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.