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Archive for January, 2014

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.

Sorry for the late post but computers will be computers and, being computers, will give you trouble just when you need them to behave.  All the more reason to love books!

Library LootLucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy  – Jane read this as part of her Century of Books last year and I am determined to make it part of mine this year.

Here Be Dragons by Stella Gibbons – Hayley read and reviewed this two years ago (which makes me feel really old if time is flying by that quickly) and I’ve been wanting to read it since then.  Also, it is another title to add to my list of books about young women opening tea shops (an usual but real niche).

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon – I am kicking myself for having cleared out all my “Outlander” books during last year’s big book purge.  Once I started rereading this, I remembered how much I love all of the books and, more importantly, how I love being able to read them one after the other without having to wait for library holds to come in (I’ve skim-read Drums of Autumn and Dragonfly in Amber since reading this over the weekend).   Also, it turns out they are awful books to read on my Kobo.  Convenient, yes, not to have to lug 1000 pages around in my bag but less convenient if you want to quickly skip ahead a hundred pages or so to your favourite parts.

Library Loot 2More Jane Gardam!  Yes, I still owe you a review of A Long Way From Verona and I might even throw in a review of Old Filth (so good) but until then I am just going to keep working my way through her back catalogue, starting with these two books:

Faith Fox by Jane Gardam – When sweet, healthy hearty Holly Fox dies suddenly in childbirth, the Surrey village whose pearl she was reverberates with shock. She leaves behind her a helpless, silent husband, and a tiny daughter, Faith. Everyone assumes Holly’s loving and capable mother Thomasina will look after Faith, but when she unaccountably deserts her newborn grandchild, the baby must be packed off to her father’s peculiar family in the North – ‘the very strangest people you ever saw my dear’.

The Summer After the Funeral by Jane Gardam – The summer following the death of their father, an elderly clergyman, the three Price children are farmed out to various acquaintances while their maddening, energetic mother searches for a new home.  Sebastian takes off for a “Buddhist Monastery,” Beams (brilliant, ugly and indecently frank) suffers through the holidays with a boisterous, boat-crazed family, and 16-year –old Athene faces the most unsettling arrangements of all as she drifts, as if in a trance, through a vagabond summer filled with disturbing people and bizarre experiences.

What did you pick up this week?

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Technical Difficulties

Henrietta Street by Peter Snow - this has nothing to do with technical difficulties but isn't it pretty?

Henrietta Street by Peter Snow – this has nothing to do with technical difficulties but I thought we should have something pleasant in this post.

Having some technical difficulties today so the Library Loot post won’t be up until this evening.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

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The Spell of the YukonStuck at home last Thursday, felled by one of the many ailments that seem to be going around, I was feeling too weak to read so instead I settled down to watch Discovery channel’s “Klondike” miniseries, which I’d recorded when it aired earlier in the week.  Set during the Klondike gold rush at the end of the 19th Century, it’s not a particularly memorable program, unless you enjoy spending six hours admiring Richard Madden’s hair (I certainly do), but it did serve to remind me of all the very bleak history books and historical novels I read during my preteens about life in the North during this period.  In this cheerful frame of mind, I picked up one of the most enduring books about (at least in part) the Klondike gold rush: The Spell of the Yukon, and Other Verses by Robert Service.

Published in 1907, The Spell of the Yukon contains Service’s two best known poems: “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”.  Their Kipling-esque rhymes have made them favourites for generations of school children forced to learn something to recite in class and no matter how verse-averse you are, I’ve yet to meet any Canadian who doesn’t at least know the first haunting lines of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Though other verses may be more well-known these days, my favourite piece in the book has always been The Spell of the Yukon, the lament of a miner who struck it rich and then went south to enjoy his wealth, only to find himself yearning to return to the place where he made his fortune:

I wanted the gold, and I sought it:
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy – I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it –
Came out with a fortune last fall, –
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No!  There’s the land.  (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it:
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth – and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kind of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that fills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

This is not sophisticated poetry but it is captivating, exciting stuff with a very strong sense of place. This collection deals with wanderlust in general but the bulk of the poems are based on Service’s time in the Yukon. He captures the excitement and energy of the place but also the dangers, both physical and spiritual, that await: “No spot on the map in so short a space/ has hustled more souls to hell.”

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Library Lust

credit: Better Homes and Gardens

credit: Better Homes and Gardens

Proof that books alone cannot make a room, or, in this case, a corner, interesting.  And in what world is a tufted leather ottoman-aspiring-to-be-a-chaise-longue any sort of substitute for a decent reading chair?

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Scene in Glencoe Pass, Scotland, in the Summer of 1937 by Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook

Scene in Glencoe Pass, Scotland, in the Summer of 1937 by Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook

Last weekend, with a mind weak with exhaustion after some heavy-duty studying and rather giddy at the realisation that there were no more exams left on the horizon, I settled down for some light and frivolous reading with, as is so often the case with me, a Scottish theme.  While neither Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher or Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson are destined to become great favourites, they certainly helped me unwind after a stressful period.

Winter SolsticeWinter Solstice was only my second encounter with Pilcher.  I’d read Coming Home as a pre-teen and thought it was just about the trashiest thing I’d ever read up to that point in my life.  A subsequent rereading didn’t do much to change my mind.  Still, enough of my blogging friends are fans of Pilcher that I wanted to give her another try and Winter Solstice had been recommended as a perfect winter read.  Well, it is very wintery – the story focuses on a group of troubled people who find themselves spending Christmas together in the Scottish Highlands – but I could not stand the book.  I loved the concept and the writing was bland but unobjectionable, but the characterization would have had me throwing the book across the room if I hadn’t been reading it as a library e-book – my lovely Kobo should not be punished for what I load onto it.  I hung on until the end, hoping that something might happen to redeem it but that never happened.  If anything, I only got more frustrated.  I can see how in certain moods others could find Pilcher’s writing comforting and enjoyably but she is decidedly not for me.

Apricot SkyApricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson, though not particularly inspired, was much more enjoyable.  Described by Scott as “the best approximation I’ve found of a D.E. Stevenson novel not written by Stevenson herself”, it is the story of Cleo MacAlvey, who returns to Scotland after three years working in America, and the rest of the MacAlvey family.  It is 1948 and quiet Cleo, now thirty, has been in love with Neil Garvine for the past ten years, though the dour Neil is completely oblivious to her adoration.  Their more outgoing (and altogether delightful) younger siblings – Raine MacAlvey and Ian Garvine – are about to be married and so, much to both her discomfort and her pleasure, Cleo finds herself frequently in Neil’s company, though she can’t seem to string a sensible or half-way interesting sentence together any time he is near.

Cleo is unobjectionable but I do wish she were more compelling.  Her younger nieces and nephews, who get quite a lot of the author’s attention, are quite interesting but it is her sister Raine who provided the bulk of the entertainment here.  She is bright and outgoing, happy to barge “through life without caring whether people liked her or not, and […]about as introverted as a fox-terrier puppy.”  Her blunt exchanges with her equally affable fiancé were my favourite parts of the novel and left me caring far more for them than I did for any of the other characters.

The book is overly long, full of characters who ought to be more interesting than they are, and generally lacking a sense of humour but it is all still very pleasant.  Not quite up to D.E. Stevenson level, I think, but rather more akin to the works of Susan Pleydell or Noel Streatfeild’s Susan Scarlett novels.  I wouldn’t rush out to buy one of the absurdly-priced second-hand copies but if Greyladies were to reissue it, and it would be a perfect title for them, then I would be happy to have a copy of my own.

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Library Lust

credit: Griffin Enright Architects

credit: Griffin Enright Architects

Doesn’t this look like a perfect oasis of calm?

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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 am having one of those weeks where, after a heaving reading weekend, I find myself not even tempted to pick up a book in the evenings.  However, since my alternate evening activity is catching up on series 3 of Borgen, I’m not feeling the loss too keenly.  And once I’m caught up on my television watching, I have some truly excellent books waiting for me! Library Loot 1

Old Filth by Jane Gardam – after my first, excellent encounter with Gardam (A Long Way from Verona, which I will finish reviewing eventually) I could not wait to read more from her.

Gran-Nannie by Noel Streatfeild – Recently reissued as Tea By the Nursery Fire, Hayley reviewed this just a few days ago and has me even more excited to read it.

An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan – my favourite of Morgan’s Regency novels.

Library Loot 2The inter-library load system came up trumps this week.  I put both these requests into the system with very little hope that they would be able to find them.  But, lo and behold, the books are here in my hands.  If my allegiance to the library had ever been in doubt, they’ve clearly got it for life now.

Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson – Scott’s inclusion of this on his (fabulous) “Possibly Persephone” list and his description of it as “the best approximation I’ve found of a D.E. Stevenson novel not written by Stevenson herself” made it obvious that I had to read it.

Tales from Greenery Street by Denis Mackail – I finally get to read about Ian and Felicity’s Greenery Street neighbours!

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust

via Desire to Inspire (designer: Stephane Chamard)

via Desire to Inspire (designer: Stephane Chamard)

While I’m not sure I’d want shelves like these in my own home, they certainly look very striking in this dramatic Toronto house.

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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.

It is Linda’s first day hosting Library Loot!  Don’t forget to go over and say hello!

Bit of a crazy week here so, after stocking up on library books over the holidays, all I can do this week is stare longingly at the ones I haven’t yet read (thankfully, that’s only a few).

Library Loot 1Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam – amazing!  My first encounter with Gardam and I can’t wait to read more.  As soon as I have some spare time I will be writing a glowing, wildly enthusiastic review.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – I may have bored everyone around me with random astronaut/Chris Hadfield facts while reading this.  Loved it.

Library Loot 2Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah

Library Loot 3To the Letter by Simon Garfield

The Seasons of Rome by Paul Hofmann

Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

What did you pick up this week (or over the holidays)?

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Still Glides the StreamOn January 1st, savouring my day off work and determined to get the year off to a good start, I settled down with Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson.  There is nothing quite so nice as beginning a New Year in the company of an old, dependable friend.

Published in 1959, Still Glides the Stream begins with thirty-five year old Will Hastie returning home to Scotland after years abroad in the Army, intent on learning to farm the family estate, Broadmeadows.  Will settles in quickly, enjoying his time with his father and reigniting his acquaintance with the Elliot Murray family.  Growing up, Will and the Elliot Murray children, Rae and Patty, had been inseparable.   By the time the story begins, Rae has been dead for many years, killed in France during the war.  Patty, still at home and still unmarried (though engaged) at thirty-four, is just as friendly as ever though and she and Will are delighted to strike up their old friendship.

When Patty mentions a curious letter she received from Rae shortly before his death, Will tells her not to worry herself over it.  But, knowing that Rae would never have written such odd words without some purpose, he privately decides to look into the mystery.  He leaves for France soon after (conveniently avoiding meeting Patty’s awful fiancé during his visit).

In France, he discovers Rae’s secret: his friend had married a French girl, Julie, and was not sure how to tell his family about her.  Will tracks down Julie and discovers not just Rae’s widow but also his son, Tom.  Julie’s excuses for not having made her husband’s family aware of herself or her child are rather weak but handy for plot’s sake so we won’t dwell too much on that.  Conveniently, both Julie and Tom speak excellent English; Julie, knowing how much Rae loved his family home, has seen to it that Tom had English lessons so that he would one day be ready to join the Elliot Murrays’ world.

Will brings Julie and Tom back to Scotland, everyone adores them, etc, etc.  Will briefly thinks he is in love with the lovely Julie but by the end of the book realises that, of course, he has been in love with the steady Patty all along.  All ends well, with everyone suitably married off and young Tom happily adapting to his new Scottish home.

Julie is an interesting D.E.S. character.  She is very lovely and good and, though in some ways Patty’s rival, the two become dear friends.  But she is cold and cautious in a way that horrifies Will when he realises it.  She wants a steady, comfortable life, not a love affair, and so is perfectly happy to marry for position rather than passion.  She wants to be back among people she understands, whose customs she knows.  “To me,” she says, “it seems sensible and right to marry a good kind man, to be his wife and the mother of his children.”  Patty and Will, both romantics (albeit of a silent Scottish strain), are deeply disillusioned with her after this revelation.  I, personally, rather admire her level-headed pragmatism.

But bizarrely, though much is made of Julie’s plans to arrange a comfortable but unromantic future for herself, little is made of her willingness to leave her son in Scotland while she returns to France.  It seems in character for her to do so (as she says early on, she has always known that Tom would one day go to live among his father’s people) but wildly out of character for the family-oriented (and rather judgemental) Will and Patty to make no horrified exclamations about her being an unnatural mother

Still Glides the Streams fits neatly in among the bulk of D.E.S.’s good-but-not-great works.  The plot may be flimsy and the characters one dimensional but D.E.S. had a gift of making such unpromising stuff into something really charming.

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