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Archive for January, 2019

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.

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley – I wrote about this swimming memoir over the weekend but to sum it up: I couldn’t put it down.  Highly recommended. (Book Depository)

Darling Ma edited by James Roose-Evans – Do I know much about Joyce Grenfell?  No.  Do I need to in order to enjoy these letters she wrote to her mother?  We’ll find out.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – An alternate history with a decidedly feminist twist from the always intriguing Kowal. (Book Depository)

Buttercups and Daisies by Compton Mackenzie – Simon really enjoyed this last year, which is reason enough for me to try it!

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living by Mark Greenside – With my May trip to Brittany booked, I’m eager to read all I can to get myself in the mood.  However, there is a lamentable lack of travel or expat memoirs about the region.  Thankfully, Greenside, an American who has been living part-time in Brittany for decades, published a new memoir last year. (Book Depository)

A Question of Honor by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud – I was in the mood for really well written popular history and few people do it as well as Lynne Olson (here writing with husband Stanley Cloud).  This fascinating book focuses on the story of the Kosciuszko Squadron, Polish pilots who played a vital role in WWII.  And, since I can never recommend it enough, a reminder that you must read Olson’s Last Hope Island, about the contributions made by occupied countries to the war effort. (Book Depository)

What did you pick up this week?

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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Garden Path in Spring by Duncan Grant (1944)

It feels like spring is just about here.  I’ve spent much of this weekend wandering about the city, where signs of spring can be found everywhere.  Snowdrops and crocuses, camelias and early rhododendrons, and, best of all, the first blossoming cherry trees.  After two extraordinarily harsh winters, it’s wonderful to see this and be reminded of how joyful it is to live in Vancouver at this time of year.  My measurement of whether it was a normal spring when I was growing up was whether the daffodils were in blossom on my birthday (February 19th).  This looks entirely possible this year.

It was an active weekend but I still had plenty of time for reading.  I read two great books over the last few days and wanted to share my thoughts while both were fresh in my mind.

On Friday, I managed to read all of Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley despite a full work day.  On my commute and over my lunch hour I happily sped through Heminsley’s tale of how she came to embrace swimming in her thirties.  Heminsley, a Brighton-based journalist and writer, had written an earlier book about taking up running (Running Like a Girl, which I haven’t read) so was no stranger to athletic pursuits but was clearly uncomfortable with the water when her journey began.  It’s wonderfully written and is so observant of the way swimming resonates with women in particular.  Yes, there are the hateful magazines and features on “bikini bodies” every spring but Heminsley finds a true community of swimmers, and recognizes how body shape and size out of the water has little to do with how you move once in it.  And how little vanity is involved in a changeroom.  Heminsley focuses quite a lot on body image towards the end, when her own body is undergoing transformations due to IVF treatment, and I’m excited to hear that her next non-fiction book will focus on this.

I’ve been swimming my entire life and can’t remember there ever being a time when I did not love the water.  I still swim regularly but, unlike Heminsley who finds herself in oceans, rivers and lakes, confine myself to pools during winter months.  That said, I spent Saturday morning walking the seawall here in Vancouver and the water was beautifully clear and flat – the way it often gets in winter.  It looked perfect for a swim.  Maybe one day…

(Also, Heminsley thankfully does not use that awful phrase “Wild Swimming” to describe swimming done anywhere other than pools.  This seems to be a uniquely British piece of linguistic idiocy.  Good riddance, where do they think the majority of people do their swimming?)

On a more practical note, Heminsley’s own frustrations with poorly fitted goggles inspired me to go and buy a new pair this weekend that I am absolutely delighted with.  Considering my last few pairs have all been salvaged from the lost and found, anything would have been a step up.  How luxurious to have goggles that fit and where the anti-fog coating hasn’t worn off!

The Heminsley book was a nice jolt back into fun reading but I was still left longing for a very specific kind of book.  For a few weeks, I’ve wanted something non-fiction, ideally diaries, preferably by a man, with humour and kindness and a bit a something special.  Helpful, yes?

I’d picked up Patrick Leigh Fermor’s letters (Dashing for the Post) last weekend to see if they would suit, but they didn’t hit the spot – close, but not quite.  I thought of returning to Harold Nicolson’s diaries – because, really, when is that not a good idea? – but then had a brilliant idea: why not pick up the Alec Guinness diaries I bought after loving A Positively Final Appearance?  Within a few pages of starting, it was clear: My Name Escapes Me was exactly what I needed.

The diaries start in January 1995 and carry through to mid-1996, a period when Guinness was in his early eighties and, to all intents and purposes, retired from acting.  He and his wife were both suffering from health issues and his friends were dying off at an alarming rate but his outlook is remarkably sunny.  He finds pleasure in old friends, beautiful music, and many books.  His tastes are joyfully eclectic and entirely unsnobbish.  He loves classics, taking pleasure in Shakespeare and Dickens, and gets wonderfully excited about books from favourite modern authors, like Tessa Waugh and John Updike.  An enthusiastic reader is the best kind and his comments (like this one on Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator) were a highlight of the book for me:

Finished Trollope’s The American Senator.  The opening chapters are a bit wearily confusing but once he has got thoroughly underway it is enthralling.  Arabella Trefoil is a great creation and for sheer awfulness matches Sylvia Tietjens in Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End.  I’ve come across her several times, in various disguises but always recognizable, in London, Paris, Cairo and New York – but she lives mostly in Sussex.

And the spirit of kindness and humour I was looking for?  Guinness was full of them.  His regrets are always that he might have made someone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, the true sign of a kind soul, and almost every day he finds something to smile or laugh over.  The best way to live, really.

I’m off to find a new book to end the weekend with (possibly Elizabeth of the German Garden, which Kate reviewed recently and reminded me how much I want to read) but I’ll leave you with a last word from Guinness to put a smile on your face:

It seems a pity that the good old phrase ‘living in sin’ is likely to be dropped by the C of E.  So many friends, happily living in sin, will feel very ordinary and humdrum when they become merely partners; or, as the Americans say, ‘an item’.  Living in sin has always sounded daring and exotic; something to do, perhaps, with Elinor Glyn and her tiger skin.

If you’d like to buy the books I’ve mentioned (or read a professionally and far more coherently written synopsis of them), check them out using the Book Depository links below.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you):

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Diaries of Harold Nicolson

The Alec Guinness diaries – both My Name Escapes Me and A Positively Final Appearance – are both now out of print but second-hand copies can be easily found online

 

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Library Lust

credit unknown

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Library Lust

credit: Alison Kist

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The greatest pleasure of feeling a bit under the weather is picking reading material to match your frail state.  No weighty tomes or complex sentence structure here please!  Just straightforward storytelling that will capture an invalid’s attention without wearing them out.

Enter Ten Way Street by Susan Scarlett.

Scarlett (the penname under which Noel Streatfeild wrote a dozen light romances – see previous reviews of Under the Rainbow, Babbacombe’s, and Pirouette) is always reliable in these circumstances and Ten Way Street fitted my mood perfectly.  Wrapped up with blankets and with a constant stream of tea to keep me hydrated, I fell into the undemanding story with pleasure.

Ten Way Street is the London address of Mrs Cardew.  Better known by her stage name of Miss Margot Dale, Mrs Cardew is a genius in the theatre but a tyrant at home where her three children (Meggie, age 12; Betsy, age 10; and David, age 7) are at the mercy of her self-obsessed whims.  Having pulled the children out of their day schools after clashing with teachers, Mrs Cardew has engaged newly qualified governess Beverley Shaw to take care of them.

For Beverley, used to the pleasant but austere orphanage where she grew up, the Cardew household is  a shock.  The children have been brought up as accessories to their mother and are dressed up and trotted out to show off in a way that boggles her mind.  They are used to fur accessories, exquisite clothing, and caviar.  What they are not used to is an adult who cares about them.  Beverley, of course, is that adult.

Streatfeild wrote often about actors and their world, inspired by her own decade-long acting career, and she was rarely kind.  Mrs Cardew is all things horrible but, for most of the book, seems at least plausible.  It seems sad but realistic that she would prefer to spend her time lavishing attention on male callers rather than her children, or that she would have little patience with childish ailments and insecurities.  The household exists in a state of nervous exhaustion, ever sensitive to Mrs Cardew’s unpredictable moods, and the strain shows on everyone – especially the children.  But they are all quick to excuse her for she is, when the mood strikes her, a Genius on stage.

Beverley, however, doesn’t think Genius excuses Mrs Cardew’s behaviour towards her children.  In best governess-school style, Beverley sets out to get the children on a proper diet (no more gorging on caviar) and on a proper school schedule (no more jetting off to dress fittings if she can help it).  She gives them what they need – attention and discipline – and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, they slowly turn from obnoxious brats into completely normal, lovable children.

An admiring witness to this transformation is Peter Crewdson.  Invalided back to England after contracting black-water fever in Deepest, Darkest Africa, Peter is a young biochemist who has inadvertently become the object of Mrs Cardew’s very determined affections.  Originally a friend of the children, Mrs Cardew “stole” him from them (something they are resigned to – this is not the first time their mother has stolen one of their male friends) but he still manages to break away to the nursery to visit them.  Which is where he meets Beverley.  Naturally enough, the two sensible young people fall in love but all is not well.  How will Mrs Cardew react when she discovers the governess has stolen the man she loves?  And how can Bevelery even think of leaving the children who are just beginning to blossom under her care?

The ending is extraordinarily melodramatic but, after a few scuffles and a runaway attempt, all is resolved in a neat happy ending.  It’s not great literature but it is exactly right for a reader with a head cold.

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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.

In my last Library Loot post, I mentioned I had just read (and adored) Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos.  Audrey then got my year off to a spectacular start by alerting me to the fact that there were not one but two sequels: Belong to Me and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky.  What joy!  Naturally I got my hands on them within a few days and have read them both already with great delight.

In contrast, I’ve known about Hearts and Minds by Jane Robinson since it was first announced, long before its publication early last year, but have had to wait ages for my library to get a copy.  I am really looking forward to this history of the Great Pilgrimage of 1913, when suffragists (not suffragettes, importantly) marched from across the UK towards London to raise awareness of the fight for women’s suffrage.

I’ve borrowed Fascism by Madeleine Albright before but it has been in great demand and I wasn’t able to finish it before the due date.  I’m excited to return to this “examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world.”  Albright’s perspective is shaped by both her professional experiences as an American politician and diplomat, and her personal experiences of growing up in exile after her homeland was overrun by fascists (which you can read more about in Prague Winter).

I was browsing the food writing section of the bookstore by my office and noticed Unprocessed by Megan Kimble.  I’m always intrigued by experiments and find Kimble’s one – to eat only whole, unprocessed foods for a year while living on a student budget – particularly intriguing.

Finally, it’s been two years since I first borrowed War Diaries, 1939-1945 by Astrid Lindgren.  I didn’t manage to read them that time but I remain intrigued and eager to know more about what life in neutral Sweden was like during the war.

What did you pick up this week?

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

via Stribling & Associates

via Stribling & Associates

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Library Lust

credit unknown

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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.

Nothing like starting the year off with lots of new books to read (and, as you can see from my loot, travels to plan)!

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos – this was the last book I read in 2018 (bringing me to a round 150) and it was such a lovely way to end the year.  The story of Clare (age eleven) and Cornelia (age thirty-one) and how they find each other (and the other things they’ve been missing) was warm, charming, and full of golden-age movie references – what’s not to love?

Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Goldstone – I placed a hold on this back when the library first ordered it but am even more excited now to read the story of Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, and her four daughters.  Why?  Because I reread A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley last month, which focuses on the Jacobite community living in exile on the continent, so am in the perfect mood for more Stuart history.  I love when the timing works out that perfectly.

The Maisky Diaries edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky – I borrowed this before but never managed to get around to it.  Still, there was no doubt I would return to it – I love diplomat’s diaries, especially from this period (see my all-consuming love of The Siren Years by Charles Ritchie).

Love to Everyone (or The Skylark’s War) by Hilary McKay – I can’t remember where I first saw children’s story set during WWI reviewed but it was enough to convince me to place a hold.  I’ve seen it numerous places since then (the hold list moved very slowly) and it seems to be universally loved.

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson – I have an extraordinary weakness for stories about matchmakers.

The Precious Ones by Marisa de los Santos – I loved Love Walked In so much that I grabbed this off the shelf without even looking to see what it’s about.

All my other reading is suffering since my spare time is currently devoted to obsessively reading about France.  I’m planning to visit Europe in late May/early June this year and have been fretting over where to go.  London is a given but I was completely at sea as to where to spend the rest of my time – too many places appealed to me!  But I think I’ve settled on Brittany, with its beautiful coastline and thousands of kilometers of walking paths.  Now I’m having fun pining down the details.

What did you pick up this week?  

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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