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Archive for the ‘E. Nesbit’ Category

2016 was an entirely adequate year for me.  I earned my first professional designation after three years of hard work and study, went on some great trips (though, having stayed in North America all year, I really did miss my usual visit to Europe), and, the crucial difference from 2015, none of my loved ones died or seriously injured themselves.  Well done us!

And, of course, there were lots of books.  Here are the best of the best:

books-310. The Lark (1922) – E. Nesbit
This charming story of two young women and their attempts to support themselves is featuring on a lot of “Best of” lists this year and rightly so. And the best news is that it will be reprinted and easily available as of March 2017, thanks to Scott!

9. More Was Lost (1946) – Eleanor Perényi
An interesting and entertaining memoir about life in Central Europe in the late 1930s from a young American woman married to a Hungarian nobleman.

8. Classic German Baking (2016) – Luisa Weiss
Simply put, this is the cookbook I have been longing for all my life. The Christmas chapter alone – heck, just the recipe for Basler Brunsli cookies – would have been enough to earn it a spot on this list. As it is, the other chapters are equally wonderful.

books-27. Lassoing the Sun (2016) – Mark Woods
I feel rather guilty that I didn’t get around to writing about this wonderful book. A journalist based in Florida, Woods set out to spend a year visiting twelve of America’s national parks. Not the necessarily most beautiful or the most popular ones, but “each symbolizing a different issue facing the national parks in the next hundred years.”  A fascinating project, but not the heart of what the year evolved into, as Woods’ mother passed away after a short and fierce illness.  His travels are tied up with his mourning for his mother, his lifelong memories of visiting the parks with his family, and the urge to share that same sense of wonder and discovery with his own daughter.  Really very wonderful and touching.

6. The House by the Dvina (1984) – Eugenie Fraser
This memoir of Fraser’s childhood in Russia (before, during and immediately after the Revolution) is richly and wonderfully told, taking you deep into a close-knit family and a vanished world. It feels very Slightly Foxed-esque and I can only hope it’s on their radar for possible reissue.

5. Terms and Conditions (2016) – Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Speaking of Slightly Foxed, this wonderful history of girls’ boarding schools is one of the most amusing and original books I’ve read in years.

books-14. Saturday’s Child (1914) – Kathleen Thompson Norris
I first read this novel in 2015 and loved it then too but I think it made an even bigger impact on rereading. The perfect dose of both commiseration and inspiration at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed and indulging, like the heroine, in a bit too much “woe is me”-ing and not enough productive action. It’s deeply reassuring to know that a hundred years ago young working women felt exactly the same way I do in 2016.

3. Children of Earth and Sky (2016) – Guy Gavriel Kay
The newest release from the master of historical fantasy, I loved this so much I read it twice this year.

2. To the Bright Edge of the World (2016) – Eowyn Ivey
A magical, enthralling tale of an 1880s expedition into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Beautifully told and deeply satisfying to read, I keep pressing everyone I know to try it.

new-i-was-a-stranger-bunkerbooks1. I Was a Stranger (1977) – General Sir John Hackett
In a year when the world was doing its best to show how cruel and petty man can be, this memoir of the courage and friendship showed by a Dutch family in occupied Holland to the British officer they hid reminded me that, even in the worst of times, kindness, trust, and love can still flourish.  A real gem that I am entirely indebted to Slightly Foxed for reissuing.

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Mount House and Garden, Alderley, Gloucestershire, England - Marianne North

Mount House and Garden, Alderley, Gloucestershire, England – Marianne North

Every so often, I wonder what it would be like to leave the city behind and go live in a country village.  To a place where you could thrown open French doors onto a beautiful garden, where you can’t hear construction noise from dawn until dusk, where cars aren’t clogging the streets, and, ideally, where entry level housing costs are less than the $2.5 million it would take for me to buy in my neighbourhood (a pleasant but simple 1940s bungalow down the street from me has just been listed for $3.7 million, in addition to the tear-down around the corner going for $5.5 million, so I am feeling even more fed up with Vancouver than usual).

But then I remember that all my fantasies about country homes come from books set in England or my travels in Europe, where there really are charming small towns where you can live in easy proximity to civilization, and not in Western Canada, where, with the possible exception of some very expensive island communities, village life is non-existent.

So, as usual, I turn to books to sate my desire for country life.  Especially the lovely, everything is cosy and wonderful type of village life that I expect is particular to fiction (as opposed to the everything is stifling and all my neighbours as nasty gossips who know all my business type of village life, that I suspect is more realistic – see Leadon Hill by Richmal Crompton).

Now, my reading is never short on the sort of books where people buy/inherit lovely country homes but this summer seems to be even more overwhelmed by them than usual.

1947433_120304105728_odThe weakest of my recent sampling – and the only one where the heroine actually purchases a house with her own money – was The House That is Our Own by O. Douglas.  After helping her friend Kitty, a charming middle-aged widow, find a flat in London, twenty-nine year old Isobel decides she needs a change of setting.  On Kitty’s recommendation, she goes to stay in the Scottish Borders and falls in love with a house there, put up for sale by its young owner who has recently moved to Canada.  Isobel throws all caution to the wind and purchases it.  My financially responsible self shuddered whenever Isobel blithely commented that she didn’t really have the money to keep the house going in the long run but I read on regardless.  It is classic O. Douglas, with lots of lovely, sensible tea-drinking, Shakespeare loving characters of Scottish extraction being lovely together en masse, but I found it numbingly dull.  The final act, with a journey to Canada and the inevitable romantic conclusion, was a little more fun but overall not a keeper.

The Scent of WaterI had been a little hesitant picking up The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge because of its religious overtones but was delighted to discover a beautifully-written story with interesting, developed characters.  When fifty-year old Mary Lindsay inherits a country house from a distant relative, she decides to embrace her inheritance recklessly.  She retires and sets out, after a lifetime of town living, to enjoy country life.  And along with rural quiet and rich new friendships, she finds herself reflecting on the relationships she has had, learning to love even more deeply those who have now passed out of her life.  A really lovely book.

The LarkThe best by far, as will come as no surprise to those who have read Simon and Harriet’s reviews of it, was The Lark by E. Nesbit.  When Jane and Lucie are mysteriously withdrawn from school and directed to a small country cottage by their guardian, they imagine all sorts of wonderful possibilities.  Instead, they learn their guardian has made unwise investments with their inheritances and regretfully fled the country, but not before doing his best to see that they are as well set up as possible.  Between them, they are left with a charming country cottage and an annual income of £500.  Jane is determined this is to be an exciting new chapter in their lives, the start of a new adventure – a lark, in fact.  Lucie, a delightfully skeptical and level-headed foil for Jane, is not so certain but she is young and hopeful and soon just as excited as Jane about possible ways to improve their lot in life.

First, they settle on a flower stall, before moving on to running a boarding house – all out of a large house located near their cottage.  They charm the owner, an eccentric world traveller, into giving his consent to their activities, but cannot shake his nephew John, who hangs round being, in Jane’s eyes at least, irritating despite his usefulness.  Flawless businesswomen they are not but the results are perfection.  This was written in 1922, two years before Nesbit’s death, and it the sort of book that screams out for a companion volume – one that, sadly, never came.

All in all, a well-chosen trio to meet my desire for stories of country living.

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