Archive for June, 2016

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.

Library Loot 1

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell – This WWII memoir arrived just as Scott announced he will be releasing it in October when he launches Furrowed Middlebrow Books.  I’ll know exactly where to go if I love it so much I have to have a copy!

The German War by Nicholas Stargardt – So ridiculously excited to read this social history of Germany during WWII.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – Was browsing the fantasy section and picked this one up.  The cover looks familiar from other blogs but I don’t know much about it.

Library Loot 2

It’s Only the Himalayas by S. Bedford – A humorous travel memoir from a young backpacker about her misadventures around the world.

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist – also humorous, also a memoir, also by a young person – but in this case focused on dating rather than travel misadventures.

Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson – (Not a memoir, not humorous, not about young people – aka “one of these things in not like the other ones”) A joint biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father.  I recently re-read Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl (my favourite of her books), which has me wanted to read more about her.  I remember starting and enjoying this when it first came out but sadly having to return it to the library unfinished.

Library Loot 3

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge – I’ve heard so much praise for Goudge from other book bloggers but have always been slightly scared off by her religious overtones.  Finally decided to give her a try for myself.

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman – I did warn you that I’d be rereading lots of Lipman this year.  After finishing My Latest Grievance (so good) and listening to the audiobook of I Can’t Complain, I’m returning to The Dearly Departed, one of my favourites of her books.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – I’ve been catching up on Simon and Rachel’s Tea or Books? podcasts (almost done!) and listening to them compare the merits of M. Poirot and Miss Marple had me longing to read Christie (sans Poirot or Marple, in this case).

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust


I am obviously opposed to books being colour blocked and selected only because they provide an appropriate background for a room’s furnishings…however, I have to admit I love how this room looks.  Mostly because of the ceiling.  And the sofa.  And the lovely bookshelves (which would clearly be better served if they were in my house and appropriately and respectfully stocked).  Hate the window coverings though.

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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.

You know what is amazing?  Not having to study every day.  I can come home from work, go for a walk, cook dinner, read a book, talk to people like a normal human being…it’s spectacular.  Highly, highly recommended.

I can also spend too much time browsing at the library – on weekends AND weekdays.  Hence this week’s haul:

Library Loot 1

No More Champagne by David Lough – I am geekily excited to read this book about the precarious state of Churchill’s personal finances and business affairs.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave – a new novel from the author of Little Bee, focused on the lives of three young Londoners – a young woman who runs away from finishing school to take up war work, an art restorer turned soldier, and a teacher promoted to education administrator when his seniors all go off to war –  during the early years of the Second World War.

Our Land at War by Duff Hart-Davis – A look at the impact of the Second World War on rural communities.

Library Loot 2

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth – a clear-sighted look at Nordic countries in response to the idealised vision the rest of the world seems to have of Scandinavian utopias.  The reality is a bit more complicated.

The Ghosts of Europe by Anna Porter – Published in 2010, an examination of how the former communist countries of Central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) have adjusted to democracy and what their futures might hold.

Swansong 1945  by Walter Kempowski – how did I not know about this book until I stumbled across it at the library?  It is a collection of firsthand accounts from a variety of perspectives (there are more than 1,000 extracts) covering four fateful days in the spring of 1945: April 20th – Hitler’s birthday; April 25th – the day American and Soviet troops met on the Elbe; April 30th – Hitler’s suicide; and May 8th – the German surrender.

Library Loot 3

Channel Shore by Tom Fort – a journey along England’s southern coast, exploring the relationship between land and sea.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman – the only one of Lipman’s novels I have not yet read.  She has a new one coming out in February, which sounds amazing, but the wait is long so I suspect I’ll be filling the time with some rereads – but this first!

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart – Urquhart’s most recent novel, set primarily in mid-Century Ireland.  And also the Gander, Newfoundland airport, which is charmingly unique.

What did you pick up this week?

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Letters from YellowstoneThe U.S. National Park Service is celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year, which would usually have very little impact on my life as I am a) not American and b) not planning to travel to any American National Park any time soon.  But, to celebrate the anniversary, PBS decided to reair Ken Burns’ magnificent documentary series on the National Parks earlier this spring, which made for fascinating and deeply informative viewing over a weekend when I was otherwise immobilized with a head cold.  It inspired me to search out a novel I vaguely remembered reading a few times during my high school years, about scientists conducting a field study in Yellowstone National Park in the late 19th Century.  Except I couldn’t remember the title.  Or the author’s name.  But at least I remembered what the covered looked like!  After some diligent searching, I tracked it down.

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith is an epistolary novel (an all too rare kind of novel, as far as I’m concerned) about a group of scientists who spend the summer of 1898 working in Yellowstone Park in Montana.  Lead by Howard Merriam, a quiet young professor from the state’s agricultural college, the team consists of a drunken meteorologist, a Crow Indian assistant, a Chinese cook, a single-minded entomologist  who prefers to live on his own in the back country, and a young medical student from back east whose passion is botany.  A medical student, who, to the surprise of Professor Merriam, turns out to be a young woman.

A.E. Bartram, also known as Alex, formally Alexandra, wants nothing more than to spend the summer studying the plant species native to the park and having the kind of adventure her hero, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), had on his journey west. The park’s wild and unearthly landscape enthralls her, as do the long, active days spent in the outdoors doing work she loves. A determine young woman who, having pursued a medical degree, is used to being treated with an infuriating combination of resentment and kid gloves by her male colleagues, Alex makes it clear she has no intention of being dismissed just because Professor Merriam never thought to verify her gender.  So down to work they get.

The summer is a busy and satisfying one.  There is lots of work to do but on top of that there are visitors – both welcome and unwelcome – to deal with, minor injuries that pose a more serious problem in the isolated park, academic rivalries that put the study’s funding in jeopardy, conflicting views on what the role of man should be in the wild park, and, perhaps, a friendship that could grow into something more.

I remember enjoying this book when I read it before (and I have read it a few times) but was still surprised by how satisfying I found it.  I loved Smith’s rounded approach to the story: it is as much a book about the park and man’s relationship with wild places as it is about any of the characters.  But the characters are very engaging and Smith does a wonderful job with the epistolary structure.  Knowing that your characters are never revealing all of themselves, always holding a little back as they write to friends, family members, and colleagues, adds a delicious tension as you read between the lines.

I was certainly more able to appreciate Smith’s incorporation of historical details and historical figures with Ken Burns’ documentary fresh in my mind than on previous readings.  This time around, I knew about the cavalry’s role in policing the parks; the eviction of the natives who had lived there; the “Wonderland” marketing campaign by the railroad; the visitors who came for extraordinary scenery and hotel society; and the visitors who came to find themselves in the wilderness.  It is a wonderful testament to the spirit of the park and to the enthusiasm of the people who created and loved it, while still acknowledging the damage they brought and the conflicts they created.

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Library Lust


The forecast here is for a cool, dampish, overcast weekend which, after last weekend’s endless sunshine and scorching temperatures, sounds just right.  My books and I will be very happy to take it easy, though not nearly as stylish as we would be if I had this room in my house.

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More Was LostI woke up early this morning to finish reading More Was Lost by Eleanor Perényi.  In 1937, the American Eleanor was travelling in Europe with her mother when she met her future husband, Zsiga Perényi, a minor Hungarian nobleman almost twice her age (not difficult when you are still in your teens).  After a brief courtship, they married and returned to the Perényi family home in Hungarian lands that had been given over to Czechoslovakia after the First World War (lands that are now part of the Ukraine).

One of the guiding rules for the women of my family is that you do not marry Hungarians.  Especially aristocratic ones as they are inevitably impoverished.  They may be romantic and dramatic, but they inevitably morph into morose depressives with a penchant for attempting to kill and/or further bankrupt themselves (see Sunflower, another NYRB Classics reprint).   I can’t say this has been a pressing concern in my life so far but it is excellent advice nonetheless and has steered other women in my family out of the path of danger.  Clearly, no one had ever thought to pass this advice on to Perényi.

It is a fascinating world that the young Baroness Perényi finds herself in.  Not the shallow artificial whirl of Budapest society but a deeply rural hamlet where feudalism is still the preferred way of life for both peasants and masters.  The first half of the book follows Perényi as she settles in her new home, making her mark on the family’s castle (really more of a large house, in the way of most Central Europe castles), studying Hungarian (to the disapproval of both nobles and peasants, who  view this adaptability as disappointingly middle class), and learning to run both the castle and the estate, with the help of the family’s various servants.  It is not a difficult life by any means and Perényi has great fun for several years, gossiping with the steward, redecorating the castle, and meeting her husband’s marvellously colourful friends and relatives.  Modesty and reserve, she soon learned, were not Hungarian virtues:

In the conversation there was constant interruption.  Nobody seemed to listen very attentively to what anyone else was saying.  Also no one dreamed of trying not to talk about himself all the time, and setting forth his ideas with great care.  There was a phrase which literally meant “I am so with this thing.”  Or in other words, “This is the way I feel about it” – and I heard it all the time.

Coming from hardworking America – and witnessing daily the efficiency of the Czech-run state in which she lived – Perényi was somewhat baffled by the Hungarian aversion to work.  Her comments on this were some of my favourite passages in the entire book:

No one in Hungary is interested in business, and most Hungarians are certainly not very good at it in any case.  After the last war, a good many members of the nobility had to go to work.  They were fantastically inefficient, and it was not entirely lack of training.  There was really no excuse for the inability to cope with practical affairs that most of them showed.  It was simply that they despised business because it was middle-class.  The peasants, too, looked down on commerce.  And as everyone seemed to be either a noble or a peasant, business and the professions were gratefully turned over to the Jews.  So, of course, were the arts.

Let’s be honest: the most enjoyable aspect of this book, for me, were all of the comments about the the efficiency of Czech bureaucrats and the general useless of Hungarians.  I believe the book should be subtitled “Ways in Which Czechs are Better than All Other Central Europeans”.  As this is pretty much the theme of my life, it was very gratifying.  Perényi clearly had a soft spot for the Czechs, who were nowhere near as romantic or appealing as the Hungarians, but whose roads were passable, border guards efficient, and policies fair to all citizens.

In the second half of the book, the war intrudes.  From the Munich Crisis in 1938 to 1940, when, pregnant and at her husband’s urging, she left Europe to return to America with her parents, Perényi bounced around Europe, seeing the action unfold from Budapest, their country estate (whose location – in terms of what country – was in flux), Paris (where her father was working), the south of France, and Italy.  It is less cohesive or original than the first half but fascinating nonetheless.

This is very much a young woman’s book.  Perényi was only in her late teens and early twenties in the years she describes and still only twenty-eight when the book was published in 1946.  She is happy to be the charming American girl who married a handsome man and went to live in a castle, rather than a political commentator and it shows.  Perényi is far better at chronicling her delight with her new husband, 20th Century feudalism, and Hungarian country gentry than she is at contextualizing her place in a world tearing itself apart.  She wanted a simple love story and the world gave her a war instead.

It is no wonder then that, when she sat down a few years later to write this book, she used it to mourn what she had lost: a home, a way of life, and so many beloved people – some of whom were by then dead, some of whom lived but she despaired of ever seeing again, and some of whom, like her husband, had drifted too far away to ever return to the old intimacies.


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Library Lust

The Library at Point Farm, 1942 - David Mode Payne

The Library at Point Farm, 1942 – David Mode Payne

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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 hurtling towards a large exam this Friday but have been stock piling things from the library to launch into as soon as that is done.  And maybe letting a few of them distract me from studying a bit more than I should have…

Library Loot 1

More Was Lost by Eleanor Perényi – the famous garden writer’s memoir of her life in Central Europe immediately before and during the Second World War.

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith – an epistolary novel about a group of naturalists – including a woman – working in Yellowstone National Park in the late 19th Century.

Cleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively – Thomas reviewed this recently and had me longing for a reread.

Library Loot 2

Walking to Camelot by John A. Cherrington – I am always up books about walking, in this case, a pilgrimage in southern England.

Love Notes for Freddie by Eva Rice – don’t know much about this but I’ve enjoyed Rice’s other books enough to try it.

Library Loot 3

I also checked out a handful of audiobooks:

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (read by Susan O’Malley)

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (read by Ariana Delawari)

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (read by Mia Barron)

Library Loot 4

And so, so many of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody novels (these have been the dangerous distractions from studying):

Seeing a Large Cat

A River in the Sky

The Falcon at the Portal

He Shall Thunder in the Sky

Lord of the Silent

What did you pick up this week?

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