Feeds:
Posts
Comments

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

Lots of recent releases for me this week and inadvertently in a very consistent colour theme.  I’ve had some trouble settling down with books recently but this batch has helped me break through that – I’ve already read four of them and enjoyed every single one.

Chums by Simon Kuper – Kuper was at Oxford with many of the men who have led Britain in recent years and looks at how the school’s culture helped shape them and their worldview.

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie – I miss new books from Crusie but am always happy to return to her backlist.

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian – I’ve seen Sebastian’s name mentioned regularly as the author of queer historical romances but they didn’t seem like my thing.  However, this cosy mystery set in a small village shortly after WWII and focused on the local doctor and the spy who comes to investigate a recent murder was just delightfully warm and satisfying.  I’m delighted to know there’s a sequel.

Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan – I have been so looking forward to this first book in a new crime series from Khan after discovering her work last year (The Unquiet Dead made my list of favourite books for 2021) and am happy to report it’s her best book yet.  And it was even reviewed in the NYT recently!

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade – Dade’s “Spolier Alert” romance series about the stars of a Game-of-Thrones-esque show has been surprisingly delightful, with the first two books heavily focused on fandom antics.  This deviates from that formula by focusing a romance between costars and I loved it.  This was the light but still emotionally relatable book I needed to break my reading drought.

The Candid Life of Meena Dave by Namrata Patel – Meena Dave is a photojournalist who, after losing her adoptive parents as a teen, has never had a true home.  When she is left an apartment in Boston by a women she didn’t know, she discovers a co-op that runs like a family and begins to uncover her own history and culture, as well as learn how to connect again with others.  I read this over the weekend and really enjoyed it.  The characters felt realistically complicated, as did the loneliness Meena struggled with.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

A Village in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd – several years ago, Boyd wrote Travellers in the Third Reich, an interesting look at the rise of Nazis through the eyes of visitors to Germany.  I had my quibbles with it but overall found it fascinating so am excited to read this follow-up, where she focuses on the villagers of Oberstdorf (which has coincidentally been on my list of travel destinations for several years – as are most places in the Alps).

The Ghost and Mrs Muir by R.A. Dick – a long-awaited ILL hold!  Kate’s write up caught my eye last February and, nine months later, here we finally are.  I’ve seen the movie numerous times but have never read this.

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe – I’ve been a latecomer to Stibbe but have loved everything I’ve read by her so far.

Home is the Hunter by Helen MacInnes – I’ve read a couple of MacInnes’ spy novels recently and was sad to find how few of her works the library has in stock.  Intriguingly, one thing it has held on to is this comic play about Odysseus’ return home.

Not Far From Brideshead by Daisy Dunn – a strangely slim look at Oxford between the wars.

The Movement by Ayisha Malik – Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged delighted me back in 2015 (it was one of my favourite books that year) and I’ve happily scooped up everything she’s written (or ghost-written) since then.

What did you pick up this week?


After three long years, I finally made it back to Europe in October.  After years of dreaming and planning (and cancelling), it was so nice to have my annual pilgrimage back – even the ten hour flight and nine hour time difference were a joy to have back in my life.

You’d think I would have come up with an adventurous itinerary after such a long absence but no.  I went for familiar things this time: a few days in Bologna, six days hiking in the South Tyrol, and then a long weekend in Munich to wrap it all up.

I loved Bologna when I first visited in 2017 and it was just as enjoyable on this second visit.  There are significantly more tourists now than five years ago but nothing compared to other Italian cities and students still dominate this university town.  I came for the food (the best of anywhere I’ve travelled in Italy) and the proximity to Ravenna, where I returned to see the Byzantine mosaics.  Ravenna was shockingly quiet compared to my previous visit and it was amazing to have such peace while gazing at the mosaics.  Ravenna, Judith Herrin’s excellent history of the city, had come out since my last visit and I was glad to have picked through it before this trip as it added a lot of context to the experience.  Back in Bologna, the portico-lined pilgrimage route up to San Luca remained a favourite way to stretch my legs – and an excuse for more delicious pasta each evening.

From Bologna, I headed north to the Italian alps and the small town of Schenna, perched above the famous spa resort of Meran (or Merano in Italian).  While I was growing up, my aunt and uncle lived about half the year in Europe and would rave about the beauty of Meran which they visited in the spring and fall, taking full advantage of its micro climate.  Their slide shows of blossoming orchards, palm trees, and oleanders, all with snow-capped mountain peaks in the background convinced me it was somewhere I had to see.  But my interests are more active than theirs, so I wanted to be slightly closer to the mountains – a brief perfectly fulfilled by Schenna, which was only a 15 minute bus ride above Meran.

For six days, my daily routine consisted of long hikes in the mountains or through orchards and vineyards, late afternoon swims, quiet reading time with a panaroma view whenever I looked up, and leisurely dinners at my hotel’s excellent restaurant.  For me, this is the perfect recipe for relaxation.  I loved Bologna but when I break free of the office this is what my soul wants: time to be outside and move, followed by some pampering.  Europe is full of amazing hotels geared to hikers and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of them, but the Hotel Tyrol in Schenna may now rank as my favourite.  I am already plotting how soon I can return.

The other highlight of Schenna was getting to practice my German, which has become extremely rusty over the last three years.  You hear a little Italian in Meran, but it’s still overwhelmingly a German-speaking region and the tourists seem to come primarily from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.  My German remains extremely rusty but it was fun to have some practice and I’m determined to do better next time!

I wrapped up the trip with four days in Munich with no particular purpose.  The weather was gorgeous – sunny and in the low twenties each day – and most of the time I just wandered various neighbourhoods, enjoying the architecture and fall colours.  I was there over a weekend and spent Sunday morning, when so many things are closed, strolling through the park at Schloss Nymphenburg, enjoying the sight of so many families out doing the same.  When I was done there, I stopped at a nearby beer garden, which was bustling to the tune of an enthusiastic brass band.  It was as idyllic a Bavarian Sunday as you can possibly get.

The two absolute highlights of Munich were cultural – as they should be in such a busy city!  I went to see a spectacular production of Cinderella by the Bavarian State Ballet company.  It was beautiful, it was funny, it was gorgeously choreographed and I loved every second of it.

The other cultural highlight was far more niche: the Sudetendeutsches Museum.  Only opened a couple of years ago, this small but superbly presented museum is focused on the German-speaking people who lived in the Czech lands until the post-WWII expulsions.  Through a mix of well-curated items and interactive exhibits (in German, Czech and English), it shows the role German-speakers played in Bohemia and how this evolved and how relationships between Czech-speakers and German-speakers changed, particularly with the rise of nationalism in the late 19th Century as Czechs began to demand more rights.  It ended brutally in 1945 and more than a million of the German-speakers who were expelled ended up in Bavaria, which is how it came to house this museum.  I was travelling with my Czech-born mother and we spent more than two hours going through the museum, learning so much that she had never been taught in her communist-era school days.

And that was it!  A glorious return to proper travelling and I can’t wait to do more again in 2023 – starting in February with New Zealand.

When one thinks of the literature of the 1920s (as we’ve had cause to do recently thanks to the 1929 Club last week), we think of a world still coming to grips with the devastation of the First World War and the societal upheaval it caused.  We think of escapist mysteries with war-damaged detectives, and bleak memoirs of the Western Front, and women – loudly, angrily – asserting their place in the world.  We do not always think of ditzy debutantes but, joyously, that is what we get in The Trials of Topsy by A.P. Herbert, a collection of satirical pieces from Punch which was first released in 1928.

The dispatches, written with breathless illiteracy by Lady Topsy Trout to her dear friend Trix, record her navigation of London society – and, loathsomely, the country – while her parents eagerly await her selection of a spouse.  Topsy certainly has an active social life but, as we can tell from the opening, her ambitions may not be exactly aligned with her parents’ yet:

Well Trix darling this blistering Season is nearly over and I’m still unblighted in matrimony, isn’t it too merciful, but you ought to see poor Mum’s face, my dear, she’s saturated with the very sight of me poor darling, not that I don’t try…

Young Topsy is sage enough to recognize that an endless whirl of parties and over-the-top extravaganzas, while providing material for her letters to Trix, is no way to live, especially after meeting Mr Haddock (“only I do wish his name wasn’t Albert”) who has no shortage of down-to-earth interests.  He admits to writing a little and soon Topsy too finds herself writing for a paper.  When he takes up campaigning for a seat in Parliament, Topsy becomes a devoted campaigner – and an incredible hit with the proletariat in Mr Haddock’s humble riding.  He even engages her in good works, to her amazement:

Well, Trix, my partridge, I’ve just had the most drastic adventure, well when I tell you that Mr Haddock used to do good works at some settlement oasis or something in the East End and every now and then a sort of nostalgia  for Whitechapel comes over him or else it’s a craving for goodness or something, so he goes down to some morbid club and plays Halma with the poor, which I think is so confiding of them because I’m sure he can’t play Halma well one day he asked me if I’d care to go with him, but my dear the very thought of Halma merely decimates me, and my dear you know I dote on the poor but I never can think of a thing to say, well then he said would I help send some poor children off to the country, and that sounded more adequate because if you can’t think of anything to say to children you can always tell them to stop doing what they’re doing, and anything that means sending children somewhere else must be doing a good action to somebody, because I do think that children are a bit superfluous, don’t you darling, and besides I wanted to show Mr Haddock that I have a good heart really though I will not play Halma if it means a Revolution.

All these un-deb-like activities clearly have an impact on her many admirers.  Though Topsy claims to repel the most attractive of her suitors – “my dear the rows of men who’ve departed to India and everywhere just as I was beginning to think they were rather tolerable, really darling in my humble way I’m quite populating the Empire, because my dear I do seem to have a gift for dissipating the flower of our youth to the four corners” – some are determined enough to follow her changing interests and adapt themselves to her.  Just not always successfully:

Well my dear it seems poor Terence has decided I’m a high-brow and my dear since we last met he’s been reading a book, my dear too unnatural, my dear one of those cathartic female novelists who adulate Sussex and sin and everything, and my dear they’re always bathing in no-piece costumes, and of course my poor Terence was utterly baffled because it seems there isn’t a white man from cover to cover and no horses and scarcely a hound, well I must say I thought it was rather a lily-white gesture for a subaltern in the Guards to read a book for my sake…

While Topsy’s sense of grammar (if someone ever taught her how to use a period, she has long forgotten the lesson.  Thank goodness she seems not to have been introduced to exclamation points) is in doubt, her charm and energy never are.  She dashes through life with good intentions but her youth and ignorance generally lead her into trouble – all the better from the reader’s perspective.  This is classic Punch, making gentle yet still affectionate fun of an oblivious character and her class while still making her loveable.  And despite her ditzy moments, Topsy’s judgement is clearly excellent as evidenced by her review of a play – she arrived late so didn’t catch the title – she was sent to review:

…it was the most old-fashioned mellodrama and rather poor taste I thought, my dear all about a black man who marries a white girl, my dear too American, and what was so perfectly pusillanimous so as to make the thing a little less incompatible the man who acted the black man was only brown, the merest beige darling, pale sheik-colour, but the whole time they were talking about how black he was, my dear too English.  Well of course the plot was quite defective and really my dear if they put it on in the West End not a soul would go to it except the police possibly because my dear there were the rudest remarks, well this inane black man gets inanely jealous about his anaemic wife the moment they’re married and my dear she’s a complete cow of a woman, my dear too clinging, only there’s an obstruse villain called Yahgo or something who never stops lying and my dear for no reason at all that I could discover, my dear it was so unreasonable that every now and then he had to have the hugest solilliquies, is that right, to explain what he’s going to do next, well he keeps telling the old black man that the white girl has a fancy-friend, well my dear they’ve only been married about ten days but the black man merely laps it up, one moment’s he’s Nature’s honeymooner and the next he’s knocking her down, and what I thought was so perfectly heterodox he was supposed to be the world’s  successful general but my dear I’ve always understood the sole point of a real he-soldier is that they’re the most elaborate judges of character and always know when you’re lying, and if this black man couldn’t see through Yahgo it’s too unsatisfying to think of him winning a single battle against the Turks.

As the book ends, Topsy is contemplating a more active role in politics after assisting Mr Haddock’s campaign alongside the redoubtable private secretary Taffeta (“there’s simply nothing she doesn’t know except the love of a clean-limbed Britisher, my dear it’s rather poignant, but if you will wear pince-nez and brown boots and the badge of the Guild of the Godly Girls it does make it difficult for Destiny doesn’t it darling?”) and we can only quake with delight at the prospect of what she could get up to.  Thankfully, that is chronicled in Topsy, MP and I’m eagerly awaiting my library copy now.  Even better news is that Handheld Press is releasing a collection of the Topsy stories next year called The Voluble Topsy to bring joy to the masses – though no doubt headaches to Kate and co who have to proof all of Topsy’s characterful typos.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

A big week for Essie Summers novels via inter-library loans here – all the way from Newfoundland!  That’s a lengthy journey, about 5,000km by plane, and I am endlessly amazed and appreciative that they all come at no cost to me.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

After putting library holds on pause while I was on vacation, they came rushing at me last weekend.  Between two different library systems I picked up more than 20 items on Saturday, including these recent releases:

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews – Matthews has been a relatively recent discovery for me but I’m loving her gentle historical romances.  This is the second in her “Belles of London” series, which started earlier this year with The Siren of Sussex.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik – the end to Novik’s Scholomance trilogy.

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn – I’m hearing only good things about this.

The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting – Mytting’s The Bell in the Lake was one of my favourite books I read last year so I’ve been waiting impatiently for this second book to appear in translation.

Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell – Rundell, best known for her childrens’ books, has been getting heaps of praise for this biography of John Dunne.

Lore Olympus, Volume Two by Rachel Smythe – an enjoyable continuation of the webtoon about Hades and Persephone.

Iron Curtain by Vesna Goldsworthy – I’ve been looking forward to this since reading the FT review last February.

Gifts by Laura Barnett – are you ready for Christmas reading yet?  I’m not sure I am but let’s find out.

Ducks by Kate Beaton – There are 320 people in the library line behind me waiting for this graphic memoir about Beaton’s time working the oil sands, which gives you some idea of how much buzz there is around this.  I read it instantly and it’s superb.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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’m back!  I had a wonderful holiday (and might even be organized enough to share some photos in the next week) and, despite spending hours each day walking/hiking, did manage to fit in a fair amount of reading.  One highlight of being home is being reunited with physical books after two weeks of exclusive e-reader use and I had these three inter-library loans ready to welcome me back.

The Trials of Topsy by A.P. Herbert – I tracked this down as soon as I heard that Handheld Press would be issuing a collection of the Topsy books next summer.  It had been on my radar for a while and, having woken unnaturally early on Tuesday morning, I read through it with delight before work.  Place your pre-orders now!

Miss Bishop by Bess Streeter Aldrich – My fourth encounter with Bess Streeter Aldrich this year, after having loved both A Lantern in Her Hand and A White Bird Flying (but finding The Rim of the Prairie disappointing).

The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino – encouraged by Jo Walton’s enthusiasm for Pellegrino (in her monthly reading list posts), I’ve thoroughly been enjoying discovering her Italian-set novels for myself.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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’m off on holiday, which means time to overload my e-reader with far, far, far more books that I will ever get to.  I will spare you the full list of 20+ titles I’ve loaded for a two week holiday and share these highlights only, as they have probably the best chance of actually being read.

Horizon by Helen MacInnes – I have had a strange introduction of MacInnes.  She’s known for her spy thrillers (like this one, set in the South Tyrol – exactly where I’m headed) but I’ve only read one very tedious romance and a delightful story of worldly women who end up on a ranch in Wyoming.  Time to see what’s she’s really about!

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters – I adore Amelia Peabody and have enjoyed some of Peters’ stand-alone books but have never tried any of the Vicky Bliss books.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – I continue my discovery of Tyler.

And three brand new releases from some of my favourite authors:

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson – Atkinson never disappoints and reviews for this novel set in 1920s London have been excellent.  I’ll be surprised if this isn’t started (and possibly finished) on the plane.

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie – Zahra and Maryam have been best friends since childhood in Karachi, even though—or maybe because—they are unlike in nearly every way. Yet they never speak of the differences in their backgrounds or their values, not even after the fateful night when a moment of adolescent impulse upends their plans for the future.
 
Three decades later, Zahra and Maryam have grown into powerful women who have each cut a distinctive path through London. But when two troubling figures from their past resurface, they must finally confront their bedrock differences—and find out whether their friendship can survive.
 
Thought-provoking, compassionate, and full of unexpected turns, Best of Friends offers a riveting take on an age-old question: Does principle or loyalty make for the better friend?

The Winners by Fredrik Backman – the third book in Backman’s excellent Beartown series.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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’m enjoying some of the non-fiction I picked up in recent weeks (Ravenna by Judith Herrin is fascinating and The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins is proving almost impossible to put down) so clearly the library gods knew I would need some palate cleansers for after with these three lighter reads.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

Jane’s Country Year by Malcolm Saville – I trust Kate’s taste so asked the library to purchase this as soon as I saw Handheld Press was releasing it earlier this year.  Since then, I also listened to an old episode of Ramblings with the members of the Malcolm Saville society, which has me even more intrigued by him.

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins – A first-hand account of travelling the refugee route from Afghanistan to Europe.

Taken by the Hand by O. Douglas – I love this quiet, cosy novel about a young woman who, after a lifetime of being guided by her adored mother, is left adrift following her unexpected death.  This is my favourite of O. Douglas’ novels and everything I wrote about it back in 2012 remains true.

Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean – a recent release about a woman in her mid-thirties who tries to mask her chaotic life when the daughter she gave up for adoption sixteen years before re-appears.

Spring in September by Essie Summers – my approach to Summers is to get whatever I can via ILL, in whatever order the library gods decree.  This is from 1978 and linked to several earlier books, at least one of which I’ve read, which makes it enjoyable to see familiar characters again.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough – this delightful comic memoir about two young women touring Europe in the 1920s was a favourite of mine in my teens but I let go of my copy years ago and haven’t reread it in at least a decade.

What did you pick up this week?