Archive for the ‘New Books’ Category

Pandemic Purchases

We’ve all changed in some way as the world has changed around us since March. Maybe you’ve taken up baking or running or oil painting. I’ve not done anything so productive (although…matter of opinion?). I’ve turned my back on a lifetime of frugality and started buying books with reckless abandon.

Alright, my reckless abandon over the course of six months doesn’t compare with what some of you can manage in a single afternoon but it’s all comparative.

Here’s what I’ve accumulated:

In the spring all I wanted to do was garden so it’s no surprise that I worked just as devotedly on building out my library of gardening books.

The Five Minute Garden by Laetitia Maklouf – published this spring, I love Maklouf’s sweet little book (based on her popular series of Instagram tips) of little jobs sorted by season. For days when you just can’t be bothered to do anything ambitious this is the perfect inspiration. And, as with everything, five minutes a day really does help you make progress.

Good in a Bed and Better Against a Wall by Ursula Buchan – two collections of Buchan’s gardening columns for a variety of papers. I’d read some of these before when I borrowed the first volume via inter-library loan but I’m so happy to have them readily to hand.

Rootbound by Alice Vincent – Vincent has established herself as an enthusiastic gardener with her popular Instagram account and newsletter, neither of which I was familiar with before reading this. I’m interested to hear about any other garden-loving millennials and read this as soon as it arrived. It was a disappointment for me and I might eventually find the energy to expand those thoughts into a full post but, in short, Vincent is a bit too self-absorbed and self-pitying (being a millennial is not that hard – or that different from what others have experienced before. Oh my god, get a grip).

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane-Fox – like with Buchan, I’d borrowed this previously from the library.  Lane-Fox can set my teeth on edge every so often with his casual chauvinism but my interest in his topics and my enjoyment of his writing overrides that. I’m delighted to have this now to dip in and out of.

Cheerfulness Breaks In and Growing Up by Angela Thirkell – such disappointments! I pre-ordered these as soon as I saw Virago was reissuing them but I was devastated to see the green spines when they arrived. The covers are lovely and match the rest of the Thirkell titles Virago has been reissuing but these spines are so jarring against the others and I’m really bothered by it. I had also ordered Peace Breaks Out but it was so badly water damaged when it arrived that it went straight into recycling (I was able to get a refund).

Abigail by Magda Szabó – Pure whimsey on my part. As soon as my local bookstore reopened in late spring (only 3 people at a time in the store) I had to visit to show my support, naturally. And how better to show support than with a purchase? I trust the NYRB Classics series and had been hearing only good things about this so it seemed like a safe purchase.

Business As Usual by Jane Oliver & Ann Stafford – Is there anyone who hasn’t loved this book? I read a library copy back in January (I will eventually review it, really!) and was delighted to add it to my own shelves when the Handheld Press reissue came out in the spring.

British Summer Time Begins by Ysenda Maxtone Graham – as a devotee of Slightly Foxed and social histories, I’ve loved Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School and Terms & Conditions. Here she looks at summer holidays from the 1930s to the 1980s. I’m saving this one for dark, long nights when I need a taste of summer.

With the libraries now reopened my buying has slowed back to normal rates (almost exclusively Slightly Foxed new releases) but it was fun to comfort myself with new books during the most uncertain months of the year.  It looks like we’re headed into an excellent winter for reading (all winters are excellent for this but one with prescribed social distancing makes it especially so) so I’m happy to have well-stocked shelves.

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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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London is the perfect destination for many things.  For visiting extraordinary museums and galleries, seeing fantastic shows (Hamilton!  I saw Hamilton!  And yes, it was amazing), strolling through beautiful neighbourhoods, eating great food, and, for me at least, catching up with old friends.  And I got to do all of those things during my visit a few weeks ago.

But, very close to the heart of my love for London, is my belief that it is especially designed for book buying.

I slacked off this visit.  I didn’t spend my usual hours and hours browsing in used bookshops – in fact I barely visited any – but instead had a laser focus on newer books.

So what did I come home with?

Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski – no trip to London is complete with a visit to Persephone.  It was pleasantly busy when I stopped in, including a group of three university-age German-speaking girls who each bought a book.  I bow down to their mastery of English; my sad language skills would not hold up if I tried to read a Persephone-level book in French or German.  I had a little thrill looking at the afterword to Guard Your Daughters and myself quoted there and then had a nice chat with Lydia, who showed me the most exciting thing in the entire shop – Mollie Panter-Downes’ kitchen table.  Finally, I left with Tory Heaven, excited to have another book by the always entertaining Laski to read.  Lydia had suggested I go from there to Sir John Sloane’s Museum, which sounds fascinating, but my heart longed for more books so…

The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham – From Persephone I strolled over to the London Review Bookshop and, helpfully, this was right there on the display table.  I am addicted to books about walking and have been wanting this since I first heard about it a few months back.

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps by Ursula Buchan – Also at the London Review Bookshop, I picked up this signed copy of Ursula Buchan’s biography of her grandfather, John Buchan.  I find Buchan – and his entire family – fascinating and was delighted when Kate, an authority on Buchan, gave this her stamp of approval.

And that’s all I bought during my first four days in town.  Such restraint!  Then, in my final 24 hours in town, I managed to pick up three more books:

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers – I met up with Simon and Rachel while in London and, after we’d said goodbye to Simon, ended up getting a tour of Rachel’s beautiful flat.  She happened to have some books in a closet waiting to be given away (I have a stack of the same in my own hall closet which makes it clear that this is completely normal behaviour, despite what I have been told in the past) and offered me my pick.  I’d delighted to have this little, light copy of Whose Body? to add to my collection and remind me of her.

Not That Kind of Love by Clare and Greg Wise – I whirled through the Gower Street Waterstones on my final morning to grab this joint diary showing both sides – Claire, the invalid, and her brother Greg, the caregiver – of a terminal illness.  I am confident I first heard about this on a podcast but cannot for the life of me find which one it was.  I read this on the plane home a few hours later and it was wonderful and also heartbreaking.  There were many, many tears over Greenland.

The Crossway by Guy Stagg – My last minute dash to Waterstones was to hunt down Not That Kind of Love but I couldn’t resist grabbing this as well. Again, I really, really love books about walking (this is a memoir of a pilgrimage) and I’ve been eyeing this one from afar since it came out last year.

The good news was that I could still close – and carry! – my bag coming home, so clearly I bought just the right number of books.

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For anyone already thinking about their Christmas shopping (or their own Christmas wishlist), may I direct you to Slightly Foxed?  On December 1st they are issuing two very wonderful childhood memoirs from the illustrator E.H. Shepard: Drawn from Memory and Drawn from Life.

Shepard, best known for his classic illustrations for A.A. Milne’s children’s books and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, grew up in a close-knit middle class family in Victorian London.  Drawn from Memory looks fondly back at the year he was seven while Drawn from Life covers a much longer period, picking up later on in Shepard’s youth and following him through the end of childhood, into art school, and right up until his marriage.  Both books are lovingly told, beautifully illustrated, and unexpectedly moving.  I love them dearly.

I read both books back in 2014 and lamented at the time that they were out of print, saying of Drawn from Memory that “this book is begging to be reissued and Slightly Foxed, who after all first alerted me to it in their Winter 2010 issue, would seem a natural publisher.”  I’m delighted they thought so, too!  I can’t wait to add these to my beloved collection of Slightly Foxed editions.

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Sometimes I Buy Books

For someone who reads a lot, I don’t have much of an interest in acquiring books.  The library is my friend, as is all my hard-earned money.  And when I do buy books they are usually ones I’ve already read (thanks to the library) and know I want to reread.

But every so often there are books that are so interesting or so obscure that my scruples are overcome and they are added to my shelves unread.  Oh the wild and crazy risks that I take!  On the assumption that everyone enjoys a “books bought” post (yes?), I thought I’d share a few of these recent acquisitions.

Among them are: two stellar books about books, three out-of-print mid-century light romances, a WWII memoir, a middlebrow clergy-themed novel, and two romantic comedies from Muslim Canadian authors.

Here they are:

Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel – I shared a quote from this back in April and there are a dozen more I know would resonate with all of you.  Manguel’s musings are always worth reading.

Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck – the only one of these I’ve actually reviewed!  My copy is headed for the give away pile but I’m still happy to have read this pleasant if not particularly well-executed story of a vicar’s wife during wartime.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell – I’ve been meaning to read this wartime memoir since Scott first raved about it back in 2013.  Now, delightfully, he has brought it back into print.

Ten Way Street, Murder While You Work, and Pirouette by Susan Scarlett – I never read Noel Streatfeild’s books as a child but I’m finally discovering her as an adult.  She wrote a number of light romances for adults (under the Susan Scarlett pseudonym), all of which were reissued by Greyladies but are now difficult to find, and I am slowly gathering them all.

The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli – this hasn’t even been released in Canada yet (it’s coming out here early next year as The Matchmaker’s List) but I couldn’t wait.  I am a sucker for rom coms about arranged marriages and the excitement over such a story not just existing but being written by a Canadian and set in Canada (big, big, big deal – when did you last read a rom com set in Canada?) was too much for me.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin – this came out today.  I had my library hold placed and was planning to wait.  But there’s a bookstore in my office building.  And it was raining during my lunch break.  And once I started reading the first pages I couldn’t let it go (see above re my love of Canadian-set rom coms featuring arranged marriages).  So now my library hold is cancelled and I am a proud owner of this Pride and Prejudice-inspired tale.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan – Perfect.  So, so, so perfect.  I will write about this at length but for now rest assured that it is going to feature on my “Best Books of 2018” list.

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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Back in 2011, I read Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham and absolutely adored it.  In fact, I loved it so much that it made my Best Books of 2011 list.  And the first thing I thought when reading it was how perfect a choice it would be for Persephone Books.

Well, turns out they thought the same way.  Six years later, I am delighted to say that Persphone has just reissued the book and it is now readily available for all to enjoy!  Happy reading!

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There are plenty of things to be excited about in 2017 and, for me, one of those things is this lovely pile of books I accumulated just as 2016 ended.  None of these actually made it under the tree at Christmas as they were delayed in transit but it was rather nice to get Christmas presents the week after Christmas – a way to prolong the holiday, if you will.  And they were certainly worth waiting for.

Here’s what I got:

Miss Bunting, Marling Hall and The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell – the most recent Thirkell reissues from Virago.  All three are favourites but I’m particularly delighted to finally have my own copy of The Headmistress – I think it’s the best of Thirkell’s novels.

The Marches by Rory Stewart – I love Stewart’s writing and to say I’ve been looking forward to this book for years is no joke as the publication date was pushed back time and again.  But now it is here and I am so looking forward to reading about the journey Stewart took with his father along the border between Scotland and England.

Dashing for the Post edited by Adam Sisman – If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years it is that you always need a little more Patrick Leigh Fermor in your life.  This collection of his letters promises to be full of extraordinary anecdotes, classical allusions I will not remotely grasp, and (given that it is PLF) probably a little too much purple prose.  I can’t wait.

The House by the Lake  by Thomas Harding – a unique history of Germany from the 1890s to the 2010s, told through the lives of five families linked by a lake house they each lived in.

Clearly 2017 is going to be a great reading year!

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New Arrivals

img_20161030_162558A few weeks ago, to reward myself after reaching a professional milestone, I placed a massive book order from Slightly Foxed.  And now it has arrived!

Here are my new arrivals:

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

A Late Education by Alan Moorehead

My Grandfather and Father, Dear Father by Denis Constanduros

I Was a Stranger by John Hackett (I read a library copy of this in October and am so happy to be adding it to my collection now)

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holyrod

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Brensham Village by John Moore

And, of course, I have pre-ordered a copy of Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham, which is being released today.

Lots of happy reading ahead of me!


My ever-expanding Slightly Foxed collection


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It is my pleasure to reminder readers that Virago will be reprinting three new Angela Thirkell titles this November.  Time to place your pre-orders or, for those of you with self control, provide your families with a preview Christmas wishlist.  They are all wartime novels and, to my way of thinking, they are some of her best.  They are:

Marling Hall

The Headmistress

Miss Bunting

The Headmistress is probably my very favourite of Thirkell’s books and, having struggled to find a second-hand copy, I am delighted at the prospect of adding it to my library.

That said, I continue to object to Virago’s frankly irritating decision to release additional books in e-editions only, as they are doing with Growing Up and Peace Breaks Out.  While I’d agree the three books they are printing this time around are better than the two being released as e-books, I’d still prefer a complete set.  And I will never feel resigned to Cheerfulness Breaks In, my sentimental favourite of the series, being released as an e-book only.  I’m not sure what, if any, their plans are for future releases –  Thirkell’s post-war works are pretty sloppy – so hopefully they might go back and fill in these few gaps with proper reprints one day.  We can only hope and encourage them!

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I popped over to Victoria this weekend for a mini summer holiday.  It only lasted from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon but it was a wonderful break and incorporated all the things I love about going to Victoria: stunning island scenery from the ferry, amazing floral displays at Butchart Gardens, excellent food in Victoria, and, of course, fabulous book shopping.

Russell Books, one of my all-time favourite bookshops, is located in central Victoria and I spent a happy couple of hours there on Saturday afternoon, sifting through my favourite sections.  Every fifteen minutes or so you would hear another delighted patron exclaiming over some find or the sheer variety of books on offer.  Deservedly so.  My hard work was rewarded and I can home with a respectable haul:


Window on My Heart by Olave, Lady Baden-Powell – how to resist something this random?  The autobiography of the wife of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, who was herself very heavily involved in the Scouting and Guiding movements.

A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor – PLF’s travel memoir about his time spent in monasteries.

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe – There were shelves and shelves and shelves full of Wodehouse but I chose to go with a collection of Plum’s letters.

Nairn in Darkness and Light by David Thomson – a memoir about growing up in Scotland in the 1920s.

An Italian Odyssey by Julie A. Burk and Neville J. Tencer – I am fascinated by the Via Francigena but there are so few books about it.  This memoir about walking the Italian portion of the route is one of the few out there (alongside Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim, which I picked up earlier this year).

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay – slowly building up my collection of GGK, having read them all first from the library (as usual).

The Pebbled Shore by Elizabeth Longford – I learned about this when reading My History by her daughter, Antonia Forest.  Longford sounds absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to learn more about her life.

The Smell of Summer Grass and The Gentry by Adam Nicolson – both excellent books that I’ve been meaning to add to my library since I first read them. 

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry – I can now safely return the library copy that I keep checking out.

A very good day’s work, as far as I’m concerned!  And also just a nice summer break in a lovely city.

Sunset Outer Harbour

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