of my read books pile! Anyway, I haven’t posted in over a week so I am in deficit overall! I have just finished An Open Book – the autobiography of Monica Dickens. If you have visited this blog before then you probably know that I love Monica’s writing. This is written in the same easy style. It traces her life from her parent’s home in London, to school at St Paul’s, her time as a Cook General, wartime service as a Nurse and in factory work, a five year period where she lived alone in the country, and finally her marriage and new life in America with her US navy husband, Roy.

Monica’s family seem to feature the same cast of eccentric characters as inhabit her books. Consequently, I found this a really quick, enjoyable read. There were lots of references to her work, providing context as to why she had written about a particular setting, or a particular theme. I kept yelping while I read because she would tell a story and I would be sure I knew in which book it appeared! And, as an interesting aside, she wrote One Pair of Hands in the space of three weeks. How’s that for speed writing.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

I saw Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont last year when it came out in the cinemas. The first thing that appealed to me about the film was its title – I went to school in a suburb called Claremont! Anyway, I found the film just delightful and, when I discovered the book of the same name, I was keen to read it. Fast forward a year, and my copy arrives from Book Depository. I dived straight in.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was written by Elizabeth Taylor. (oh, and I note another of her books has been made into a film and is showing now – Angel ). Mrs Palfrey moves to a hotel in London – The Claremont – when her husband dies. At the hotel are a number of other long term elderly residents. The outlook from hotel is bleak, the quality of the company questionable and the food is awful – there does not seem to be much for Mrs Palfrey to look forward to. That is, until she takes a tumble outside the door of Ludo’s basement flat. Ludo is an aspiring writer who becomes her surrogate grandson; invited to meals at the Claremont and doted on. The relationship is cemented to such an extent that, Mrs Palfrey having introduced Ludo to the other Claremont residents as her grandson, when Mrs Palfrey’s real grandson visits the Claremont the other residents turf him out as an impostor!

The book is just beautiful; sad in parts, but poignantly happy in others. Elizabeth Taylor is an exquisite writer and I definitely plan to read more of her work. Still, the novel left me thinking about what old age means when you are alone and I was reminded of a quote from the 1960s film The Trouble with Angels which stared Haley Mills. After visiting an old people’s home at Christmas the young Haley Mill’s character says to Mother Superior “I want to die young, and very, very wealthy”. Well I don’t want to die young, but I am not sure being the last one standing is all that desirable either!

Hester's Story

My Mum bought me Hester’s Story by Adele Geras when we went to a recent trash and treasure in a nearby village. She thought I would enjoy it because it is about a ballet dancer; and I do ballet. My enforced absence from my blog over the last week and a bit has actually been because of ballet – as I was very busy in the lead up to my ballet school’s concert. Hester’s story oscillates between two time periods: Hester’s youth in the 1930s/1940s and the mid 1980s. Hester (real name Estelle) was born in France where her mother, a ballet dancer, died giving birth to her. Her Father despised her, blaming her for her mother’s death. She did, however, have a very treasured relationship with her Grandmother – who raised her.

At age 6 her Father sends her to live in England with her Mother’s cousin, who has a daughter of a similar age. She is very unhappy there, until a strange Russian woman moves into an old house on the village edge. It turns out that the woman is ballet teacher and, after discovering Hester’s innate talent, commits to teaching her free of charge. Eventually, when she is 14 Madame Olga gets Hester a placement at a London ballet company, where she rises to be a principal. Her achievements are compromised when she begins an affair with a married patron of the ballet company and falls pregnant.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Hester is now retired and running an annual ballet festival (in Madame Olga’s old house). Each Christmas one choreographer is invited to come and stage a work. This year it is Hugo Carradine and his company. He is involved with Claudia, his prima ballerina; though their relationship is fraught. Actually, Claudia is a singularly nasty piece of work and behaves appallingly towards her daughter – who has accompanied her. It soon becomes clear that the past and present are very strongly intertwined. And there I must stop or I will give away the ending!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Short Life & Long Times of Mrs Beeton

I have wanted to read The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton for quite a while. For some reason Mrs Beeton has always been an historical characterthat appealed to me. So, when I spotted a virtually untouched copy of thebook by Kathryn Hughes in the window of a second hand bookshop, I just hadto snap it up. I do not normally read historical non-fiction; and I am muchslower at reading it than I am at novel reading - save, Lady Chatterley's Lover where the dense writing took me an age to plough through. Anyhow,to the book...

Isabel Mayson married Sam Beeton in 1857 He gave her syphilis on their honeymoon - how generous! Sam had worked in publishing since he was a young teenager and, by the time of his marriage, was publishing a number of magazines including the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. Soon after their marriage, Isabel became an active contributor to the magazine editing the cooking and fashion sections. Isabel suffered a seriesof miscarriages and lost her first little boy at only a few months of age (all symptoms of the syphilis from which she was, unknowingly, suffering). It was around this time that Sam suggested (perhaps as a distraction) that Isabel compile a book of household hints. Compile is the right word here because the book was copied either verbatim or with very loose paraphrasing from existing references. Occasionally, passing acknowledgement was given to the information's original source but, for the most part, Isabel's resources went unacknowledged. Originally the book was published in parts and it was only after Isabel's death at the age of 28 (in childbirth) that it was published as a complete volume.

One of the recurring themes in the book was class. Isabel Beeton's grandparents came from working class backgrounds. By the time Isabelwas born her grandparents and hence parents had made it solidly into thelower middle class. Her father died when Isabel was only 5 and her mother remarried - Mr Dorling, a man who was up-and-coming in the racing world. Mr Dorling's skill in managing the Epsom racetrack brought the family considerable wealth and improved their social status to such an extent that they became 'upper middle class'. Isabel's grandmother had worked in the family business, but her mother did not (a mark of her class). In marrying Sam and, by necessity,working in his business Isabel was perceived by her family to have slipped in social standing. But, Kathryn Hughes points out that it was precisely this 'slip' that allowed Isabel to use her talents in writing and finance (she was the money manager for Sam's business).

Interestingly, given its lasting fame, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was not an instant hit. Indeed, when Sam became bankrupt and had to sell off his titles in the late 1860s he seems not to have placed any value on Mrs Beeton's book. It was only about 20 years after it was written, and a number of appendages later, that the book began to be as recognised as it is today.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Uncommon Reader

Another book I picked up from The Book Depository was Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader. I was going to ask for this for a Christmas present but the rave reviews it has been getting over the blogosphere meant I couldn’t wait another 6 weeks to read it. I took it on the train on Friday, after being chastised by my Military Man for not finishing Mrs Beeton first, and finished it by half way through the trip home. I don’t think there is much point giving a lengthy plot summary here since the story is reasonably well known. In essence, the Queen stumbles across a visiting library van in the palace grounds, borrows a book (to be polite), gets bitten by the reading bug and then, much to the concern of those around her, neglects her royal duties because they interfere with her desire to read. The Uncommon Reader is a novella; brief and to the point, but oh so utterly charming.

Continuing with the Alan Bennet theme we went to see Talking Heads last night. This followed a very busy day….a dress rehearsal for my ballet concert started at 8am and didn’t finish until 2pm, then a rush to the North Shore for a cocktail party to celebrate my old school’s centenary, followed by an apologetic early departure to speed into town for Talking Heads. This version of Talking Heads comprised two monologues: Her Big Chance and Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet. Sigrid Thornton (of SeaChange and The Man From Snowy River) starred in Her Big Chance which is about a woman, Lesley, who clings to the memory of being a glorified extra in a Polanski film while becoming deeply involved in the adult porn industry. English actress Brenda Blethyn starred in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet - which was just brilliant! She played a spinster who has an unusual relationship with her chiropodist, Mr Dunderdale. Her comic timing was fantastic; such a privilege to be in the audience.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Gentle Art of Domesticity

I placed my first Book Depository order last week. I must say I have been very impressed with them. Not only are the books cheaper than here (even after converting from British Pounds to Australian Dollars), but the order arrived extremely promptly. I did receive one quite damaged book but their customer service department has been excellent and they have committed to sending me a fresh copy.

One of the books I ordered was The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brockett. I visit Jane’s blog regularly and had to dive straight in when this arrived. Never mind, that I was halfway through The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton! Jane delights in the joy that the pursuit of the ‘gentle arts’ can bring. Now, I am not that crafty. I love looking at what other people create and am sorely tempted to have a go myself but my perfectionist streak holds me back; I am too concerned that I will make a mistake and my project won’t turn out to my satisfaction (the same reason I find it hard to keep a written journal). But Jane shows in her book that we all have abilities in this area and that the joy is in the process of creation and not necessarily the outcome. I have been inspired; now I have conquered how to thread my sewing machine next stop is a quilt! I should also like to regain my knitting skills. Not that there are many skills to regain as I have only ever known how to plain and purl, but one has to start somewhere. I did quite a bit of knitting when I did a study abroad in the US – the Chaplain ran a program called Craftwork / Soulwork which I attended. My Nanna was the one who taught me to knit as I patiently plain stitched a jumper for my Teddy when I was nine – and then promptly gave the art-form up!

Before you leave this blog thinking that Jane’s book is solely about craft, I must point that she addresses the domestic arts in all their forms - baking, gardening and decorating. She draws on films, poetry, domestic novels, and artwork to support her beautiful prose. Oh, and the pictures are just delightful. They are so vibrant and full of colour that I want to step into them. I really loved this book and was sad to finish it. I am sure it will be coming off the shelf on a regular basis to give me joy, comfort and inspiration, and add a splash of colour to my life! And now, I am off to put some of those domestic skills into practice sewing black sequins on to a white tutu.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Art, Ballet and a Book.....

Well we had a busy weekend, spending Saturday in the city where we tackledthe Christmas shopping. I generally enjoy shopping, but buying presentsfor vast quantities of people becomes traumatic! Let's just say, lots of people are getting books this Christmas.

We went to see Translucent at the NSW Art Gallery, as it was ending yesterday. It was an exhibition of jade carvings from China's Forbidden City. The carvings were amazing. Some dated back from 3000 BC. I particularly likedthe carved animals of the 18th century. There was a gorgeous carving of a dog which apparently resulted from the obsession of the Chinese of that period with all things European, as the dog is of a breed not native to China. I also appreciated the detail of 'nature' as presented in the medieval pieces - the maple leaves, for instance, were so beautiful and dainty.

In the evening we saw the Australian Ballet perform Destiny. A celebration of the dance of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, the evening comprised two ballets: Les Presages and Symphonie Fantastique. Les Presages was a recreation of the 1933 ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine. Set to the music ofTchaikovsky it was spectacular and I loved it, which is unusual as I usually prefer ballets of the romantic era. I particularly coveted the pink and blue leotard dresses of two of the leads. The Symphonie Fantastique ballet was created specially for the occasion (though the Ballet Russes did perform a ballet of the same name). The music was that of Berlioz. I thought it was very clever; particularly the synchronous movements of the dancers used in several sections but, overall, it did not hold as much appeal for me as Les Presages. As a side note, I highly recommend the Ballet Russes documentary that was released last year.

I did manage to fit in a bit of reading too. At my husband's urging I read Undiplomatic Activities by Richard Woolcott. This is a bit outside my normal reading scope - I don't read much non-fiction. Woolcott was an Australian career diplomat; who ended up as Head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For the most part, this short book is a collection of humorous anecdotes about awry diplomatic incidents. However, it is complemented byWoolcott's cautionary commentary. I think an extract serves best to give a flavour of the book:

Ministers need to accept the limitations that Australia, as a middle-power, faces in the international community. John Howard's criticism of American Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's approach to Iraq in 2007 was certainly unwise and suggests a sense of self-importance somewhat at odds with reality. Downer has a sense of humour and describes criticism of him as like 'rubber bullets of a Sherman tank'. In some cases, however, it might have been helpful to him and to the country to have taken some notice of the so-called rubber bullets.

I am reminded of two revealing historical episodes. When told of Russian naval activity in the Pacificic before the Russian revolution, a minister was quoted as saying, 'I warn the Tsar'. A British foreign secretary, taking it for granted that London was at the very centre of the world, responded to reports of damage to the undersea cables between England and France during a fierce storm in the Channel, by saying that, 'unfortunately the Continent has been isolated'. A failure to adopt a realistic perspective of a nation's place in world affairs can leave one sounding rather foolish.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Provincial Lady

Well I have completed my reading of all four of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady's books and have enjoyed them. They provide a very witty social commentary of the times. Doing a bit of research today on the internet I discovered (if wikipedia is correct) that Delafield died in 1942 only two years after writing The Provincial Lady in Wartime. It is sad to think that she never got to see peace in her homeland again.

Diary of A Provincial Lady
Written in first person in quaint style. Tells the minutia of Delafield's life in country Britain in the early 1930s. She lives in a large house with her husband, Robert, and two children, Robin and Vicky. Mademoiselle, Vicky's governess, is a prominent character in this story. She is a French woman with very fraught nerves (Note to Self: working French knowledge would be valuable in understanding her dialogue).

The family is always struggling to make ends meet - the are constantly having communications from the bank on their overdraft. This has necessitated, much to Delafield's distress, the pawning of her Great Aunt's ring. Delafield finds herself in all sorts of awkward social situations. She often feels dowdy in her 'dated' clothes and is regularly introduced as "fabulously literary" - upon which most new acquaintences rapidly absent themselves from her company.

The Provincial Lady Goes Further
Delafield has published a successful novel and the family finances are consequently somewhat improved. At the urging of her friend Rose, she decides to take a flat in London to focus on her writing. Unfortunately she tends to become busy with social obligations and, at other times, takes people watching walks in the city. Most of these social obligations are literary parties, which Delafield does not seem to enjoy, but is unable to decline.

Mademoiselle is moved on in this story as Vicky has gone to boarding school. As such, when the family take a trup to France for the holidays they appoint a tutor, Casabianca (fabulous name). Humorous anecdotes on life in France follow: the children refuse to eat anything French and Robert is very disaproving of the concept of a continental breakfast.

The Provincial Lady in America
Delafield takes a six month trip to America to promote her books. She is very sea sick on the journey over but finds America itself delightful. She very much enjoys the warm hospitality to extended to her by the Americans she meets. There is a wonderful story about her wanting to visit Allcott's house but being denied by her publisher; he later reneges when a prominent book reviewer asks her to comment on the place. It is the highlight of her trip. Nonetheless, she remains homesick for her family throughout and cannot wait to be reunited with them.

The Provincial Lady in Wartime
War has been declared in Britain. Delafield opens her house to evacuees - two children and their Nanny. With Robert busy acting as an ARP and her children back at school. Delafield installs Robert's Aunt Blanche as housekeeper and takes herself off to London to volunteer her services for the war effort. Unfortunately she can't find anyone who wants them and is told to 'Stand By'. She becomes good friends with Serena, an acquaintance of Aunt Blanche, who finds her a voluntary position at the underground Adelphi Canteen. Delafield undertakes to see the rest of the phony war out there until her skills are recognised and her services required.

And, finally, a line I found terribly amusing from The Provincial Lady in Wartime.
"Am sorry to note that abuse and condemnation of a common acquaintance often constitutes very strong bond of union between otherwise uncongenial spirits." p. 139

Monday, November 5, 2007

A slightly bookish post

Well, at Simon's urging over on Stuck in a Book I have been reading The Provincial Lady. I managed to find an omnibus version on Abe Books and so have the first three at my finger-tips. I am thoroughly enjoying them and hope to be able to post in more detail soon.

We watched The History Boys here last night; which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was really disappointed to miss the play when it toured here last year, it was booked out. Anyway there is a scene in the movie where Hector (who teaches General Studies) talks about having a thought that you have always thought is unique and then coming across in a book. That is what reading The Provincial Lady has been like. Great stuff!

Anyway .. in a bit of bookish news here we had to order a new bookcase on the weekend; the piles of books are starting to escape the cupboards and spread into the living area. We are not sure how we will share the bookcase, at present we have a case each. Oh dear, our books might have to fraternise! My husband's military history might be exposed to my fiction:)

Also did a bit of baking on the weekend. One of my friends had a pink party to raise money for the breast cancer foundation. The pink cupcakes below were my contribution.

Then, my husband requested blue cupcakes with green spots! An interesting challenge....
Aren't they all sickly colours;)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Miss Garnet's Angel

Sorry for not posting for a while. There has only been limited reading going on here. I had a bit of a shock over the weekend. My husband informed me that he has a 6 month deployment to Iraq next year. I realise that as a wife of a soldier I should be ready for this; but it is a different thing to know in theory they may go overseas, and to experience it in reality. Anyway, the news somewhat upset my equilibrium and tears (for several days) insued. Reading made difficult by sore, red eyes; and continuous drip onto page. Anyway, I am now somewhat recovered and am trying to see the positives in it. Still early days for seeing many; but one I can concieve is a 2 week reunion in Italy in the middle. This is pertinent because the novel I have been reading and loving is set in Venice - Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers - and my husband's means of breaking the news was to tell me he would take me to visit there...

When Miss Julia Garnet's friend, and 30 year live-in (platonic) companion, Harriet, dies she decides to rent out her apartment and spend 6 months living in Venice. When she leaves England she is a straight-laced individual, somewhat of a loner and, furthermore, a life-long committed Communist. However, Venice gently transforms her. First of all she is befriended by an American couple - the Cutforths. Then she falls in love with the suave Italian Carlo. She is disappointed, later, when she learns that he merely sees her as a means of getting at Nicco: a young boy to whom Julia is teaching English.

Julia also meets 'the twins' - Toby and Sarah who are restoring the Chapel-of-the-Plague. It is they who show her a panel representing the story of Tobias and the angel, Raphael; a tale from the Jewish bible - the Apocrypha. She becomes entraced with the story which unfolds simultaneously with Miss Garnet's experiences in Venice. She begins to envisage the angel and this frees her spirit, allowing her to embrace life like she never has before.

This is a beautiful story and fascinating with its links to the geography and history of Venice; and is made even more so because of the tie-in with the tale of Tobias and the Angel, Raphael.

Salley quotes John Ruskin in the end papers

"If some people really see angels, where others see empty space, let them paint the angels..."

Friday, October 26, 2007

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle is one of my favourite movies. Therefore, when I saw that Simon had said that it was one of three books - with Rebecca and Jane Eyre - that was essential reading; I thought I should expedite it up the reading pile. At this point, I might mention my acute embarassment that I had in fact read none of these books. Oh well, I am one-third of the way there now. And what a joy it was! Reading I Capture the Castle was a blissfully enjoyable experience. It is a real curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-cup-of-tea kind of book. I was completely absorbed by the atmosphere Dodie Smith created. It has to have one of the best opening lines ever: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink".

I Capture the Castle is told in the first person by Cassandra Mortmain - a 17 year old aspiring writer. She lives in a rundown castle with her father, eccentric stepmother (Topaz), sister (Rose), brother (Thomas) and family friend (Stephen). Her father was once a well known author - having published a novel called Jacob Wrestling which did particularly well in the US. Unfortunately, he has written nothing since. Consequently, the family lives in less than genteel poverty.

Rose and Cassandra dream of wealth. They would like to live in a Jane Austen novel (well 50 per cent Jane and 50 per cent Charlotte). Following a wish on a gargoyle (on the roof of the castle), two wealthy American brothers, Simon and Neil, arrive on their doorstep. Rose pursues Simon - with success. As the story unfolds Cassandra becomes increasingly disillusioned. She is in love with Simon, but he only has eyes for Rose. Cassandra copes with this until she learns that Rose does not love Simon only his money.

I thought it was particularly interesting the number of references to literature that were made in I Capture the Castle. One which struck me was La Belle Dame Sans Merci - the John Keats poem. I recall learning this at school, though I only remember the first line " What can ail thee Knight-at-arms".

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Thanks for recommending it Simon. I commend I Capture the Castle to all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Book Blogger Deviant Bakes.....

My husband tells me that I should not be blogging about my baking here because I have portrayed this as a book blog and, as such, to blog about other things would make my title "A Lady Bug's Books" misrespresentative. I am going to do it anyway. I have promised him I will include a book reference or, from the novel I am reading now - I Capture the Castle - which has been expediated up my TBR list by Simon's insistence over on Stuck in a Book "we had real store bought cake"....or, in this case, we did not.

I did quite a bit of baking on the weekend. I started off with banana cake on Saturday because I had a couple of sorry looking bananas floating around.

Then on Sunday I made a fetta and tomato tart for tea....

It was my husband's birthday last week, but he was away. As he requested a Black Forest Cake for his birthday I whipped this one up for him for our family party last night.

So anyway .... to get back to the books..... what is the best book you have read about food, not including a cookbook? Or perhaps, what is your favourite food quote? I loved the book Return to Paris: a memoir with recipes by Collette Rossant about her childhood and adolesence in Egypt and Paris.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Good Pickings at the Village

We had our Village Fair today. Lots of good hunting in the Trash and Treasure stall! I picked up quite a number of potentially good reads and for a total price of $8. Here is my haul proudly displayed on my piano stool.
The Death of Faith – by Donna Leon: I have heard Elaine saying good things about Donna Leon’s writing over on her blog (?) so I snatched it up when I saw her name.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens – Given how much I enjoy Monica Dickens’ writing I feel I should give her antecedent Charles more of an audience.
Clair de Lune by Pierre la Mure – this is a novel about Claude Debussy. Could be interesting?
Doctor at Large and Doctor at Sea by Richard Gordon - these would be those two black books that you can’t read the titles on! These are meant to be humorous; and were recommended by my Mother who visiting from Perth.
White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra – I must admit I picked this one up purely because I had heard reference to it before. According to the blurb, it is set in Shanghai and Russia during the 1960s.
Round Ireland in Low Gear by Eric Newby – I read Slowly Down the Ganges back in January and enjoyed it. I think he has the art of the travel narrative down-pat. The perfect balance between his experiences and the history and culture of the places he visits.
Hester’s Story by Adele Geras – my Mum bought this for me. She noticed it was about a ballerina and since I do ballet thought I would enjoy it.
James Herriot’s Yorkshire – when I was about thirteen I loved the All Things Bright and Beautiful series and so I couldn’t resist picking this up.
50 Easy Party Cakes by Debbie Brown – ok, so I don’t have kids and am not likely to have them for a while, but now I am prepared!
Stephanie’s Australia by Stephanie Alexander – Stephanie is an icon of the Australia cooking scene. She published The Cook’s Companion, a 1000 page monolith (the reprint of which is on my cookbook shelf), in the late 1980s and is widely respected in the food industry. I look forward to learning more about her perspective on the food regions of Australia.

Half of a Yellow Sun

I picked up Half of Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a Borders 3 for 2 deal. I was keen to read it after I heard it had won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year. I read a previous Orange Prize winner (Small Island by Andrea Levy) earlier in the year and enjoyed it; ergo, I thought the Prize might be a sound indicator for a good read.

I found the novel interesting. Owing to my birth being in the mid 1980s, I wasn’t around in the 1960s to have been aware of the civil war in Nigeria during that period. Consequently, this was educational – not just a ‘fiction’ read. I must admit I struggled initially to get into Half of a Yellow Sun but my perseverance was rewarded and it proved itself a really worthwhile read.

Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of three lives intersecting during the Nigeria – Biafra civil war. Ugwu is a poor boy who works as a houseboy for a university lecturer, Odenigbo (or Master as Ugwu refers to him when he is the narrator), and his wife, Olanna. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene who is involved with a shy Englishman, Richard. Obviously, with the exception of Ugwu, they are all used to a fairly high standard of living.

All four Nigerian characters are part of the Igbo racial minority (Christians). First there is coup by Igbo members of the Nigerian Army, then they themselves are overthrown by the majority Muslim racial groups. There is widespread slaughter of the Igbo population in the north of the country. They retreat to the south establishing the independent state of Biafra. Civil war ensues and the characters, with the rest of the populace, struggle to survive (battling starvation). Relationships are tested and as Biafra’s demise becomes more evident they try to cope with their displacement to the bottom of the Nigerian social order.

More Maisie Dobbs

I have recently read two more Maisie Dobbs novels, and I have the fourth (and latest) one in the series dangling tantalisingly ahead of me. My darling husband brought it back for me from his last work trip away – and in the American hardback version!

If you would like to more about the character of Maisie Dobbs please see an earlier post of the 24th of August. Owing to time constraints this evening, I am just going to give a brief summary of the plots here. First, Birds of a Feather. Maisie is asked by Joseph Waite, a well-to-do food merchant, to find his daughter Charlotte who has run away from home. I should mention that Charlotte is a 30 year old woman. Maisie becomes concerned for her safety when she discovers that a growing number of the female friends of Charlotte’s youth have died in suspicious circumstances. Each time, a small white feather is found at the death scene. I can’t really say anymore without giving away the ending but, given that these books are set after WW1 I picked up on the significance of the white feather fairly early!

The third in the series is Pardonable Lies. Sir Cedric Lawton made a promise to his dying wife that he would find their son Ralph; shot down on a flying mission in France in 1917. His wife had always believed Ralph was alive, Sir Cedric asks Maisie to prove he is dead. Maisie’s good friend from her Cambridge days, Priscilla, also makes a personal request that Maisie find out what happened to her brother Peter Everndon who was reported missing, presumed dead. Shortly after her investigations commence, Maisie has attempts made on her life. Undeterred, she travels to France and soon realises that her two cases are interlinked…. Again, in the interests of not spoiling the ending for someone who might chance on this blog and decide to read the book; I say no more.

I love these books. They are gentle and imminently readable. They are the sort of book you look forward to work finishing for the day for; so you can be enveloped, once again, in a slowly unravelling yarn. On that note, I am taking my latest Maisie Dobbs and I am off to read…

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Books Bought On My South Coast Jaunt

An Open Book - Monica Dickens' autobiography. I spotted a hardback copy in Bowral for $30. This one, albeit a paperback copy, was only $5. What a find - and in one of the most disorganised second hand bookshops you are likely to find. They have no catalogue and no filing system. Locating anything is sheer luck. I have already started reading it, so I should have post reasonably soon.
The Inheritance - How could I resist? I was enamoured with Alcott's writing as a child. This novel was published when she was only 19. I will be interested to see how it goes.
The Winds of Heaven and The Room Upstairs - well, I just can't resist picking up Monica Dickens' titles when I see them. I can almost be guaranteed to enjoy them. You can't say that about every writer.
Britania Mews - this is my bargain of the trip. It was only $1! Having just read Margery Sharpe's The Foolish Gentlewoman, and enjoyed it, I am on the lookout for more by her. Ok, so the cover is torn, but it is what is inside that counts - surely!
The Pyjama Game - I have no idea what this is about, but I saw a recommendation for the movie over on Yarnstorm ( so I thought I would have a go at the book. For $1, I have nothing to lose.
Murder in the Cathedral - I love T.S. Elliot's writing - well at least I think I do. I have a number of quotes from him written down. Admittedly, I have never tried reading a play before. Well, except in school... and that doesn't really count.
Finally, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beaton - not my cheapest purchase, but still cheaper than buying it brand new. I have been eyeing this in the bookshop for a while as I believe Mrs Beaton led a rather interesting life - and plagiarised her cookbooks. I am interested to know more.

The Foolish Gentlewoman

I picked up The Foolish Gentlewoman when the cover attracted my attention. I didn’t know the author – Margery Sharp – but have since discovered that she wrote the children’s book called The Rescuers. I think I may have read it as a child as it seems familiar. The Foolish Gentlewoman is just gorgeous, blissful reading.

Again, this story is set at the end of WW2. Isabel Brocken, a childless widow, lives at Chipping Lodge a Victorian manor on the outskirts of London. She offers a home to her conservative elder brother-in-law while his home is rebuilt (it having been bombed in the blitz). Also sharing the house is Jacqueline, a former ATS, who acts as Isabel’s companion, and Isabel’s young, recently demobilised, nephew Humphrey. All is going well until Isabel’s rector gives a sermon on the “passage of time not making a base action any less base”. Isabel is filled with remorse about something she did to her cousin/cum-companion, Tilly Cuff, in their youth. To make amends for this she asks Tilly to come and stay; and decides to give her all her money. No-one, least of all Simon, can convince her to do otherwise. Tilly takes up the invitation and is tiresome in the extreme. A gentle tale unfolds as Isabel tries to ‘like Tilly’; while the others try to survive her/ get rid of her.

A favourite passage:
On Mr Brocken (Simon) – “It was his habit to avoid people whenever possible, in case they became a nuisance. For Simon was profoundly convinced that all people became a nuisance sooner or later: logic and arithmetic informed him that the fewer people one became involved with, the less danger one ran of being annoyed. Carrying his inviolability like a precious cup of water, Mr Brocken returned up the hill to Chipping Lodge”.

The Happy Prisoner

You may have gathered that I love Monica Dickens’ writing! So, here is a review of the latest one I have read. I took The Happy Prisoner on our trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have an old penguin copy that I picked up at a second hand bookshop.

The Happy Prisoner is set at the close of WW2 and is taken from the point of view of Oliver. Oliver is a former soldier confined to bed; having had his leg amputated following an injury suffered in France. He observes his family’s antics from there. The characters are classics! His sister Vi is a tomboy, incapable of elegance – the family is horrified when she decides to marry Fred Williams, their tenant farmer. Heather, the other sister, is dissatisfied with life. Even the return of her husband John from a Japanese POW camp doesn’t cheer her up. Mrs North, their mother, just tries to keep the peace.

Another favourite character for me was Muffet, John’s mother, who comes to stay while her apartment is renovated. She is a kleptomaniac who steals particularly enthusiastically from those she doesn’t like!

A Trip to the South Coast (Part 2)

In case you are wondering this is being published in parts on the same evening - I don't trust blogspot to upload it all successfully on our slow dial-up connection if I make it too big a file! I am really only just getting used to how the programme operates. Anyway, on with my tale.

We camped at Kioloa Beach. Isn’t it beautiful?

We found these interesting lemons when we stopped at a Winery for a tasting. They are called Buddha’s Hands. I have never seen anything like them before. You may have to turn your head side ways to get the full effect:)

This parrot was outside our tent on Sunday morning.

On Sunday we went to Floriade in Canberra. This is an annual tulip festival. I took lots of photos. Here are just a couple.

A Trip to the South Coast (Part 1)

I have been trying to post for several days now, but each time blogspot won’t upload my photos! So frustrating…. At first I thought it was our painfully slow dial-up internet connection. However, I got to work extra early this morning to try it there and struck the same problem. Anyway I have worked out how to condense files now (thanks Dad); so on to my post. And, there will several tonight.

This past weekend, my husband and I took Friday off work and went down the NSW south coast….

We spent Friday in Bowral…birthplace of Don Bradman (famous Australian cricketer) and E.L. Travers (of Mary Poppins fame). We went to the Bradman museum. This is the oval where Don Bradman played as a young cricketer.

We tasted pastries at the award winning Gumnut Patisserie, and shopped at the many second hand bookshops in Bowral.

We travelled on to our campsite, with the dogs (Abby - tan and Monty – white) for company. They both arrived on my lap after a freak hailstorm!

We saw these cool geese on the roadside at Robertson.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mistress of the Art of Death

I had read about the Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin on a book blog. I read quite a few in my down time at work and I don’t know which one this was on. Anyway, I saw it for $7 at QBD books and decided to give it a go.

Mistress of the Art of Death is set in medieval Cambridge. Several Christian children have been killed and the Jews of the city are being blamed. The King recruits a doctor who specialises in dead people from the School of Medicine in Salerno (relying on a favour from his friend, the King of Sicily). She (in the 12th century?) travels to the city and slowly deduces that (WARNING-possible spoiler) the killer must have been a crusader - and hence solves the mystery. I have mixed feelings about this book. The plot was interesting but it was too bloody in its descriptions for my liking. I like ‘clean murders’ where the emphasis is on the mystery rather than the death.

The Kite Runner

Well, I have so many books to post on as I have been rather remiss of late in keeping this blog updated. Anyway as my husband is away AGAIN this week I am going to post on the 6 books that I have read in recent weeks but haven’t posted on. I think I will do it as a gradual process though over the next few days.

I have been meaning to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for several years; ever since I printed off Rory’s Reading List – I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan. For those who are not familiar with the programme, Rory was avid reader and there were regular references to literary classics and contemporary fiction. The book list compiled all those books which were referenced in the show. I have all 6 seasons on DVD, and one of the only positives I can see of my husband being away so much is that I can watch episodes without complaints!

Anyway, to the book! I enjoyed it. Amir grows up in Afghanistan. His mother died when he was born, and he and his father live with their servants Ali and Hassan (his son). From a young age Amir can sense that his father (Baba) disapproves of him. He is determined to win the annual kite fight to gain Baba’s approval. He succeeds and Hassan promises to run for the kite so Amir can present it to his father.

Having retrieved the kite, Hassan is caught by the local bullies who demand that he give it to them. Hassan will not and they rape him as punishment (also, in part, because Hassan is racially a Hazara -considered inferior by the dominant Pashtuns). Amir witnesses this but does not intervene. The rest of the story deals with how this lack of action affects him (mostly through the intense guilt) and the other characters in the story.

As a side issue, I read in the NYT last week that The Kite Runner has been made into a movie. It was filmed in Afghanistan. Apparently racial tensions are so heated between the Hazaras and Pashtuns that it is feared that the ‘rape scene’ is inflammatory enough that it might risk the lives of the young actors and their families. They are going to be relocated out of the country before the film is released!

Friday, October 5, 2007

One Pair of Feet

I have posted previously on Monica Dicken’s writing. I read One Pair of Feet on my flight over to Perth. It is a five hour flight and taking the flight, after having worked all day, all I wanted was something light to read. Monica Dickens was the perfect prescription.

One Pair of Feet is about her time as a nurse at the Queen Adelaide hospital during WW2. It is a lot of fun. Dickens’ was a brilliant character writer – they really come alive. My favourite description is of Siddons, a Gastric patient on one of Dickens’s wards.

“He was short and stocky, with hair like a carpet brush, and all the hospital dressing-gowns were too long for him. He flip-flapped about in a pair of carpet slippers, pouncing on any job that was going and looking after the other patients like a mother. The men called him ‘Auntie’. He would do anything for anybody, but he kept them in order. He had been there so long that he regarded the ward as his own, and was determined to see that it was properly conducted”.

Well worth hunting out a copy!

Agatha Christie

I have read two Agatha Christie's in the last few weeks, in addition to listening to several on CD. My Mum introduced me to the CD versions, when I went back to Perth a couple of weeks ago, and I must say that she has got me hooked!

The two I have read are The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and The Clocks. I preferred the former, though both were fun. I don't think there is much point posting on the actual plots as I imagine most people would have a fair idea of what the stories are about. Still, I should point out that both are Hercule Poirot stories, I have yet to read any Miss Marple's - though I have seen them on TV.

I end this post with a query - am I particularly dense because I can never pick who the murderer is? I have been told that it is very easy to work out the culprits in Agatha Christie novels, but I never even have an inkling. The end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd particularly flawed me. Any comments?

Oh, and a disclaimer about the pictures above - these are not what my copies look like; I just liked the covers!

Past Caring

Wow, it is close to a month since I last posted! I have been slack. I have read quite a few books in that time so I have a fair number of posts to do this weekend. As my husband is off doing military stuff this week I have no excuse for not spending little time on my laptop updating this blog!

I read Robert Goddard’s Past Caring as part of the Cosy September Mystery Challenge. I really enjoyed this, though I struggled with the size of the print. Vast chunks of the novel are the journal entries of an early 20th century politician (Strafford) and are in italicised font - I had to find really good light to be able to read at my usual speed!

The plot is interesting, with lots of references to the politics of the Edwardian period. Churchill, Asquith and Lloyd George all make an appearance. There are two main characters in the novel; Martin – a disgraced former history teacher, and Strafford – the politician. Martin is charged with investigating why Edwin Strafford’s unexpectedly resigned from politics at the height of his career. And, why his fiancĂ©e, the young suffragette Elizabeth Couchman, broke off their engagement. Edwin himself certainly never knew. The circumstances of the past prove to be so explosive that investigating them puts Martin’s own life (in the 1970s) in danger.

I don’t want to give anything away so I shan’t say much more, but I think anyone who has an interest in history and likes a mystery/suspense novel would enjoy this.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The World According to Bertie

What can I say? I love Alexander McCall's Smith writing. I started this on Tuesday when I had a day off work, sick. I was trying to read Martha Grime's I Am the Only Running Footman for my Cosy September Mystery Challenge, but was struggling. AMS was light and readable - just what I needed.

The World According to Bertie is the latest 44 Scotland Street novel. I don't want to provide any spoilers because I think it is such fun to find out what each of the characters is up to as you read. You never know what will happen next in these stories; there are unexpected turns and events.

Still, a quote I thought worth of a post here comes from chapter 51 - So Many Books Unread and Bikes Uncycled:

And then, she thought, there were those books bought and not read. Somewhere there might be those who read each and every book they acquired - read them with attention and gravity and then put them carefully on a shelf, alongside other books that had received the same treatment. But for many books, being placed on the shelf was the full extent of their encounter with their owner. She smiled at the thought, remembering the anecdote about the late King George VI - she thought, or V perhaps, or even Edward VII - who was presented with a book by its author and said: "Thank you, Mr So-and-So, I shall put it on the shelf with all the other books." This was not meant to be a put-down to the author - it was, by contrast, a polite and entirely honest account of what would be done.

I must confess that this is what happens to a lot of my books. Though, I will not actually put a book on my shelves until it is read. The result: I have a built-in in the spare room which is piled with books! Does anyone else have a similar problem?

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

I am not sure of my overall reaction to The Sound of One Hand Clapping. On the one hand I did not really like Richard Flanagan's style of writing, on the other I felt compelled to finish the book as I was driven along by his characterisations and plot. The story is set in Tasmania in the early 1950s. Sonja is the daughter of two Slovenian refugees who have come out to Australia as part of the "populate or perish" schemes. Sonja's father and mother have clearly been very damaged psychologically by their wartime experiences. One night when Sonja is three her mother walks out into the snow and kills herself. The rest of the story is about how this act affects Sonja's relationship with her father and, later, other men. Her father turns to alcohol to bury his grief and the result is a violent man who physically abuses Sonja. The end of the story, however, offers hope as Sonja seeks reconciliation with her father. This reconciliation provides the impetus he needs to finally move on, and confront his alcohol dependency.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cosy Mystery September

My first ever Challenge, hosted by Too-many-books. I am quite excited. I am very partial to a "Good, Clean Murder" - I like the mystery, I don't want the details! I don't want to nominate too many books as I know I am easily distracted, so here is my list:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie;
The Clocks by Agatha Christie
Past Caring by Robert Goddard
I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes
Help the Poor Struggler by Martha Grimes; and
The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes.

Looking forward to getting into them. One day to go!

The Careful Use of Compliments

I was very excited this Tuesday as I had the opportunity to go and hear Alexander McCall Smith speak. As he is one of my favourite authors I couldn't pass it up. He is as entertaining in person as he is in his books. Anyway, I got copies of latest two The Careful Use of Compliments and The World According to Bertie. And, I got them signed! I was a little disappointed that I got starstruck when I met him and only managed to get a question in about when the next Von Igelfield novel will be published. FYI - it will be Christmas.

Thus far, I have managed to read The Careful Use of Compliments. For those acquanted with AMS's writing this is the fourth novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series. In this book she is in a relationship with Jamie (the ex-boyfried of her niece, Cat) and they have had a baby, Charlie, together. She discovers she has been dismissed from the editorship of the Review of Applied Ethics, and investigates a possible art fraud. I love AMS's writing because it is light and, yet, there are quite strong truths in it. For instance, I like the quote on page 182

"Jamie had looked at her and said, 'That's a very strange remark, Isabel. You talk complete nonsense sometimes. Flights of fancy'.

She had not minded. 'I like to think about things,' she said airily. 'I like to let my mind wander. Our minds can come up with the most entertaining possibilities, if we let them. But most of the time, we keep them under far too close a check.'"

As a side note, I had The Careful Use of Compliments sitting on my desk at work yesterday, having read it on the train going in. The day previous I had had A short history of tractors in Ukranian in the same place; a title my boss had taken note of. Yesterday he came over said "Oh, you've finished with the tractors. And now its, The Careful Use of Compliments. You do read some strange books!"

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian

Well my Military Man is off at a Dining-In tonight so I am left alone to entertain myself. A good opportunity to post on a couple of books I have read this week. I have been meaning to read A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian for a while, after having heard an interview with Marina Lewycka on Classic FM. Last week I was taking a rain-avoidance shortcut through Borders (very dangerous), noticed it was on the 3-for-2 pile and couldn't resist. I must admit I initially had a bit of trouble getting into it. However, soon the quirky characters and the plot caught my attention. This book has certainly done the rounds of the book blogs already so there is probably not a lot of point giving a synopsis of the plot. In brief, it is the story of a Ukranian immigrant in his 80s who falls in love with a conniving 30-something Ukranian woman. His daughters set out to get her out of his life and out of Britain. Very amusing. I don't know whether I will make an effort to get hold of Marina Lewycka's second book, Strawberry Fields, just yet though as I notice that Dovegreyreader wasn't that impressed with it. I have a feeling that this style of writing might only work as a 'once off' as it is its uniqueness that makes it so interesting. Still, if a see a low priced copy......

Friday, August 24, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

This week's Booking Through Thursday (on Friday)
When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

I come from a bookish, reading family. My Mum started to teach me to read when I was four. She used to do it while we drove the half hour to kindergarten – being a long term year one teacher she could teach while still (at least I hope) paying attention to the road. I seem to recall my first ‘read’ was about traffic lights changing between red and green. Actually I think ‘red’ and ‘green’ were the only words that featured in the book. By the age of five I was sufficiently proficient to be the narrator for my Pre-Primary musical play ‘The Bluebird’.

My parent’s house is full of books. Mum’s tastes run close to mine. We both like, as my Nanna would say, “a good clean murder”. Apart from that, it was my Mum who introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s writing – whose regency stories occupied a good deal of my time the summer I turned 16. When I was young Mum and I were hardened book scouts; leaving no garage sale, fair, church fete etc untouched. This habit helped fuel my youthful penchant for 1950s and 1960s boarding school stories. Woe was me that I only went to school as a daygirl.

My father is the academic type. His book collection starts in his study and extends to the garage where books are stacked three deep in metal shelving. As a side note, we actually lost my poor kitten, Sandy, in these shelves for about 2 days when I was six. We discovered him only after hearing a pitiful ‘meow’; he was firmly wedged between books and the shelf above. Dad favours fantasy and science fiction novels, but for non-fiction has every genre imaginable. I guess the bulk of his collection are chemistry books, his specialisation, but he even has the books of the bible in Ancient Greek; having decided in his early twenties he was going to learn the language! My favourite ‘book memory’ of my Dad is when I was about nine and he bought me two Arthur Ransome books I had wanted for so long. The reason: I had patiently waited while he spent hours in A&M books, a school resource shop, selecting textbooks for the new school year!

I can’t finish this post without mentioning my Grandparents. I admit I was an indulged only grandchild. My Grandparents used to pick me up from primary school on a Friday afternoon and, while I was young enough, Nanna always had a Babysitter’s Little Sister for me to read on the way home. That was, until she realised I could read them in approximately ten minutes. We moved on then. Nanna used to read to me whenever I slept over (at least every Friday night). I recall her reading me, inter alia, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and Ballet Shoes. She also introduced me to Dickens with tales from an abridged version for children her father had won as a prize at Dunfermline High School, near Edinburgh, in the early 1900s. Another memory is when I read Swiss Family Robinson, became obsessed and decided I was going to build a model of their house. Granddad helped out by constructing ladders out of brown plastic garden lattice!

Maisie Dobbs

Three big cheers to my Mum who not only recommended this book by Jacqueline Winspearto me, but then sent a copy of it winging its way across the 4000km of desert between us. I have wanted to read Maisie Dobbs for a while but it is one of those novels I have never quite got around to. I am glad my Mum encouraged me to read it. I am saving the next one Birds of a Feather, which I already have a copy of, until Cosy Mystery September! Though, technically, here in Australia it should be starting to get slightly warmer then; so I don’t know about the term ‘cosy’.

The novel passes between Maisie’s youth and the ‘present day’ of the late 1920s. In the past…..Maisie’s mother dies and her father Frankie is no longer able to take care of her. So, despite having won a scholarship to go on to a Grammar School, Maisie enters the service of the Comptons. To fulfil her desire for an education, Maisie takes to rising very early in the morning and reading books from the Comptons’ study before she starts her daily chores. One morning she is ‘discovered’ when they return late from a dinner party. They decide to allow her to continue to read from their library and even find her a tutor Maurice Blanche for a bi-weekly lesson. The result is that Maisie is able to go on to study at Cambridge (which the Comptons pay for). When the First World War comes she takes a leave of absence from her studies and becomes a nurse; going to France to help the injured. At this time, she falls in love with an English doctor Simon.

Fast-forward a decade and Maisie has become a psychologist/sleuth. A client comes to her and asks her the age old question: is his wife, Celia, having an affair? Maisie follows her to find out. She discover that Celia is not; she is regularly visiting the grave of an old friend Vincent who committed suicide after being unable to come to terms with his war injuries. What puzzles Maisie is that his grave only bears his first name. After some investigations, she discovers he died while residing at ‘The Retreat’. A home established by Major Jenkins for men with unseemly facial war injuries. It emerges that he is not the only man who died in this manner while a resident there; it seems Maisie has a mystery to solve!

The Colour Purple

I chose to read The Colour Purple (and I know I am using Australian spelling for colour there) by Alice Walker because it came highly recommended by Oprah Winfrey. Now, I was a big fan of Oprah while I was at university and have read, and enjoyed, other novels she has recommended. I can’t really say the same for this one. It reminded me of a short story I had to study in my last year of high school: ‘real land’ by Joanne Burns. I had to learn quotes from it for my TEE exam and I remember struggling because all my brain wanted to do was correct the grammar, and put some capital letters and full stops in! I will warn any prospective readers of The Colour Purple – it has almost no punctuation and is full of slag.

The story takes the form of letters from Celie first to God and then to her sister. In the second half of the book there are letters received by Celie from her sister, Nettie. Essentially this is a story of Celie’s self-discovery. Celie is a poor, young African-American who has been sexually abused by her father since puberty; and fallen pregnant to him twice . Celie is forced by her father to marry the abusive widower Mr ________ (and, no, I haven’t forgotten his name, that is how he is referred to in the book) and essentially become his and his children’s slavey.

Mr _______ has a mistress, Shug Avery, who he brings to live with them when she contracts an STD and becomes violently ill. Shug treats Celie contemptibly. Despite this, Celie gradually falls in love with her and they become lovers. Celie tells Shug that she believes her sister is dead as she has not heard from her in years. Together, the women search the house and discover that Mr ________ has been hiding all of Nettie’s correspondence. By reading the letters Celie learns that her children are alive and living in Africa with their adoptive parents (who are Missionaries) and Nettie, their companion/servant.

Celie and Mr _______ eventually reconcile. Celie becomes an independent woman, supporting herself by sewing pants. She starts to find contentment in her life and experiences great joy when, after 25-30 years, she is finally reunited with her sister and her grown children.

I didn’t overly enjoy this book. Not that I was put off enough to stop reading; but I wasn’t engaged by it. The quote I like best is the origin for the title. Shug and Celie are discussing their faith. Shug describes what she thinks God does to please people: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”. How true. It made me think how often I let the good things in my day pass unnoticed and gripe about the small things. In doing so, I forget to acknowledge God for what a truly wonderful world he’s made.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I found my first Monica Dickens novel One Pair of Hands at a fair at All Saints Church in Huntingdon when I visited England a couple of years ago. It certainly passed a number of the hours of the 28 hour trip back to Australia most pleasantly. At the Lifeline book sale a several weeks back I spotted a few more (though, alas, I lost one at the hands of a particularly dextrous old lady) including My Turn to Make the Tea - which was such a fun read. This past weekend at Bong-Bong books in Bowral I found six more which I didn't have (I might have got a little carried away!). Anyhow one I picked up was Mariana - actually the lovely Gentlemen who owns the shop gave it to me for free as it had no price in the cover. I have been coveting the Persephone Edition of this for some weeks now but, since the most important thing about a book is what is inside its covers, I am contenting myself with my 1965 Penguin Edition.

What can I say about Mariana. Sheer Delight! Anyone who enjoys the domestic details of bygone eras will love this. It is one of those "curl up on the sofa, cosy feeling" sort of books. I loved reading about Mary's childhood and her adventures in Paris - it sounded so glamorous. My favourite quote came from near the end of the book when Mary is recaling her honeymoon: "she remembered chiefly the deepening discovery that another person could be oneself. That being with him could be like being alone without the loneliness". Being in my first year of marriage myself I could not get over how apt this was.

I am very glad I read Mariana and think it might, despite the Australian Dollar to UK Pound gulf, be worth the investment in a Persephone edition one day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Murder in Grub Street

A great find from a recent Lifeline booksale. I do enjoy a good mystery and rewarded myself with a read of this one after the challenge of Lady Chatterley's Lover last week.

In Murder in Grub Street Bruce Alexander takes us back to London of the mid eighteenth century. A Grub Street printer and his family have been brutally murdered. The poet John Clayton who was staying with them at the time is the only survivor. Found carrying a bloody axe, he is charged with their murder. John Clayton has a split personality and can not account for his actions on the night in question.

Sir John Fielding, the local magistrate, and a member of his household - 13 year old Jeremy Proctor set out to prove John Clayton's innocence. Along the way they encounter a youthful pickpocket, and some religious zealots recently returned from the colonies who are making life for the locals of Sir John Fielding's jurisdiction anything but pleasant.

I found this quite a fun read and see it is one of a series. I hope that I can scout out a few more.