Archive for July, 2020

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.

I have real books!  Real, honest-to-goodness, physical books are now in my possession after two very different library trips.

The first trip was to my beloved local branch, which is now open for outdoor pick-ups.  I was able to pick-up three long-standing holds from them and I was practically giddy through the entire (very brief) experience.  Two of the three were books the library purchased at my request, so I was especially excited to get them.

My second visit was a bit more involved.  The hold system is not back to functioning normally yet; if you want books from one of the handful of libraries that are open for browsing you are encouraged to pick them up there.  So, book list in hand, I went to our central library downtown.  A limited section of the library is open so if you want something from upper floors you need to make a request and a staff member acts as a runner to pick up the books and bring them back downstairs.  It all worked very smoothly and I had plenty of time to browse the available fiction shelves while I waited.  All told, I was out within 20 minutes with plenty of books.

Now I am surrounded by beautiful stacks of new books and feel overwhelmed by choice once again, which is the proper result of any library visit.

Here are the three I was able to pick up from my local branch:

Eve in Egypt by Stella Tennyson Jesse – I am 100% the target market for people who publish travelogues thinly disguised as novels, which is what this 1920s tale promises to be.  (Book Depository)

The Lost Europeans by Emanuel Litvinoff – It has been four years (!) since Simon added this to his list of 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About (full review here) but I’ve finally got my hands on it.  (Book Depository)

Scent Magic by Isabel Bannerman – The Times named this as the 2019 gardening book of the year, which is high praise indeed given some of the competition it had (most notably Catherine Horwood’s excellent biography of Beth Chatto). (Book Depository)

Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates – this has been on my TBR list for ages.  Will this finally be the summer I read it?  (Book Depository)

The Duff Cooper Diaries edited by John Julius Norwich – Ditto.  (Book Depository)

Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins – As should be clear by now, I will read any sort of garden-focused memoir. (Book Depository)

Chanel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy – I’m in just the right mood for one of de Courcy’s light social histories and the added escapism of the French Riviera is ideal for this travel-starved summer. (Book Depository)

Memories by Teffi – The library has finally recovered (or replaced) its copy of this.  (Book Depository)

The Horseman by Tim Pears – I loved listening to Pears when he was the focus of a recent-ish episode of the Slightly Foxed podcast.  I was immediately determined to start reading him and this, the first in his West Country trilogy, seemed like the perfect place to start.  (Book Depository)

The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden – One of – or rather two of – the VMC titles that I remember hearing a lot about when I first started blogging.  Hayley wrote an excellent review of this volume back in 2011 and compared the experience to “reading an early [Georgette] Heyer”.  Sold! (Book Depository)

V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book – A selection of Sackville-West’s gardening columns in a singularly unattractive edition.  It’s even worse in person than pictured here.

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick – I loved reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine when I was growing up so am looking forward to this book, the first in a trilogy, about her. (Book Depository)

What are you reading this week?

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Library Lust

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It is 1884 and thirty-two-year-old spinster Amelia Peabody, having inherited a modest fortune from her scholarly father, has set out to finally see some of the world.  Full (some might say overfull) of confidence in her vast knowledge, quick-wittedness, and moral superiority, she has bludgeoned her away across Europe – maid and companion unhappily in tow – and arrived in Rome.

And it is in Rome that her story, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, begins:

When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome – (I am informed, by the self-appointed Critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error.  If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)

In justice to myself, however, I must insist that Evelyn was doing precisely what I have said she was doing, but with no ulterior purpose in mind.  Indeed, the poor girl had no purpose and no means of carrying it out if she had.  Our meeting was fortuitous, but fortunate.  I had, as I have always had, purpose enough for two.

What follows is a perfect homage to Victorian adventure novels, with exotic settings, dastardly villains, sweet young lovers, a deadly threat…and Amelia.

Amelia is the masterstroke.  She is bold and forceful and often right but frequently entertainingly blind to that which is directly in front of her.  Peters has great fun in making this clear to the reader even as Amelia, our narrator, remains ignorant.

After learning of Evelyn’s tragic circumstances (but also her impeccable lineage), Amelia becomes determined to take care of her.  Evelyn, far, far, far more rational than Amelia, points out that this seems inadvisable:

‘I might be a criminal!  I might be vicious – unprincipled!’

‘No, no,’ I said calmly. ‘I have been accused of being somewhat abrupt in my actions and decisions, but I never act without thought; it is simply that I think more quickly and more intelligently than most people.  I am an excellent judge of character.  I could not be deceived about yours.’

Evelyn, starving and destitute, has her rescuer and Amelia finally has some colour in a life that has been far too quiet for far too many years.

Together the ladies continue on to Egypt where Peters, an Egyptologist, quickly and entertainingly guides us through the major tourist sights, presents to us the noted archaeologists of the day, and, most importantly, introduces us to two young men, the brothers Radcliffe and Walter Emerson.  Walter and Evelyn are immediately dazzled by one another’s good looks, sweet personalities, and overall aura of kindness.  Like Amelia, you can only look on in approval.  Elder brother Radcliffe, generally called by his surname, and Amelia have a different and far more combative initial impact on one another.

Amelia and Evelyn set out in a dahabeya to cruise the Nile and coincidentally (nothing is coincidental when Amelia is involved) find themselves visiting the site the Emerson brothers are excavating.  Soon they are an integral part of the excavation team, which is thrilling enough, but then mysterious things begin to happen.  Can the ghostly shape that seems to be disturbing them in the night truly be a mummy?  No.  Even they know that.  Most of the time. But the truth is as sinister as any true Victorian pulp novelist could have wished.

I read this book first in my early teens and didn’t appreciate it.  I was still at a stage in my reading when I wanted protagonists to be relatable.  Amelia was so old (how things change!) and rigid and didn’t she know how ridiculous she was?  I put it down without thinking of reading on.

I came back to it in my late teens as though it was an entirely different book.  It wasn’t but I was an entirely different person, one who was finally capable of appreciating Peters’ comic brilliance.  I adored it and read on through the entire series (or at least the seventeen books that were then available).

The series is fantastic and I’m thinking of rereading it in full this year.  Amelia mellows with time, which is necessary to sustain our sympathy for several decades, and other enticing characters are introduced, but the freshness of Crocodile on the Sandbank does fade away a little.  Other pleasures replace it (young Ramses!  Older Ramses!) but Peters was free to have such fun with this first book and it shows.  It is never anything but a delight to reread it.

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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.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

I have only one book to highlight this week but it’s one deserving of a drum roll:

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (Book Depository)

A new book from Keyes is always worth celebrating and I managed to snag this the day it arrived in my library’s e-book catalogue.  Keyes’ has always been a writer I find totally absorbing.  I remember reading Rachel’s Holiday during my first week at my first post-university job, laughing and sobbing over it in the sad business apartment I was renting until my lease started the next month.  And I’m still a little wrecked by her last book, The Break, which I read partly in Italy and partly in Poland (and partly on the plane between the two) during my long visit to Europe in 2017.  Simon and Rachel were discussing sympathy versus empathy on their most recent episode of Tea or Books.  Usually I’m more sympathetic than empathetic but Keyes turns me into someone different.  I will never forget the way my stomach dropped at a certain point in The Break.  I wasn’t sure if I could continue reading, it hurt so much.

Essentially, this is a long winded way of saying I really, really, really like Keyes’ books so no surprise I stayed up until midnight on Saturday to finish this one.

What are you reading this week?

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The Wedding Morning by John Henry Frederick Bacon

I like to think I’ve been holding it together pretty well through Covid times.  But this weekend…this weekend has been very tough.

On Saturday, my best friend since the age of five got married.  Without me – or any of her other bridesmaids, or, most importantly, her parents.  She lives in the US now and with no non-essential travel between the two countries (for very good reason – the US spike in cases is terrifying) it wasn’t possible for any of us to be there.

I’d spent weeks thinking about how hard it must be for her not to have her people at the wedding (the groom’s family and friends live nearby so were able to make up the numbers for their 12 person outdoor wedding).  My fellow bridesmaids and I hosted a Zoom bachelorette and got to check in with the bride just before she walked down the aisle, offering last minute virtual advice and support.  And that was lovely.  But it wasn’t the same.

What I hadn’t thought about before yesterday was what it meant to me not to be at her wedding.  I’m so happy for her but I found myself unexpectedly in tears to have missed this event.

I’m so upset that I don’t get to have memories of her wedding day.  I don’t get to know what she looked like coming down the aisle, or exchanging vows.  I don’t get to know if the groom cried or if there were any funny moments.  I don’t get to be part of her memories of that day, which, after having gone through so many milestones together over the course of almost thirty years, is incredibly hard.

We’ll have a party next year or whenever it is safe to gather people from around the world together again but, a year or more after the original wedding, it will be a very different sort of day.  And it will be wonderful and we’ll be able to embrace and dance and do all the things no one could do right now.  But it won’t be quite the same.

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Library Lust

via Architectural Digest

Any library-esque room with access to the garden makes me thing of Reginald in Trollope’s The American Senator, who describes his days thus: I rush in and out of the garden, and spend my time between my books and my flowers and my tobacco pipe.  From that moment forward, all my loyalties lay with him – plus a hefty amount of envy for the freedom to live such a life.  But the trade-off for modern economics is that we have Eames chairs and Reginald did not, so I can’t be too bitter.

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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.

After a slow spring, my reading has now hit warp speed and I am racing through everything.  My July has been full of light, undemanding reads and lots of them.  I don’t have any more holiday time booked until September and am hesitant to do too much face-to-face socializing outside of my bubble yet (for various family-member-related reasons) so my world is still quite small and uneventful.  Books, thankfully, make it feel much larger and help fill the long summer evenings.

But oh am I ever tired of my main non-work activities being going for a walk or reading a book (the garden is not large enough to withstand too much attention)!  Even combining them (walk to park/beach to read book?  Listen to audiobook while walking?  Daringly read while walking and hopefully avoiding traffic?) can’t add much excitement.

In search of excitement, I have returned to my old friend Amelia Peabody and her endlessly adventurous life.  The twenty books in this series should keep me well-occupied for a while and I am starting right from the beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank and The Curse of the Pharaohs.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – I have borrowed this before but never chimed with it so, after adoring A Gentleman in Moscow last year, I wanted to return and give Towles’ earlier work another try.  Turns out I was in just the right mood this time and thoroughly enjoyed it.   (Book Depository)

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal – the third book in the “Lady Astronaut” series, just released this week. (Book Depository)

Home Work by Julie Andrews (with Emma Walton Hamilton) – Andrews’ memoir of her years in Hollywood. (Book Depository)

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert – I dropped everything to read this follow up to Get a Life, Chloe Brown and it did not disappoint.  (Book Depository)

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory – This, on the other hand, did disappoint.  Guillory has been churning out follow ups since she published The Wedding Date in 2018 and they are getting duller with each iteration.  And none of her characters have developed diabetes despite consisting on, as far as I can tell, diets consisting entirely of fast food augmented by baked goods.  In this book the hero sends something like five cakes to the heroine in as many days.  It’s a minor detail but one that has been driving me nuts throughout all of Guillory’s books. (Book Depository)

Beach Read by Emily Henry – Two writers – of romances and literary fiction – make a summer pact to help one another break through their writers block.  Sounds like the perfect…beach read.  (Book Depository)

The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey – one of those holds I’ve had in place for so long that I’d entirely forgotten what it is about.  It promises Bright Young Things and Secrets Being Unraveled – irresistible.  (Book Depository)

The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar – This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel, the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again. (Book Depository)

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton – Bit of a disappointment.  Set in Key West during the historic hurricane of 1935, Cleeton follows three young women whose lives change over the course of a few destructive days.  The parallel heroines were unfortunately a little too similar and there is a mafia storyline that, while interesting, feels unnecessary given everything else going on.  No where near as good as Cleeton’s earlier novel, Next Year in Havana.  (Book Depository)

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré – Debut novel from Nigerian author Abi Daré about a teenage girl fighting for an education and a chance to determine her own future.  It sounds worthy of all the praise it’s received and I’m looking forward to starting it soon.  (Book Depository)

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter – I am steadily making my way through the longlist for the Comedy Women in Print prize. (Book Depository)

The Lonely Fajita by Abigail Mann – Also brought to my attention by the Comedy Women in Print prize, this was longlisted in the unpublished category last year.  That has now been remedied! (Book Depository)

What are you reading this week?

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Library Lust

photo credit: Paul Massey

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Library Lust

via House Beautiful

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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.

My library is slowly starting to reopen.  They’re hoping to have most branches open with some level of service by September but until then are offering some creative options.

Phase One of reopening saw them piloting a take out service.  Here’s how it worked: patrons completed a short survey online (or by phone) to indicate the type of books they liked. This was very high level (do you like: fiction? fiction – fantasy?  fiction – mystery?  memoirs and biographies?  non-fiction?)  and had only a limited ability for patrons to provide more detailed information about their tastes.  You then indicated how many books you wanted (up to a maximum of 10) and the library would put together a selection of titles for you to pick up.  Only 5 branches (of the usual 21) were open and offering this service and they quickly filled their capacity, closing it after more than 800 people signed up almost immediately.  Luckily, I was one of the 800.

I was a bit skeptical about how this would work.   Given how much I read and how limited the survey was, how likely was it that the library staff would be able to select books that would interest me and which I hadn’t already read?  In the survey, I noted that I was interested in gardening books (narrative rather than how to), travel memoirs, nature writing, and history books focused on Europe and the Middle East.

Honestly, I’m pretty impressed with their selections, not a single one of which I’ve read so far.  But I’m still very excited for the library to move on to Phase Two of their reopening plan later this month, when they’ll open five more branches (including my local one) and start allowing people to pick up holds.  We’re still waiting for further details on this (will you be allowed to place new holds?  will they be processing ones already in the system?  or will you just be able to pick up the ones that have been waiting on the shelves since the beginning of March?) but it is progress!

Here’s what the library gave me:

Yardwork by Daniel Coleman (Book Depository)

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall (Book Depository)

The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohleben (Book Depository)

Bullets and Opium by Liao Yiwu – I’m a little disappointed that the only history book they gave me is focused on modern China rather than the regions I am most interested in but I am intrigued (Book Depository)

I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson (Book Depository)

Curiosities and Splendour (Book Depository)

A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil (also published as The Worst Date Ever) by Jane Bussman (Book Depository)

Ten Years a Nomad by Matthew Kepnes – this has been on my radar for a while so I was very excited to see it in my bag! (Book Depository)

The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson – another one I’ve had my eye on (Book Depository)

White Sands by Geoff Dyer (Book Depository)

What are you reading this week?

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