Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Book List’ Category

The 1944 Club

Simon and Karen are hosting the 1944 club this week and, while I’m not actively reading anything for it, I still wanted to participate.  So, as my small contribution, I thought I’d share some of my past reviews of books from that year.  This includes some of my all-time favourite novels – 1944 was certainly a wonderful year for books!

Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham – if my immense enthusiasm for this novel about love and anti-semitism in 1940s Montreal hasn’t already set you reading it, start now.  It’s extraordinarily thoughtful and readily available since Persephone recently reissued it.

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell – my favourite of Thirkell’s many Barsetshire novels, I love this book for many things but especially its portrait of Mrs Belton.  All her hopes and dreams for her children have been upset by the war and her life is a whirl of anxiety, love, and exhaustion.  Happily, this book has also come back into print since I first wrote about it thanks to Virago.

Listening Valley by D.E. Stevenson – aside from a needless and rather bizarre sub-plot involving a spy, this is a lovely novel of a shy young woman growing in confidence after being widowed and moving to a small Scottish town.

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp – my first encounter with Margery Sharp had slightly mixed results but I certainly loved her straightforward and exceedingly funny style of writing.

Pastoral by Nevil Shute – a novel of Bomber Command and urgent romance, this is one of Shute’s best.

Yeoman’s Hospital by Helen Ashton – my least favourite of the bunch, this hospital-set novel is slow moving but interesting for how it reflects some of the social changes brought about by the war.

Happy Friday everyone!  What are you reading for the 1944 club?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Today is the anniversary of Elizabeth von Arnim’s birth and in honour of that Jane is hosting Elizabeth von Arnim Day. I wasn’t quite organized enough this year to read and review something but she is one of my very favourite authors so I could not let the day go unmarked.  Therefore, I thought I’d share the von Arnim’s I have read and reviewed over the years.  They are, of course, ranked in order of preference from least favourite to most beloved.  Enjoy!

10. The Caravaners

9. The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen

8. In the Mountains

7. Introduction to Sally

6. The Pastor’s Wife

5. The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight

4. Christopher and Columbus

3. The Benefactress

2. Elizabeth and Her German Garden

1. Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther

Read Full Post »

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!  In celebration of this erratically-observed and politically-loaded holiday, I have for you a few suggestions for great books by women about women.  Rather than the usual flowers, surprise the women in your life today with a book!

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich – an obvious choice as a) I just finished this oral history of Soviet women’s experiences during WWII (and adored it) and b) Women’s Day is most associated with communist countries so it feels right to start off the list with a book about the USSR.

It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst – the ups and downs of women’s lives – in verse!

Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes by Virginia Nicholson – while their Soviet sisters had been working away in the East for years (and being celebrated for it on March 8th), Western women really exploded into the workforce in the 1950s.  This is a fascinating survey of British women’s experiences during that time.

Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers by Stephanie Levine – while women in the workforce are commonplace now in most of the world, some religious sects still preserve traditional attitudes and barriers.  This look at the lives of girls in the Hasidic community in the U.S. is upsetting, powerful, and absolutely worth reading.

Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf – Young women in the Middle East have been steadily making strides towards greater independence for years – progress Zoepf chronicled over a decade of reporting there.  In this excellent book she tells the stories of women from all over the region and how their lives are changing.

Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte and Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter – a reminder of the pressures working women face when they try to “have it all” – and far we are from achieving that dream.  Both books offer practical suggestions for improving the issues facing both women and men.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim – finally, on a day dedicated to women’s equality and achievement, I had to have something by von Arnim.  This one, my favourite, is an entertaining, comforting, and altogether joyous chronicle of a woman making peace with who she is.

Happy reading everyone and happy International Women’s Day!

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).  

Read Full Post »

For Jessie’s Persephone Readathon I wanted to share my favourite Persephones.  I’m not going to be quite as ambitious as Simon (who ranked all the Persephone books he has read) so here’s a list of my top ten favourites (so far):

10. House-Bound by Winifred Peck – It was a Persephone readathon back in 2011 that introduced me to this story of a Scottish housewife whose staid and settled life is shaken up during WWII as the rapidly changing world forces her to re-examine her life and her relationships with her family members.

9. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey – a deeply unsentimental black comedy that I read not once but twice – and loved both times.

8. It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst – I am not a poetry lover but I adore this collection of deeply domestic poems.

7. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail – Who doesn’t love this charming comic novel about a young couple’s first year of married life? I love it so much that I put together an entire list of reading recommendations based on it.

6. Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes – I have never been a lover of short stories but Panter-Downes’ collection of World War Two stories is exceptional. She covers the full range of experiences – from earnest enthusiasm to petty but sympathetically-portrayed selfishness – with brevity, humour, and intelligence.

5. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – I’m not really certain why Persephone chose to reissue this (it certainly wasn’t in danger of being out of print) but it’s as close to a flawless comic novel as the English language has created so I’m not going to complain!

4. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher – A perennial favourite among Persephone fans – and with good reason! I was incredibly impressed when I read this stunning novel about gender roles, personal fulfillment, and the concept of face.

3. Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge – I love this thoughtful, well-written account of one family’s progression over two decades. It is particularly strong in portraying a mature marriage and the challenges of being a parent and realising the limits of your control. It makes an interesting contrast with the much inferior Princes in the Land.

2. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham – In 2011 when I first read this wonderful novel about a love affair between an Anglo journalist and a Jewish lawyer in 1940s Montreal, I described it as being Persephone-like in it’s tone, quality and themes. I’m so glad they agreed and published it!

1. London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes – if you want to know when my love for Persephone peaked, it was the day I heard they were reprinting this collection of Panter-Downes’ wartime journalism for the New Yorker. For me, it is “one of the finest, most perfectly observed portraits of wartime England I have ever read.”

Honourable mentions: The Shuttle, Family Roundabout, On the Other Side, Manja

Dishonourable mentions: Someone at a Distance, The Winds of Heaven, Miss Buncle’s Book, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, The Making of a Marchioness, Guard Your Daughters

What are your favourite Persephones?

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).  

Read Full Post »

It’s day five of Jessie’s Persephone Readathon and the suggested topic for the day is to recommend books based on Persephone titles.  Readers, there is nothing I enjoy more than making book lists.  So I decided to make three.  Humour me.

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
One of my first Persephone reads and probably still among my favourites, Greenery Street tells the story of the first year of a marriage.  Ian and Felicity are young, optimistic, and, rare in novels (including many published by Persephone), happy.  Mackail tells their story affectionately and humorously and the end result is so delightful that P.G. Wodehouse described it as “simply terrific” and “the sort of book one wishes would go on for ever.”

So where to go from there?  The sequels – Tales from Greenery Street and Ian and Felicity – would seem the obvious choice but they are damnably difficult to track down.  Mackail’s light comedy Another Part of the Wood is easier to track down (at least in e-book form) but isn’t quite as delightful as the goings on of the Greenery Street crew.

Here are some less obvious ideas of what to read next from authors who share Mackail’s gift for humour, generally cheerful opinion of marriage, and fondness for a strong narrative voice:

  • A.A. Milne: my favourite humourist of the 1910s and 1920s, Milne was very comfortable with the domestic humour and marital conversations that make Greenery Street so delightful. He wrote charming pieces for Punch on the topic (try Once a Week and The Day’s Play) and many of his best plays are also focused on marriages and what makes them work – or not (The Dover Road, Michael and Mary, and Mr Pim Passes By).
  • P.G. Wodehouse: Wodehouse was a good friend of Mackail’s – and a much better writer. They shared a similar sense of humour and whimsey in their writing though Wodehouse’s plots are significantly more madcap than Mackail’s domestic misadventures.  Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone who smiled through Greenery Street not enjoying Wodehouse classics like Joy in the Morning, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, or Psmith in the City.
  • Angela Thirkell: here’s a contentious choice! Mackail was not fond of Thirkell, his elder sister, and particularly of her much greater success as a writer.  Poor Denis.  However, I think her humour, although more caustic than her brother’s, would appeal to lovers of Greenery Street and her clear-sighted observations definitely echo the amused narrator’s view of Ian and Felicity’s goings on.  Wild Strawberries would be a particularly good place to start.
  • Dear Octopus by Dodie Smith: for a loving depiction of a lengthy and happy marriage you need look no further than Charles and Dora, around whose 50th wedding anniversary this excellent play unfolds.

On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg
There are a handful of Persephones that I consider really important and this, a collection of letters written by a German mother to her adult children living abroad during World War Two, is one of them.  The social history of Germany (and the territories it occupied) during the war is one of the topics I’m most passionate about in my reading so, no surprise, I have lots of recommendations:

  • The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg: like Wolff-Mönckeberg, Bielenberg was for years a resident of free-thinking Hamburg but with a difference: she was Anglo-Irish and had only become a German citizen upon her marriage in 1934. In this fascinating memoir she tells of her wartime experiences in Germany – experiences made particularly fraught by her husband’s friendship with those involved in the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.  An intriguing look at wartime Germany from a not-quite-outsider’s perspective with a thriller-like climax.
  • A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous: one of the most moving documents of the war, this diary of life in Berlin as the Russians invaded is a powerful account of life in a hellish place. Starvation, rape, and the final breakdown of all remaining order are calmly and chillingly chronicled.
  • Frauen by Alison Owings: a fascinatingly varied collection of interviews with twenty-nine women about their experiences of life during the Third Reich.
  • The English Air by D.E. Stevenson: Moving on to fiction, this story (one of Stevenson’s best) deals with a young German man coming to visit distant family in England in 1938, forming deep bonds with them, and reassessing his own homeland from a distance. For a book published in 1940, it is extraordinarily sympathetic towards its German protagonist and rather refreshing.
  • I Was a Stranger by John Hackett: rescued by the Dutch resistance after being badly wounded during the Battle of Arnhem, Hackett’s memoir of his time recovering in the home of three elderly Dutch sisters is beautifully told. His affection and admiration for the resistance members is extreme, understanding the great danger they placed themselves in every day as they did their work surrounded by their German occupiers.

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson
I’m currently reading this diary of life in wartime London and, no surprise, I’m enjoying it very much.  It’s not brilliant but it’s very good.  Here are some similar reads that are even better:

  • London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes: another Persephone and, like On the Other Side, one that I class as one of their “important” publications. Chronicling the war for the American readers of the New Yorker in her bi-weekly letters from London, Panter-Downes captures the ups, the downs, and the essential uncertainly of life in wartime Britain.  Her wartime short stories (Good Evening, Mrs Craven) should also not be missed.
  • The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell: Elizabeth Bowen praised Thirkell’s attention to contemporary detail by saying “If the social historian of the future does not refer to this writer’s novels, he will not know his business” and it is particularly true of this, the best of her wartime novels.
  • Wartime and The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner: Gardiner’s detailed and highly entertaining social histories cannot be beat.
  • The Siren Years by Charles Ritchie: my favourite of all wartime diaries. Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat posted in London during the war, was a stylish writer, brilliant observer, and energetic socializer.  Come for the anecdotes about lunch with Nancy Mitford and deposed European royalty, stay for the clear-sighted and decidedly unjingoistic commentary on the diplomats and politicians running the war.
  • These Wonderful Rumours! by May Smith: happy wartime diaries are always a nice change! A schoolteacher with an active romantic life and a worklife deeply inconvenienced by evacuees, Smith’s diaries are funny and remind us that life goes on.

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).  

Read Full Post »

Well, we’ve reached the end of a year I would rather not repeat.  But, despite its challenges, it did hold some amazing moments.  I had the chance to travel widely and experience things I’d been dreaming of for years, and, best of all, I became an aunt.  There is nothing so hopeful as welcoming a new life into a family and it was a very cheering way to see out the year.

It wasn’t a spectacular reading year for me (too many comfort reads and too little quality during the first half of the year, certainly) but there were still plenty of stellar titles to choose from.  Here are the ten that really stood out:

10. For the Glory (2016) – Duncan Hamilton
This excellent biography of Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner and Christian missionary who was immortalised in Chariots of Fire, was the first book I read in 2017 and remained one of my favourites.  Hamilton, a sports journalist, is a clear and thorough biographer, and does full justice to a fascinating and inspiring life.

9. Browsings (2015) – Michael Dirda
An enthusiastic and eclectic collection of pieces Dirda wrote about the books he loves, his immense love of used book stores (and hours spent therein), and other things sure to delight passionate readers.

8. The Bear and the Nightingale (2017) – Katherine Arden
Sweltering in a Tuscan summer, I read this beautiful fantasy novel and escaped to the cool world of medieval Russia, a place where magic and fairy tales all come to life in the most suspenseful way.  I adored it, quickly read the sequel which came out this month, and am already eager for the final book in the trilogy (which is being released in August).

7. Felicity – Stands By (1928) – Richmal Crompton
About as far from great literature as you can get, these humorous stories about the adventures of sixteen-year old Felicity brightened up a relatively difficult point in my life.  They are bubbly and fun and a welcome reminder that Crompton could be both those things (and not just the author of needlessly repetitive and melodramatic family tales).

6. The Way of Wanderlust (2015) – Don George
In a year full of both travel and travel reading, this collection of Don George’s writing was a wonderful inspiration.

5. The Snow Child (2012) – Eowyn Ivey
Ivey’s second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, was one of my favourite books of 2016.  This year, I finally picked up her first novel and found it just as wonderful and captivating.  Inspired the story of the Snow Maiden, Ivey weaves a magical story of a struggling, childless couple living in the Alaskan wilderness and their love for the girl who appears from nowhere one wintery day.  It is beautifully told and shockingly perfect for a first novel.

4. The Coast of Bohemia (1950) – Edith Pargeter
A travelogue about a 1948 trip to Czechoslovakia by a woman best known for writing mystery novels (under her pen name of Ellis Peters) might not appeal to everyone but for me this book was wonderful.  Pargeter’s love of all things Czech makes her a passionate observer of the customs and places she sees.  I loved seeing the country and its people through her eyes and getting to experience a time long past through her excellent record of it.

3. Last Hope Island (2017) – Lynne Olson
An extraordinarily entertaining and enlightening look at the contributions made to the Allied war effort by the occupied countries whose governments and monarchs were living in exile in London.  It is packed full of facts, interesting characters, and devastatingly caustic quotes about de Gaulle (naturellement, everyone hates de Gaulle).  After Felicity – Stands By, this was the most enjoyable reading experience I had all year.

2. The Marches (2016) – Rory Stewart
I started reading this because I knew it was about Stewart’s journeys on foot around the English-Scottish border as he attempted to make sense of the centuries old divide between the two countries ahead of the Scottish independence vote – a fascinating project I was keen to learn more about.  But Stewart takes that journey and weaves into it the story of his own extraordinary (Scottish) father.  The result is a very wonderful and affectionate love letter that left me deeply moved.

1. Moon Tiger (1987) – Penelope Lively
I finally read Lively’s Booker prize winner and it is a masterpiece.  Technically dazzling, Lively plays with her favourite themes of love, history, and, above all, memory as septuagenarian Claudia lies on her deathbed and looks back on her life.  If I could write, this would be how I’d want to do it.  As I can’t, this is exactly what I want to read – again and again and again.

Read Full Post »

If you’ve been here for a while, you know I LOVE reading memoirs by people who have moved to new countries and are puzzling their way through daily lives in new cultures.

In honour of that love, I’ve put together a list of 15 fascinating expat memoirs over at my other blog, The Ambling Adventurer.  Enjoy!  And if you have any suggestions for further reading, do let me know.  A reading list can never be too long!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »