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Archive for July, 2013

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader 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 read an absurd number of books in July (28, as of Tuesday night) and have reviewed exactly one of them.  Not an impressive statistic.  Next week I ought to avoid the library and focusing on reviewing at least a few of them…but that’s a problem for next week.

Library Loot 3Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns – Recently reissued by Virago, Comyns’ first novel tells of “of a chaotic and ultimately tragic childhood on the banks of the River Avon.”

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen – a long essay (and very short book) about how reading has shaped Quindlen’s identity and life.  Highly quotable (expect excerpts soon) and highly defensive of middlebrow literature (hurrah!).

Island Summers by Tilly Culme-Seymour – This memoir about three generations of women and their summers spent on the family’s small Norwegian island was on display in every bookstore I visited while in the UK and, knowing that it wasn’t coming out in North America until late September, I itched to buy it.  I restrained myself and was then rewarded by discovering that the library had purchased a digital edition already.

Library Loot 2My furious reading/rereading of all of Lipman’s books continues:

The Family Man by Elinor Lipman – A hysterical phone call from Henry Archer’s ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend his well-ordered life and bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago.

Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman – Given up for adoption thirty-six years ago, April Epner, now a quiet-living, sensible-jumper-wearing Latin teacher, has never had the slightest desire to be reunited with her biological mother. But, as it turns out, she doesn’t have a choice.

Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman – Isabel Krug is a glamorous blonde with a tabloid past; Harriet Mahoney is a bookish single would-be writer, unlucky in love, who never takes risks—except one.

Library LootAfter hearing about Margery Sharp for years from other bloggers, I finally tracked down a few of her novels via inter-library loan.

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp – do read Barb’s review

Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp – ditto

What did you pick up this week?

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Keswick2As a family, we had been planning our return to the Lake District ever since visiting the area all too briefly back in 2008.  Then we had been in the south, visiting Kendall and then the village of Crosthwaite.  This time, we based ourselves in the north, staying in Portinscale, just outside of Keswick (on Derwentwater).  We rented a wonderful self-catering cottage there for a week and it was the perfect base from which to explore the region.  We rented a car and thank goodness since it gave us the freedom to roam widely and freely.  While continental Europe has public transportation neatly and thoughtfully designed for outdoor enthusiasts looking to walk and climb, England does not!

(Warning: these Lake District posts are going to have only the barest of details accompanied by an overwhelming number of photos!)

On our first full day, we set out from Portinscale and walked up Walla Crag, a small fell with beautiful views over Derwentwater.  This was my favourite walk of the entire trip (and the only fell we ended up doing, unfortunately) and the views some of the most memorable. Keswick6 Keswick8 Keswick9Keswick4

On the second day, we took a beautiful circular drive from Portinscale.  It was a stunning day and we wanted to take advantage of the good weather to see as much of the area as we could – who knew what rain the rest of the week might bring!  We went through the Newlands Valley, stopped at Buttermere where we walked around the lake, continued on to the Borrowdale Valley where we had lunch, and then finished the day at the Castlerigg Stone Circle.

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View from Newlands Pass

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Buttermere

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Castlerigg Stone Circle

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View from Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg3And that is more than enough photos for one day!

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what-matters-in-jane-austen-john-mullan-2013-x-2001While I was reading What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan earlier this year, I was consumed by one thought: I have read too many books about Jane Austen.  I have become one of those people who has too many tiny details memorized and who, in a book that is consumed with pointing out the details that most readers forget, spent half my time wondering how the author could have omitted X,Y, and Z, examples that would have better illustrated his point if included.  Oh dear.  I am far too young to already be this neurotic.

It is a fun book, especially if you’re able to quiet your inner debater and just enjoy Mullan’s points.  He addresses “twenty crucial puzzles” (hint: not remotely crucial and, for readers already familiar with the books, not particularly puzzling either) in essays such as “Why Is It Risky to Go to the Seaside?”, “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?”, “What Do the Characters Call Each Other?”, “How Much Money Is Enough?” and, “Do We Ever See the Lower Classes?”  These five chapters I’ve just named were among my least favourite, largely because they did little more than pull examples from the books and leave it at that.  If you’ve read the novels, you know why it is risky to go to the seaside, you know what servants are seen (and you know their names) and what lower class characters appear, and you certainly know who is calling each other “Miss” and “Mr” as opposed to by their first names.  I did like that Mullan rightly put the more salacious interpretations of Austen’s books in their proper place in “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?” but it still managed to be a pretty dull chapter.  If you’re a veteran of tricky Austen trivia quizzes there won’t be a lot of new information or analysis here, just a catalogue of events and people who fulfil the chapter’s criteria.

In contrast, my favourite chapters were “How Much Does Age Matter?”, “Who Dies in the Course of the Novels?”, and “Which Important Characters Never Speak?”.  “How Much Does Age Matter?” won me over in the easiest way possible: by talking about Emma.  Mullan argues that the difference in age between Emma and Mr Knightley matters primarily because it seems large enough to both of them to rule out a romantic relationship:

The sixteen years between them allowed them not to notice what they felt towards each other.  They have behaved as if the gap between their ages precluded romance, but we know that they should have known better.  Age does shape their relationship, but not at all as they expected.

“Who Dies in the Course of the Novels?” is just plain fun, probably the most fun that this book has to offer.  There are obvious deaths that shape the fate of characters (the death of Frank Churchill’s aunt allowing him and Jane Fairfax to finally go public with their engagement is the first example that comes to mind) but it is the little details that don’t necessarily matter to the plot that interested me most: 

No one dies during the course of Persuasion but the novel is full of the deaths that have mattered to its characters.  As Linda Bree rightly says, ‘most of the characters would have been wearing black, in some form, throughout the novel.’

Does the wearing of black change our fundamental understanding of Persuasion or its characters in any way?  No, of course not.  But it is still an intriguing point to consider the next time you’re reading the book.

“What Do Characters Say?” looks at the speeches of characters who were granted a voice (since this is Austen, that means the vast majority).  It is a bit of a muddled chapter but it does contain one very odd snippet: when discussing Mary and Henry Crawford’s relationship, specifically Mary’s teasing about her brother’s libertine ways, Mullan states that:

There is something chilling in the jesting of brother and sister.  Mary Crawford’s mock-condemnation (“horrible”, “detestable”) measures her distance from any real disapproval of his habitual behaviour.

Chilling?  That does not sit right with me, nor does the implication that Mary ought to disapprove of her brother’s behaviour.

(Query: most books about Austen touch on the relationships between sisters across her novels but do any look in depth at the relationships between brothers and sisters?  I would love to read essays on that topic.)

The flip side of what characters say is what they do not say, a subject Mullan addresses in “Which Important Characters Never Speak?”  Now, this is a topic so many Austen-lovers have touched on in the past that I am afraid Mullan was never going to be able to do justice to it in my eyes.  It is that old problem of too many examples and not enough analysis.  Why does Austen silence Susan Price, Fanny’s younger sister, who had once had so much to say?  And, fascinating as it is that Benwick does not speak in Persuasion, why are so many other characters in that book rendered almost mute?  Lady Russell, whose voice was of particular importance to Anne years before, is remarkably silent, denied speech for much of the novel.  Why?  It is a book that is notable for its overall lack of dialogue and yet Mullan never points that out or stops to consider why.  I found this wildly frustrating since speech (or the lack thereof) in Austen’s novels is one of my favourite topics to discuss and I cannot understand why anyone would want to touch on it so lightly and superficially.

Though the chapters I had been most excited to read (“How Much Money Is Enough?” in particular) ended up disappointing me, this was still an interesting book.  I just wanted a little more from it.  It absolutely suffered from my having read Speaking of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern only a few months before, which is much more fun and addresses the same questions (and many more) in greater depth.

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Library Lust

via Desire to Inspire

via Desire to Inspire

Ah, now we’re back to something I like. Pretty and pale.

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Officially, when people ask which was my favourite of the places we visited on this trip, I tell them all about the Lake District.  I gush about the lakes, the hills, the amazing walks and the perfect little cottage where we stayed.  And it was all wonderful but privately I think nothing on this trip gave me greater enjoyment than the day I spent at a place I had dreamed of visiting for years: Chatsworth.

I have wanted to visit Chatsworth and the Peak District for more than ten years but have never managed to fit it in on one of my visits.  This time I was determined to go.  I did not care how out of the way it would be, we were going to fit it in.  I was going to see the “Palace of the Peak”, a place that had inspired Austen, been home to a Mitford, and been shaped by two of Britain’s most iconic landscape gardeners (Capability Brown and Joseph Paxton).   How could any Austen-loving, Mitford-loving, garden-loving tourist not make time to visit?

We stayed only two nights in the Peak District, basing ourselves in Pilsely, one of the three villages belonging to the Chatsworth House estate.  We stayed at a tiny, perfect B&B that was my favourite of all the places we lodged on this trip.  The rooms were lovely, they came with the most complete tea-making kits I have ever seen (including a cookie jar filled with scrumptious homemade cookies), and the breakfasts were delicious.  And it was walking distance to Chatsworth.  Perfection.

View from bedroom window

View from bedroom window

The first afternoon we were there, having flown in from Amsterdam, was spent exploring Bakewell in the pouring rain.  Shockingly few photos were taken but it was an interesting afternoon.  By the time we made it back to Pilsley, the weather had slightly improved and we were able to take a quick walk through the village (very quick as the village is very small) and into the surrounding fields.

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The next day, our only full day in the Peak District, we went to Chatsworth.  I loved it.  I had been planning to visit since high school, building up expectations for years, but every single one was exceeded.  Since my father was sick with a cold by this point in the trip, we drove to Chatsworth from our B&B but parked at the lot away from the building.  From there, we walked through the park towards the house.  We were surrounded by sheep and on the other side of the stream from us were deer grazing in another section of the park.  And the more you walked, the more was revealed of Chatsworth itself.

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We took one of the guided tours around the house (highly recommended as the house is large and full of history you’re sure to miss if left to your own devices) in the morning and then my mother and I spent the afternoon wandering through the gardens (my poor sick father went back to the B&B to rest up).  I can’t decide which I preferred, the house or the gardens.  The house had some very obvious attractions:

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But of course so did the gardens:

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After a few hours in the gardens, we made our way to Edensor, the estate village nearest to the house, for tea, (extraordinarily good) cake, and a bit of a wander around the churchyard, which is where the past Dukes of Devonshire and their families are buried.  And then we took a very muddy, and, eventually, very windy walk back to Pilsley in the rain that we enjoyed more than most sane people probably would have.

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Edensor

Leaving the next morning, we all agreed what a shame it was we weren’t staying for longer.  Now that I’ve glimpsed the Peak District, I want to see more.  Chatsworth was lovely and I am thrilled that I finally saw it but now I need to figure out how to get back and explore the countryside…

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader 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.

Marg has the Mr Linky this week!

I had forgotten how much time there is to read in summer.  My friends are all out of town on holiday, there is nothing to watch on television, and the days are ridiculously long.  I have been waking up at five most mornings and have a lovely summer routine now of reading for a few hours before I start on the day’s activities.  Since the day also ends with reading, I have been getting through a truly ridiculous number of books.  Early morning hours are not meant for heavy books (or at least I am not meant to read heavy books at that hour) so there’s been lots of fluffy romance, mystery, and chick lit books coming home with me from the library, as well as the more “serious” literary offerings.  So far, it has proved the perfect balance.  Library Loot 1

Reading a few of Peters’ books while on holiday reminded me of how much I enjoy her writing and how little of it I have read outside of the Amelia Peabody books.

Devil May Care by Elizabeth Peters – A very fun ghost story.

Ellie and Henry are young, rich, and engaged. When Ellie’s eccentric Aunt Kate asks her to house-sit at her palatial estate in Burton, Virginia, Ellie is happy to oblige. She feels right at home there with the nearly invisible housekeepers and the plethora of pets, but conventional Henry finds Aunt Kate and her lifestyle a little hard to take. After he leaves, Ellie realizes that there are disturbing secrets about the local aristocracy buried in a dusty old book she has carried into the mansion, and her sudden interest in the past is attracting a slew of unwelcome guests—some of them living . . . and some, perhaps, not.

The Love Talker by Elizabeth Peters – Laurie has finally returned to Idlewood, the beloved family home deep in the Maryland forest, where she found comfort and peace as a lonely young girl. But things are very different now. There is no peace in Idlewood. The haunting sound of a distant piping breaks the stillness of a snowy winter’s evening. Seemingly random events have begun to take on a sinister shape. And dotty old Great-Aunt Lizzie is convinced that there are fairies about—and she has photographs to prove it. For Laurie, one fact is becoming disturbingly clear: there is definitely something out there in the woods—something fiendishly, cunningly, malevolently human—and the lives of her aging loved ones, as well as Laurie’s own, are suddenly at serious risk.

The Seventh Sinner by Elizabeth Peters – At first, Jean Suttman thought she had died and gone to heaven when she was granted the opportunity to study in Rome. But the body that’s lying in the ancient subterranean Temple of Mithra—the murdered corpse of a repulsive and disliked fellow student—is far from her idea of heavenly. Now she’s truly frightened, and not just because small “accidents” seem to be occurring around her with disturbing regularity. It’s the ever-increasing certainty that someone, for some unknown reason, is ruthlessly determined to do her harm. Jean’s innocent underground excursion into a sacred pagan place has trapped her in something dark and terrifying, and even the knowledge that practical, perceptive fellow American Jacqueline Kirby is on the case won’t ease her fears. Because there’s only so far Jean Suttman can run . . . and no escape for her except death. Library Loot 2

I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman – a wonderful collection of personal essays.

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman – I read this yesterday and it was marvellous.

When Margaret Batten and Miles Finn are found dead in Margaret’s gray bungalow, all of King George, New Hampshire, is abuzz. Is it foul play? (No.) Were they engaged? (Yes, if you believe the cleaning lady.) And why do Margaret’s daughter, Sunny, and Miles’s son, Fletcher—perfect strangers until the funeral—have the same corona of prematurely gray hair? 

The Way Men Act by Elinor Lipman – Melinda LeBlanc, at 30, makes an untriumphant return to Harrow, Massachusetts, her recently gentrified hometown. She’s unmarried, romanced out, designing wedding bouquets for old classmates who hadn’t known a fraction of her early popularity. So why is she alone—not counting the occasional horizontal encounter—while these dull brides have found men and happiness? Library Loot 3

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell – Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta’s three grown children converge on their parents’ home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani – It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

A French Affair by Katie Fforde – not Fforde’s bestLibrary Loot 4

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity’s” own words, as she writes her account for her captors.

Audrey in Rome – an interesting collection of photos of Audrey Hepburn in Rome from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl – Recommended by Nancy Pearl, a young adult book with shades of Austen, shades of I Capture the Castle and nothing original whatsoever.  Instantly forgettable, it confirmed my theory that Pearl’s recommendations really do not suit my reading tastes. Library Loot 5

Amber Scott is Starting Over by Ruth Saberton – Amber Scott loves her city life—she has a terrific job working at a glossy magazine, and a fiancé, Ed, whom she’s known since college. Even if Ed doesn’t take her job seriously (as a solicitor, he doesn’t have much time for women’s magazines), it is Amber’s dream job. So Ed’s news that he has taken a job in the West Country turns Amber’s world upside down. The new life in Cornwall does not get off to the best start. The huge house Ed was so into is, well, huge—what is Amber going to do with four acres?  And when a handsome, if surly, man leads the local hunt over her land, it’s more than Amber can stand. So how is it that, before long Amber is friends with the local eccentric Lady of the Manor, making love potions at her mother’s recommendation, and answering the door naked to strangers?

Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott – When Jennifer Scott arrived at the doorstep of a grand Sixteenth Arrondissement apartment as a foreign exchange student, she was greeted by the woman who would become her mentor and the inspiration for the way she lived long after her time abroad was over. Madame Chic took the casual California teenager under her wing, revealing the secrets of how the French elevate the little things in life to the art of living.

Unsuitable Men by Pippa Wright – After eleven years of coupled-up domesticity, Rory Carmichael is single for the first time in her adult life. Even she would admit that her ex-boyfriend Martin wasn’t the most exciting man in the world — let’s face it, his idea of a rocking night was one spent updating his Excel spreadsheets — but Rory could rely on him and, having watched her mother rack up four turbulent marriages, that’s what matters. But when she discovers that her supposedly reliable Mr Right is a distinctly unreliable cheater, she’s forced to consider the possibility that everything she knows about relationships is wrong. In an effort to reinvigorate both her love life and her lacklustre career at posh magazine Country House, she sets herself a mission to date as many unsuitable men as possible. Toyboys. Sugar daddies. Fauxmosexuals. Maybe the bad boys she’s never dated can show her what she’s been missing in life. But if Mr Right can turn out to be so wrong, maybe one of her Mr Wrongs will turn out to be just right … Library Loot 6

Breakfast at Darcy’s by Ali McNamara – When Darcy McCall loses her beloved Aunt Molly, she doesn’t expect any sort of inheritance – let alone a small island! Located off the west coast of Ireland, Tara hasn’t been lived on for years, but according to Molly’s will Darcy must stay there for twelve months in order to fully inherit. It’s a big shock. And she’s even more shocked to hear she needs to persuade a village full of people to settle there, too. Darcy must leave behind her independent city life and swap stylish heels for muddy wellies. Between sorting everything from the plumbing to the pub, she meets confident, charming Conor and sensible, stubborn Dermot – but who will make her feel really at home?

The Dating Detox by Gemma Burgess – If you can’t date anyone nice, don’t date anyone at all…Dating is a dangerous sport. So after her sixth successive failed relationship, romantically-challenged 20-something Sass decides she’s had enough. The Dating Detox is born. No men, no break-ups, no problem. The result? Her life – usually joyfully/traumatically occupied with dates, clothes and vodka – is finally easy. Chastity rocks. No wonder nuns are always singing. Everything falls at her feet. Especially men. Will Sass break the rules? Why does fate keep throwing her in the path of the irritatingly amusing – and gorgeous – Jake? Will she ever roll the dice and play again? Or is a love-free life too good to risk losing? For the post-Carrie Bradshaw, post-Bridget Jones, post-credit crunch generation of singles, life isn’t beautiful, a bitch, or a beach. It’s a party.

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare – I have read a few of Dare’s romance novels now but this one, her first, is my hands-down favourite.

What did you pick up this week?

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We only spent two full days in Amsterdam, but they were busy ones.  We did a canal cruise, visited the Van Gogh museum (which currently has a wonderful exhibition on called “Van Gogh at Work”, looking at the way his style developed over the course of his career), wandered along the canals, and even managed to fit in a day trip to the Waterland region just north of the city.  And we took eager advantage of Amsterdam’s cosmopolitan culinary offerings, eating delicious Thai and Indonesian meals (quite a treat after weeks in the Czech Republic and Germany).

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Amsterdam was as beautiful as ever and, as usual, I spent a lot of time taking photos of my two favourite things about the city: the buildings and the flowers:

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The highlight of this visit though was our day in the countryside just outside of Amsterdam (which we reached using the excellent public buses), visiting Edam and the forming-fishing-now-tourist village of Marken.  It was lovely to escape the rush of the city for these very quiet towns.  Edam was particularly lovely and was only 30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal.  If I were someone working in Amsterdam, I could see the allure of living there rather than right in the city.

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Edam

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Edam

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Edam

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Marken

As much as I enjoy Amsterdam and what it has to offer, it is terribly busy this time of year and I was quite relieved to leave the crowds behind and fly to England.  In the Peak District, my odds of getting knocked down by an aggressive bicyclist – or worse, bicycle-wielding tourist – were dramatically reduced!

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We spent the week before leaving for Europe worrying about Dresden, our first stop after leaving the Czech Republic.  At the time, the railroad tracks between Prague and Dresden were partially underwater, our favourite beer garden was entirely underwater, and the Elbe was lapping at the steps of our hotel.  Still, we decided to proceed as planned.

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Though flood damage was visible everywhere, not to mention all the odd things floating down the Elbe (twenty-foot tall trees, traffic signs, furniture) any time you cared to look, it was amazing how quickly both Dresden and the surrounding towns and villages bounced back.  That favourite beer garden was up and running again, proudly displaying photos of where the water had been only ten days before, the beautiful park and paths that run along the Elbe had been cleared of debris, and most of the trains were running smoothly.  In the smaller towns in Saxon Switzerland, where water had reached the first floors of many buildings and hotels and destroyed the ground floors, many places were still closed but everyone was working hard to clean up as quickly as possible.  Adults were replacing windows shattered by the water, children were being dispatched to run space heaters and shop vacuums from one neighbour to another, and restaurants with no power and no working kitchen had set up outdoor grills to serve bratwurst and cold salads to hungry tourists hiking in the area.  It was an impressive sight.

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Dresden itself, away from the river-side flood damage, was as beautiful as I remembered it.  We had a perfect view of the old town from our hotel (the top photo was taken from my bedroom) and waking up every morning to that famous Canaletto view always put a smile on my face.  We showed my father, who had never been before, around the Old Town but spent most of our visit exploring areas outside of the city centre: we walked up through the wine terraces in one of the city’s western suburbs, visited a palace on the city’s eastern edge, and, once the commuter trains were running normally, went into Saxon Switzerland for a day of hiking and extraordinary views.  It was a wonderful visit, only confirming how much I love Dresden and Saxony.

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Library Lust

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This room is an excellent example of things I dislike: dark wood, low beams, “rustic” shelves, not to mention some very ugly sofas.  That said, I know from your comments that many of you will love this.  Variety is important and we’d all get very bored if every library I featured was one that suited only my tastes!

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A French AffairI am a good library user.  I do not mind spending months in the hold queue for a much-anticipated book by a favourite author.  In fact, there is something rather satisfying and even exciting about a long wait, especially since you never know exactly when the book is going to become available.  But when it does finally appear, I refuse to wait any longer to read it. After months of waiting, Katie Fforde’s newest book, A French Affair, arrived at my library branch last night.  I started reading it early this morning (don’t you love waking up early in the summer, when it is bright and warm even at five o’clock?) and had it finished before breakfast.

I have a muddled relationship with Katie Fforde’s books.  I adore a few of them –Flora’s Lot and Thyme Out are two of my very favourite comfort reads – and like most of the others, but some make such a minor impression that I forget about them completely.  I am afraid A French Affair is destined to fall into that third category.  It is not bad it just lacks the energy and sense of fun that usually make Fforde’s books such enjoyable escapes.

Gina Makepiece and her sister Sally have inherited their aunt’s small collection of antiques and her stall at the French House, the antiques centre in the Cotswolds where she used to sell the items.  Neither woman knows anything about antiques – Sally is a stay-at-home mother and Gina is in PR – but it isn’t long before Gina is throwing herself fully into this new world, eager to learn and to help the French House (and its handsome but grumpy owner, Matthew) thrive.

I am used to Fforde’s flat male characters and Matthew remains predictably distant throughout the story, though he is a marked improvement on many of Fforde’s heroes.  What I had not expected was how slow-moving the rest of the story was and how uninteresting I found Gina.  Usually, Fforde’s heroines have a chaotic blend of family and business interests that keep them absorbed and active for the course of the novel.  Here, that energy was missing and as a result the whole book fell a little flat for me.

I wasn’t precisely disappointed by this book but I had hoped, after Fforde’s excellent last novel (Recipe for Love), that she was back on form after a series of lacklustre recent efforts.  Apparently not quite yet.  A French Affair is still an interesting read for any Fforde fan but not one of her books that I’m eager to return to.

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