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Archive for November, 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.

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The Maisky Diaries edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky – you know how I love a good volume of diaries and when they are political ones, so much the better.  This featured on a number of “Best of 2015” book lists and I’m excited to get into it.

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas – a gender-bending twist on Sherlock Holmes.  Thomas is an interest writer of YA fantasy and adult romances so I’m intrigued to see how she does with Holmes as her inspiration.

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church – No idea.  Apparently I’d placed a hold on this at some point in the distant past and now it has arrived.  I do love surprises.

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Crosstalk by Connie Willis – A new release from Willis is always something to be excited about!  Really looking forward to this one.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama -this has been on the cosy-books-to-save-for-winter reading list for a long time.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller – comfortingly fluffy escapist novel about a young baker who moves to rural Vermont.  I read it as soon as it arrived and, while I don’t think I’ll review it, quite enjoyed it.  Check out Danielle’s review for more details.

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust

credit: unknown

credit: unknown

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Library Lust

Source: Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby’s

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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.

library-loot-1

Party Animals by David Aaronovitch – I learned about this entertaining memoir of growing up in a communist family in post-war Britain from Slightly Foxed.  It was short-listed for their Best First Biography prize this year and deservedly so.  I’m almost done and have had such fun reading it.

Letters from Boy edited by Donald Sturrok – interesting looking collection of letters from Roald Dahl to his mother.

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan – Absolutely no memory of how this novel about party girls in Singapore came to my attention but the publisher hooked me by calling it “Emma set in modern Asia”.  Not sure I buy that but a mention of Emma is literally the surest way to get me to read a book.

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A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian – I’ve been wanting to reread this novel for a while but have been unable to unearth my copy from storage.  Library to the rescue!

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – having adored Ivey’s newest release, To the Bright Edge of the World, I felt it was time to read her much-praised debut novel.

Reading Claudius by Caroline Heller – okay, I might have lied above when I said a mention of Emma was the surest way to get me to read something: I suspect my weakness for books set in Prague, like this one, is slightly more dominant.  It certainly sounds right up my alley: “A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir traces the lives of her parents, her uncle, and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers from Central Europe on the eve of World War II to present-day America.”

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Happy All the Time and Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin – after finishing Colwin’s More Home Cooking, I felt it was time to try some of her fiction.  I was impatient when I picked these up, read them both quickly, and had very different reactions to them.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David – also inspired by More Home Cooking.  Colwin referred to David frequently in her essays and to this book in particular.

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Taste of Persia
by Naomi Duguid – Duguid’s newest.

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden – a classic and always a favourite to return to.

What did you pick up this week?

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to-the-bright-edge-of-the-worldIt has been a long time since I have been as wholly consumed by a book as I was by To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey when I read it earlier this year.  It felt like kismet, to find a book so beautifully written, so wonderfully imagined and so, so perfectly tailored to my interests.  I do not think you could have pried it out of my hands when I was reading it and yet I read so slowly, so carefully, not wanting to miss a detail and desperately wanting to prolong the experience.

The book tells the story of Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife, Sophie.  Newly married, the two are separated when Allen is charged with leading a small expedition into a wild, unmapped region of Alaska in the winter of 1885.  Sophie, originally keen to join her husband on this great adventure, instead finds herself confined to the stultifying military barracks in Vancouver, Washington, pregnant with a long-for child.

Separated, the two keep diaries with an eye to sharing them once reunited.  It is through these journals that we learn their story, supplemented by a few letters between them, the writings of other members of Allen’s expedition, and the contemporary correspondence between Walt Forrester, Allen’s great-nephew, and a young Alaskan museum curator to whom he is sending all the documents.  Yes, it is my favourite of all literary techniques: the epistolary novel.  And rarely have I seen it used to better effect.

Allen quickly finds himself in a completely foreign world as he journeys up the Wolverine River Valley with his men (the same setting used in Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child).  Their expedition is poorly planned and badly provisioned so they are forced to rely on the help of those they encounter: a few white men but mostly native communities.  And even as he finds himself stunned by the harsh magnificence of the places he travels through, Allen finds himself deeply unsettled by the stories he hears and the things he sees in this unbelievable land: beasts who turn into men, a woman eternally shrouded by fog, and a man who sleeps in trees, perched like a raven.  As starvation and illness take hold, the wild world seems firmly in control and Allen and his men powerless to resist long enough to ever get home.

Sophie, meanwhile, faces a struggle of her own back in Vancouver, feeling alone without any news of her husband and ill-suited to the gossipy socialising of the other army wives.  She retreats into herself and into her new hobby: photography.  Already a keen naturalist, she finds herself trying to capture the living world even as, far away, her husband finds himself in daily conflict with it.

I hardly know where to start in my list of what makes this book so extraordinarily satisfying.  Part of it is certainly that it is a tale of the North.  There aren’t a lot of those anymore (I’m not sure there ever have been in American lit, though the North is a CanLit obsession) and there certainly aren’t many with this level of thoughtfulness or cultural detail.  Ivey weaves in First Nation tales beautifully and even the eeriest among them are comfortingly familiar to the stories I’ve heard since childhood.  Through these stories, she keeps reality suspended in the most magical way.

But without Sophie and Allen the book would just be a beautiful shell.  They are its heart.  They are both strong and intelligent people, capable of demanding our respect, but, having found one another, are touchingly vulnerable in their joy at having someone else to love so completely.  The separation is a burden to them both, perhaps especially to Allen, who, having married late in life, is delighted by the thought of becoming a father but heartsick knowing he will not be returning before the birth.  But Sophie is isolated in a way that Allen, facing daily peril, is not and her quieter, inner struggle is no less powerful.

Oh, writing this has made me remember how much I love this book.  I want to read it all over again.  It is an adventure story, a haunting suspense story, and a quiet, steadfast love story.  It is, in short, everything you could want in a novel.  I cannot recommend it highly enough and you can be certain it will appear on my list of favourite reads at the end of the year.

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Library Lust

via The Telegraph

via The Telegraph

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more-home-cookingOn a night when television, social media and frankly even conversations in the street are a little too stressful (even in countries where we are not electing anyone), I have come up with the perfect antidote: the marvellously calming, deeply comforting More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

It would have been very useful if, when I’d read it back in 2014, I’d reviewed Colwin’s first volume of food writing (entitled, you will not be surprised to learn, Home Cooking).  I did not but just trust me on the fact that it was wonderful and so is this follow up book, published posthumously in 1993 after Colwin’s untimely death the year before at the age of just 48.

Her writing is so friendly, so familiar that after just one essay you feel as though you’ve been reading something written directly to you by someone you’ve known your whole life.  Colwin shares herself with the reader through friendly asides, personal anecdotes, and lots and lots of cookbook recommendations (many of which come prefaced by irritated disclaimers that the book is not available in North America due to ignorant publishers – I enjoy these particularly).  All this builds an intimacy that is almost unbearably poignant for the reader, knowing as we do that Colwin’s days would be cut sadly short.

While the book includes many recipes, they are almost beside the point.  Yes, I want to try her recipes for Lemon Pear Crisp and Wensley Cake and Gingerbread, but what most stands out are her stories around the recipes.  I have no memory of what recipes were included in the essay on black beans but the introduction is unforgettable:

I had my first taste of black bean soup on a cold winter Saturday when I was sixteen years old.  A friend, home for the holidays from a very glamorous college, gave a lunch party and invited me.  Seated at her table, I felt that I – mired in high school and barely passing geometry – had died and entered a heaven in which people played the cello, stayed up at night discussing Virginia Woolf, saw plays by Jean-Paul Sartre, and went to Paris for their junior years abroad.  But it was the black bean soup that changed my life.

And I may never need to poach a pear, but I certainly loved to read about Colwin’s first experience doing so:

I first made poached pears in the kitchen of the man who would later become my husband.  He had bought a nice bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, and I thought I would use some of it to poach the fruit.  As the pears were simmering, I decided to take a little nip.  My, I thought, this is fizzy.  It tasted like a kind of sublime grape pop but not as sweet.  By the time the pears were ready, the rest of the wine had been consumed without so much as a drop left for my sweetheart, but I was quite cheerful.

She writes like the novelist she was.  In fact, I kept thinking of Elinor Lipman’s writing as I read this.  They have the same gentle optimism and sense of humour and, of course, love of food.  I was deeply upset when I realised that Lipman’s wonderful novel, The Inn at Lake Devine, was published in 1998 – six years after Colwin’s death – because I am certain she would have loved it.

Most of all, Colwin feels like an encouraging friend in the kitchen.  Someone who is sharing her best tips, her amusing failures, and all of her love.  I came away with half a dozen cook books to track down (chief among these is the irresistibly titled Curries and Bugles), a burning desire to make mulligatawny soup (which I fulfilled on Sunday night with delicious results), and a sense of thankfulness for the generosity these essays embody.  And in that spirit, let us tonight remember that it is far easier to share with others and build friendships than it is to carry on disagreements and maintain an exhausting animosity.  If you chose to do this with cake, all the better:

I like a cake that takes about four seconds to put together and gives an ambrosial result.  Fortunately, there are such cakes, and usually you get them at the homes of others.  You then purloin the recipe (since you have taken care to acquire generous friends) and serve it to other friends, who then serve it others.  This is the way in which nations are unified and friendships made solid.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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Library Lust

credit: unknown

credit: unknown

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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.

library-loot-1

More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin – I read Home Cooking by Colwin just about two years ago and loved it.  She is undoubtedly one of the best food writers I’ve come across so I am really looking forward to this second volume.  The librarian is also a big fan – when I picked this up (it’s an inter-library loan) we commiserated over how sad it was that Colwin died so young and what a wonderful writer she was.

Model Woman by Robert Lacey – A biography of Eileen Ford, of the Ford modelling agency.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – Really looking forward to this (so much so that I placed a library hold even though I gave a copy to my mother for her birthday last weekend – I don’t want to wait until she’s done!).

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Red Plenty by Francis Spufford – Strange as it may seem, the gray, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale. It was built on the twentieth-century magic called “the planned economy,” which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working. Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan and every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche. It’s about the scientists who did their genuinely brilliant best to make the dream come true, to give the tyranny its happy ending.

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder – a record of the mass killings by both the Soviet and Nazi regimes in the vast lands that lay between their two capitals.

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – A look at the First World War in the Middle East and its immediate aftermath, resulting in the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East.

What did you pick up this week?

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New Arrivals

img_20161030_162558A few weeks ago, to reward myself after reaching a professional milestone, I placed a massive book order from Slightly Foxed.  And now it has arrived!

Here are my new arrivals:

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

A Late Education by Alan Moorehead

My Grandfather and Father, Dear Father by Denis Constanduros

I Was a Stranger by John Hackett (I read a library copy of this in October and am so happy to be adding it to my collection now)

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holyrod

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Brensham Village by John Moore

And, of course, I have pre-ordered a copy of Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham, which is being released today.

Lots of happy reading ahead of me!

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My ever-expanding Slightly Foxed collection

 

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