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via Shelterness

via Shelterness

I have had this photo saved in my file for a few years now and, though I haven’t used it until now, I have a soft spot for it.  Not because I adore it (although, raspberry-coloured chairs are always delightful) but because it is exactly the kind of space my newly-wed parents would have wanted to recreate in their apartment circa 1978.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I started my new job last week and it is going wonderfully! But it is not leaving me much time for reading and I haven’t adjusted my borrowing habits accordingly. Still, maybe having lots of books standing by will motivate me to work more reading time into my new, busier schedule. Here’s hoping!

Library Loot 4Drawn from Life by E.H. Shepard – after reading about Shepard’s childhood in Drawn from Memory, I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the later stages of his life.

Endgame, 1945 by David Stafford – a history of the final three months of the war, focusing on the personal stories of nine men and women.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan – I’ve heard excellent things about Milan’s romance novels and, after reading one last month, I’m happy to try another.

Library Loot 2Danubia by Simon Winder – following the very entertaining Germania, Winder has written “a personal history of Hapsburg Europe”

The End of Men by Hanna Rosin – given how often Rosin is quoted in magazines and articles, I suppose it is time to see if her book is really as controversial as its billed to be.

Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie – Maddie was coping pretty well with the adultery, the embezzlement, and the blackmail. Then her old boyfriend came back to town.

Library Loot 3A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild – the first book in Streatfeild’s fictionalized autobiographical trilogy.

The Lovely Day by Dorothy Evelyn Smith – no idea what this is about, but isn’t the cover pretty?

Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy – since reading Lucy Carmichael, I’ve been looking forward to reading more Kennedy and Hilary’s review made this sound excellent.

Library Loot 1A Table Near the Band by A.A. Milne – I haven’t read anything by AAM in far, far too long.

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie – Sophie came to Temptation, Ohio to help her sister make a movie. Now she’s making trouble for the town council, love with the mayor, and lemonade for a murderer.

The Finishing Touches by Hester Browne – a fun reread.

Library Loot 5Year Zero by Ian Buruma – A history of 1945 (yes, another one).

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson – First in a spectacular new series about two brother lawyers who lease offices on London’s Baker Street–and begin receiving mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

The New English Garden by Tim Richardson – This is the pretty thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. I might have to buy my own copy after I return this to the library.

What did you pick up this week?

SNB-logo-small-e1393871908245Shiny New Books, the brainchild of star bloggers Annabel, Victoria, Harriet, and Simon, launched today and its first issue looks great.  I’ve just skimmed it but I know I’m going to have many hours of happy reading once I get home from work tonight!  Here are just some of the pieces I’ve bookmarked to read first:

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn

Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Zola – An Introduction to His Books

Make sure you go check it out!

0375504419_0Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach – Steinbach, to me, is that well-meaning person who desperately wants you to like them and who is so earnest that you wish you could like but, really, you just spend every encounter wanting to hit them with something blunt. In this second travel memoir (following Without Reservations), Steinbach roams the world and indulges in too much introspection and overly romanticized prose.

9780375724596_custom-2efde7beec18b0b581c86a38388313349857619e-s6-c30The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman – a much more likeable Alice, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a wonderful comedy about a young, socially-awkward surgical intern in Boston (but of course – this is an Elinor Lipman book) who finds herself being wooed by Ray Russo, who seems very likely to be a conman. But at least he’s a man. It is fabulous and hilarious. Alice is marvellously blunt, Ray is exquisitely slimy, and the two friends Alice makes over the course of the novel – sassy Sylvie and supportive Leo – are friends I would love to have myself. Very, very fun.

The Ladies' ManThe Ladies’ Man by Elinor Lipman – I’ve read almost all of Lipman’s novels now (only My Latest Grievance awaits) and I have to say that this is not one of my favourites. That said, my least favourite Lipman is still better than almost anyone else’s best. Thirty years ago, Adele Dobbin was jilted by her fiancé, Harvey Nash. Suddenly, he shows up on the doorstep of the Boston apartment Adele shares with her two sisters with a belated apology. An inveterate ladies’ man, Harvey (now going by Nash Harvey) attempts to charm a series of women over the course of the book. Though the Dobbin women prove immune to his charms (one of them goes so far as to break a casserole dish over his head when he attempts to hit on her), his arrival does inspire them to look to the romantic lives they have largely ignored. Lipman is as clever and witty as ever, I just think there were too many characters splitting focus here, making for an uneven flow.

forever girlThe Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith – In that weird space between not good and not horrifically bad. So…inoffensively bad? There were some good moments but the characters were completely flat, every last one of them.

Spring MagicSpring Magic by D.E. Stevenson – I wish I had more to say about this book. It is pure escapist fantasy, about Frances, a young Cinderella-like woman, who is able to escape from her aunt after their London home is damaged by a bombing during the Second World War. The aunt heads into the country with the expectation that Frances will accompany her. Instead, Frances heads for a fishing village in Scotland to figure out her life and develop some independence. Her stay is enlivened by the arrival in the neighbourhood of a regiment of soldiers – and the officer’s wives. The socializing from then on is reminiscent of the Mrs Tim books, since the military wives prove far more interesting than Frances and her mild romantic problems. It’s a sweet book but not quite as energetic as DES’s best works.

JoieJoie de Vivre by Harriet Welty Rochefort – hands down the best – and most entertaining – book I have read about the French. Having lived in France and been married to a Frenchman for forty years, Rochefort is more than qualified to discuss the good, the bad, and the mysterious elements of French culture and the French psyche. She is humorous and does not over romanticize or demonize – an all too common failing of this sort of book. Very enjoyable.

Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins – Higgins is back on form after her disappointing last book.

It Felt Like a KissIt Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning – despite a title that makes the book sound like it is about domestic abuse, this was actually a rather interesting look at what happens when a young woman’s greatest secret – the identity of her famous father – is leaked to the press by a vengeful ex-boyfriend. The romance was less than convincing but the way Ellie’s life was twisted by the press with complete disregard for the truth was all too disgustingly real.

UnstickyUnsticky by Sarra Manning – A very fluffy premise – what happens to a young woman when she agrees to become the mistress and hostess for an older art dealer – but a surprisingly engaging and interesting book. I really enjoy Manning’s writing and though her books are always long, none of it feels like filler. I did find Grace’s liberal use of “like” wildly irritating, though that thankfully faded over the course of the novel, and was thrown by some of the little details of the scenes set in BC: Vancouver, which has the same climate as London, can hardly be described as the “icy hinterlands of British Columbia.” Also, where on earth did they find a Caribbean nurse in Whistler? But these were minor, minor issues and for the most part I loved the book. I also couldn’t help thinking that Clare Carrington from The New Moon with the Old would approve.

credit: John Barman via desire to inspire

credit: John Barman via desire to inspire

I like the bright, beachy feel of this room and especially love the blue accents against the white. And I am very pleased that, unlike last week’s room, the home owner’s magazine collection is neatly shelved – a much nicer look!

PastoralI do love a good old fashioned novel, full of straightforward but excellent storytelling and a nice mixture of action and romance. The kind of stories, in short, that Nevil Shute made a career of writing and of writing well. It had been ages since I last read anything by him but when I picked up Pastoral earlier this year I was reminded of just how entertaining his books are.

Published in 1944, Pastoral is set at an air force base in Oxfordshire during the Second World War. Though centered around the romance between Flight Lieutenant Peter Marshall and WAAF Section Officer Gervase Robertson, what the book does particularly well is give a sense of how bomber crews and those supporting them at command experienced the war.

After only a few encounters, Peter is certain that he wants to marry Gervase. She is lovely, good at her work, and, most importantly, knows about fishing. I think that is an excellent recommendation for any man or woman. But, rather than biding his time until he knows Gervase feels the same way about him, Peter impulsively proposes. Not surprisingly, Gervase refuses him. She is only nineteen and, though Peter is not much older, doesn’t feel the same sense of certainty or urgency that he does.

Peter, who has been flying bombers for 15 months and has been on 51 raids, has seen too many of his friends shot down or not return home after raids. He, with his 15 months of experience, is considered one of the old timers and certainly one of the very lucky few. But it isn’t the fear of being shot down that throws him off his game: it is the rejection he receives from Gervase. As the Wing Commander says, “The great adventure on this station isn’t bombing Germany…They don’t think anything of that. Falling in love is the big business here.” The usually calm and steady Peter becomes brusque with his crew and careless with his work. When grounded, this is not a major problem. In the air, it has disastrous results.

I adored the tense scenes both in Peter’s bomber and in the operations room back in Oxfordshire but, most of all, I loved the scenes with the senior officers gossiping about and despairing over their underlings’ behaviour:

The wing commander sat up suddenly. “If she’s going to marry him, I wish to hell she’d get on with it,” he said irritably. “I’m fed up with her. If young women would just stop and think before they shoot the boyfriend down, we’d have a lot more pilots.”

The old squadron leader nodded. “Girls have to be very wise these days,” he said.

“So do commanding officers,” said Dobbie. “I’m going to get a job as Aunt Ethel in Betty’s Weekly when the war’s over.”

You know things won’t end horrifically after reading exchanges like that. Of course they don’t and it is all quite excellent.

Drawn From MemoryPublished in 1957 but focused on events that took place in 1887, Drawn From Memory by E.H. Shepard is an utterly charming memoir about Shepard’s life as a seven-year old boy growing up in a close-knit middle class family in Victorian London. It is also, as Shepard’s advises in his introduction, a memoir of the last entirely happy year the family had, which adds a special poignancy to the entire book; shortly afterwards, Shepard’s adored mother became ill and then died, leaving her devoted family devastated. But while she lived, what a happy family they were!

The youngest of three children born to a London architect and his wife, Shepard grew up in a home where the arts were encouraged. His parents moved in artistic circles (Frank Dicksee was a family friend and Shepard’s maternal grandfather was a member of the Royal Academy) and from an early age they encouraged Shepard to become an artist. Though the child did not have any intention of doing so (he “considered an artist’s life to be a dull one and looked for something more adventurous”), his early drawings, some of which are included in the book, were certainly impressive and I can understand why his father showed them off with such pride to his artist friends. Even if they are “mostly concerned with battle scenes.”

E.H. Shepard - Battle Scene

But, for the most part, this is not a book about a budding artist. It is a book about childhood memories. Shepard recalls the figures of his home life (his nurse, the cook, his elder sister Ethel and brother Cyril), devotes a marvellous chapter to his four easily shocked maiden aunts, and recounts events that impressed themselves on his young mind. Some of these events were of general significance – such as Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, an event which Shepard celebrated with the purchase of a Belgian flag (“As Cyril and Ethel had each bought a Union Jack, I thought a change was called for.”) – but most of them are episodes significant only to the Shepard family. He remembers Christmas celebrations, a visit to the pantomime, an expedition to a tennis party in Highgate, and family holidays to Eastbourne and, best of all, a farmhouse in Kent. The chapter devoted to “Pollard’s Farm” is as perfect description of childhood bliss as I have ever read. They are spoiled there with food, freedom, and proximity to animals. Of all the happy moments in the book, this is by far the happiest.E.H. Shepard - JubileeE.H. Shepard - Pollard's Farm, BreakfastE.H. Shepard - Pollard's Farm, Hay Loft

But there are moments scattered through that remind us that this perfect happiness cannot last. Knowing that Shepard’s mother would soon become ill is difficult enough – that poor young woman, about to be separated from her lovely family – but towards the end Shepard reduced me to tears by mentioning coming across his brother’s grave in France during the First World War. Cyril died in July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

E.H. Shepard’s illustrations of A.A. Milne’s books and particularly of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows were such an important part of my childhood that it feels particularly appropriate to now know more about his childhood.  This book is begging to be reissued and Slightly Foxed, who after all first alerted me to it in their Winter 2010 issue, would seem a natural publisher.

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