Archive for March, 2020

We all need good things to look forward to right now.  So, in case August 20th is not already circled in your calendars, I give you notice: Virago is finally releasing paperback editions of the three wartime Angela Thirkell novels they had previously only made available as e-books (presuming, of course, no massive delays as a result of the pandemic).

The trio (with my old reviews of them for quick reference) are:

Cheerfulness Breaks In

Growing Up

Peace Breaks Out

The covers are also new for the paperbacks and a vast improvement on the generic ones used for the e-books.  I’m not totally convinced about the cover for Peace Breaks Out but I think bunting and street parties, while horrifying to Thirkell’s middle class characters, sell books so can’t complain.

The books are available for pre-order here and will presumably start showing up on other book sellers’ websites soon.

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Library Lust

via New York Times magazine (18 December 2014)

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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.

Well, two weeks makes quite a difference, doesn’t it?  My city library closed a week and a half ago but luckily I was prepared and had been stocking up for self-isolation already:


I’m anticipating these measures will last for months rather than weeks so, in the interests of having something to post about in the future, will hold off talking about my physical loot for a while. For now I thought I’d show you some of the e-books that have come in recently:

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – If you’ve seen a “most anticipated books of 2020” list, no doubt this was on it.  I’m certainly intrigued. (Book Depository)

Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert –  I’m not a big fan of crime or mystery books so have read very little from the British Library Crime Classics series but the Northern Italian setting has me intrigued for this tale.  (Book Depository)

Cutting Back by Leslie Buck – Since my travel plans for this year are being curtailed (my May trip to Czech Republic has been cancelled, no surprise.  Not terribly hopeful for my October trip to Spain at this stage either) I am resigning myself to 2020 as my year of armchair travelling.  To balance out my usually euro-centric focus, I’ve picked up this memoir from a woman who moved to Kyoto to learn the Japanese art of pruning. (Book Depository)

Something to Live For by Richard Roper – Now seems like the right time for an uplifting book about a lonely man finally learning to make connections.  An ironic time, but still the right time. (Book Depository)

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler – I recently sent a list of book recommendations to a friend and included a different Anne Tyler title on it, which reminded me of how good she is and how many of her books I have left to read. (Book Depository)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle – Serle’s trademark seems to be “clever” book concepts.  She had a hit with The Dinner List (which conceptually was interesting but in execution was too boring for me to finish) and continues in her newest release with a woman who wakes up five years in the future, when her life is completely different than expected.  After an hour, she wakes up back in the present time.  But what did that glimpse of the future mean for her?  (Book Depository)

What did you pick up this week?  Or check out?  Could you even physically check things out where you live (if you were not practicing responsible social distancing)?



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Notes from an Unusual Week

My usual blogging corner in the spare bedroom has become my office and, being someone who likes to have a clear distinction between work and home, I’ve spent most of the weekend avoiding it.  But I’m so enjoying hearing updates from other people’s unusual lives right now that I’ve seated myself down to share a little about how I’m doing.

A week ago Friday, my parents (whom I live with) made the decision to return home from their vacation home in southern California.  With everyone returning to Canada from abroad being required to self-isolate, that gave me two days to stock up and transition to remote working before they got back and we were all confined together.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more hectic weekend as I ran errands everywhere and, without a car, did most of them on foot to spend as little time on the bus as possible.  The stores were busy but orderly in my affluent and aged neighbourhood so it wasn’t an unpleasant experience but it was a tiring one.  But at the end of it I was ready and happy for my parents’ return.  It feels much safer to have them home in Canada – and far less lonely for me as opposed to an empty house.

Our self-isolation rules here in BC aren’t too challenging.  For two weeks, we can’t go to stores (hence my big shop last weekend) but we’re still allowed to go for walks, as long as we stay 2 metres away from anyone else.  This is easy in our leafy neighbourhood, especially as traffic has all but disappeared so it’s easy to walk in the street if there are people approaching on the sidewalk.  We also live a few blocks away from a huge regional park (over 2,000 acres) with endless walking trails.  The trails have been busy but it’s easy to stay away from others on the wide paths.  Social distancing has been mandated for everyone and most people seem to be observing it.

Adjusting to working from home has been remarkably easy.  At a past job I spent 2.5 years working from home so it feels very familiar to be back in my spare room/office each day.  I’m not client facing anymore so as the markets crash I’ve been insulated from some of the chaos my colleagues are having to handle on top of everything else.  I have however turned into ersatz tech support (as our real tech team are overwhelmed with people experiencing computer troubles) so am now an expert on talking people through how to set up video conferencing systems on their computers.

I am a huge believer in the calming effects of routines (also I know no other way to live) so, no surprise, I’ve settled into my new ones already.  My morning alarm has been pushed back half an hour (to 6am), after which I get up, talk a 30-minute walk outside, and then great ready and make breakfast.  Work starts as usual at 7:30 and I break around lunchtime for another walk (longer and brisker).  I wrap up work around 4 and then take another stroll, right now enjoying all of the cherry trees that are in blossom.  The weather this week was spectacular – sunshine and cherry trees do a lot to calm the spirit.  Then it’s back home to make dinner, chat with my parents, and watch or read until bedtime.  Aside from eliminating the commute (and all my colleagues), it’s honestly not too different from my usual routine and that has been deeply comforting.

My reading has gone entirely haywire but that’s a topic for another post.

How are you doing?

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Library Lust

photo credit: Paul Massey

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Library Lust

via Wealden Times

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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.

Oh friends, the world feels like it’s changing day by day right now, doesn’t it?  But don’t worry: I am prepared.  Last night I dropped by the library to return a couple of things.  But then I started thinking about what would happen if the libraries were to be closed.  Without any notice.  When I had just returned things.  What kind of a fool am I?  This of course drove me into a panic so I did the only sensible thing: I dashed around in the 10 minutes before the library closed and grabbed 7 books just to be safe.  I haven’t included them below but I believe there are a couple of Dorothy Sayers, a history of the Ukraine, and at least one travel book.  I’m supposed to be leaving for the Czech Republic in early May but travel books may have to substitute for real travel this spring the way things are going.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley – I was number one in the queue for this much hyped novel and, no surprise, read it immediately after picking it up over the weekend.  I love stories about people sharing their insecurities and building a community together, so this was perfect for me.  I plan to write more about it soon. (Book Depository)

The Importance of Being Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen – Oh the unfairness of life!  The first Aisling book came out back in 2017 and it was a breeze for me to buy on my e-reader while I was travelling in Europe.  It kept me laughing through a long and very bumpy travel day from Bologna to Krakow via Amsterdam that summer.  But I’ve been living in a wasteland since then as the sequels have been impossible to find in North America.  The interlibrary loan system has, as usual, come to the rescue and sourced me a copy from a small town deep in the Rocky Mountains.  (Book Depository)

A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier – Speaking of mountains, I read about this YA novel on NPR a while back and couldn’t resist the idea of a mystery set in an alpine hotel with an international array of guests and staff.  (Book Depository)

Letters from Russia by Astolphe de Custine – In 1839, the Marquis de Custine travelled through Russia and wrote these letters that were so insightful and damning that both Czarist and Communist regimes banned them in future years.  (Book Depository)

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed – Another YA!  Who am I?  Someone who gets their book recommendations on Twitter, in this case (I think?) from YA author S.K. Ali (whose Love from A to Z I read at the end of last year and thoroughly enjoyed).  (Book Depository)

Hop, Skip, Go by John Rossant and Stephen Baker – An urban expert and a business journalist team up to look at the ways that the mobility revolution will change our lives (and has already). (Book Depository)

Born in the GDR by Hester Vaizey – A look at the lives of eight Germans who grew up in the GDR. (Book Depository)

Where Stands a Winged Sentry by Margaret Kennedy – I saw in the most recent newsletter from Handheld Press that they will be releasing this memoir from Kennedy of her experiences at the beginning of the Second World War in March 2021.  Rather than wait a full year, I turned instead to the library.  I’ve borrowed this a couple of time before but not ever got around to it – yet.

What did you pick up this week? Remember: books are the only acceptable thing to stockpile.  Leave the hand sanitizer and toilet paper at the store; head to your library instead when the hoarding mood strikes.

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After years of looking for a copy of Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp (and not being able to stomach the $300+ price tag attached to used copies), I finally employed my interlibrary loan system to help me track it down.  For the eminently reasonable price of $15 dollars they found it for me in the wilds of Utah and now, after almost ten years of waiting, I have finally had a chance to read it.

First published in 1930, Rhododendron Pie is the story of the Laventie family.  The country-dwelling Laventies take great pleasure in their cultured and sophisticated tastes when compared to their pitiful rural neighbours and this is, we learn on the first page, a tradition that the family has carried on for many generations:

…deep-rooted in Sussex history, they had nevertheless a fantastic strain in their blood which served to alienate them almost entirely from their worthy neighbours.  Generation after generation of eldest sons set off on the Grand Tour and had to be sought out, years after, in Paris and Vienna and St Petersburg when the death of their sires left Whitenights masterless.  They came home middle-aged men, urbane, travelled, generally impoverished, occasionally debauched: and the good Sussex squires asked them to dine.  It was usually about six months before all invitation ceased.

In the current era, this family trait is exhibited by Mr Laventie, a louche aesthete who goes travelling (and philandering) every so often and returns with a gift for his invalid wife and even more distain for his rural neighbours, eldest daughter Elizabeth, a sharp-tongued and observant essayist, and son Dick, an artist.  Mrs Laventie, disabled for many years, stays quietly in the background for the most part while daughter Ann struggles to find where she fits in.  Not unnaturally, she shares the tastes and prejudices of her opinionated family members, as we all absorb the world view of those we grew up with.  But even early in life there are signs that a more conventional soul lurks beneath: it is Ann, alone among the Laventie children, who quietly loathes the family birthday tradition of pies filled with artistic but inedible flowers.  Rather than beautiful mounds of rhododendron flowers, Ann longs for juicy apples to fill her birthday pie.

Ann is our heroine but, as in the way of so many Margery Sharp novels, heroine may be too strong a word.  It implies perhaps more fondness than Sharp cares to elicit from us.  What I love about many of Sharp’s other novels is how pointed they are and how callously she treats many of her protagonists.  Here in her first novel she hasn’t quite achieved that style but the early glimmerings are there.  She gives us enough in Ann to care about but not so much that we don’t still find her frustrating in her moments of meekness and uncertainty.

And there are many such moments.  Ann, young and isolated from the glamorous world of artists and liberal thinkers that she has been brought up to view as her rightful sphere, is infatuated when Gilbert Croy arrives at Whitenights.  A daring film producer, Croy is handsome and flatteringly attentive to Ann.  It is only when the action moves to London that Ann, who has decided she is in love with Croy and willing to marry him, realises how little her values align with those of her father, her siblings and Croy.  For in the country the family’s affectations were relatively harmless – at least to themselves.  They may have made cutting remarks about the stolid neighbours (particularly the sprawling Gaylord family) and discussed their beliefs in personal expression and free love but in Sussex the neighbours found them too odd (and perhaps too amusing) to take much offense and there was little chance of a belief in free love causing problems when there was no one intellectual enough around to love.  London, where all three children find themselves, is another matter.

Following Elizabeth and Dick to town, Ann finds herself part of their social circles and not at all sure of her surroundings.  Everyone she meets seems somewhat lost in their pursuit of individual pleasures and free love seems to be causing more pain than anything.

When she retreats home to Sussex, Ann’s London experiences help her see her old surroundings and old country friends in a new way.  And when she falls in love with one of those neighbours whom her family so despise – a young man who is so gauche as to work in a bank, epitomizing the type of conventional thinking that so outrages Mr Laventie – the family is aghast.

It’s an entertaining story but, for me, a forgettable one.  Sharp was very young when she wrote it – only twenty four or twenty five – and everything is a bit simplistic.  The elements that would make her excellent later are there but it’s a bit of wasted potential when she wasn’t yet confident enough to truly make fun of her eminently laughable creations.

What it worth $15?  Absolutely.  Is it worth $300?  Certainly not.  Spend your money instead on one of her later, better works (my favourites are The Flowering Thorn and Something Light).  But if you can track this down, there is still plenty to enjoy.

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Happy International Women’s Day!  Forget the lilies of the valley or mimosa today.  Instead, give books to both the women and men in your life that will help raise awareness of the both the history of women’s struggles for equality and the challenges we are still facing today.  Here are some new and upcoming releases to help inspire us all (and if you want further ideas, check out my list from 2018 as well):

The Home Stretch by Sally Howard – Housework is still too often women’s work and there are signs that the gap is actually worsening in some countries compared to where it was a few decades ago.  Howard investigates what is going on.

Double Lives by Helen McCarthy – Subtitled “a history of working motherhood”, McCarthy looks at how women in the UK have gone from being excluded from the workforce after having children to being a vital part of it.  For bonus reading, don’t miss McCarthy’s earlier book Women of the World, about the rise of female diplomats.

Ladies Can’t Climb Ladders by Jane Robinson – Robinson, author of several social histories focused on women’s experiences and struggles, returns with a look at British women who embraced professional careers following the First World War.

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener – After leaving a publishing job in New York for a tech industry role in Silicon Valley, Anna Wiener discovered a world of immense egos and entitlement and shockingly casual sexism.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – this South Korean bestseller has raised a lot of controversy in its portrayal of an average woman’s struggles in a deeply sexist and conservative culture.  It’s sparked a difficult debate in Korea about feminism and gender equality and is now finally available for the English-speaking world to read.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – If you only read one book off this list, make it this one.  Frankly, if you only read one book this year, make it this one.  Newly released in paperback, Invisible Women looks at how data bias harms women around the world, with examples ranging from drug trials with no female test subjects to relief efforts following national disasters that ignore women’s needs for safe toilets or forget to provide cooking spaces.  In the spirit of the day, it is a book that should make you mad and determined to do you bit to change the world.

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Library Lust

via Desire to Inspire

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