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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle –  This is the first of the Crosswicks Journals, a collection of four memoirs in which L’Engle’s muses about her writing, her faith, and her family.  My approach to the Journals has been typical: I started at the end, with Two-Part Invention.   It is the story of the last months of her husband’s life as cancer quickly takes over his body but it also the story of their forty year marriage.  It is devastatingly wonderful and one of the best books about marriage I have ever read. I then moved on to the second book, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, and found much to love there, too, as L’Engle deals with her mother’s dementia-ridden final months and the realisation that she is now responsible for all the family memories.  A very high bar has been set and I’m interested to see how this compares.

The Long Spring by Laurence Rose – I can be a bit “meh” about nature writing but this is nature writing combined with travel writing so I’m keeping an open mind.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – I’m very excited about this new release from Ondaatje, especially since it seems to be concerned with memory, one of my favourite literary themes (hence my love of Penelope Lively’s works).

The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar – I have worked my way through all the other Nordic country “how to be happy” books and now find myself learning about sisu, the Finnish cure-all.  Look, I don’t think it’s a surprise by now if I tell you the Nordic answer to eternal happiness is: Just Be Normal.  The end.  Still, a publishing trend hurts no one.

Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh – I’ve only heard glowing praise for this food memoir from Tandoh, a Great British Bake Off finalist.  Having followed her columns for a while, I know she is a passionate and insightful writer and concerned with topics I find fascinating (like the ties between food and culture, or how nutrition and “virtue” have taken precedence over pleasure when it comes to fixing a meal).

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma – why is YA diversifying so much faster than adult fiction?  This has been universally praised so I’m looking forward to it but I would be so much happier to read about adults.  Publishing industry, work harder!

Cookbook time!

Mamushka and Kaukasis by Olia Hercules – I’ve borrowed these before but have them out again and this time we’re actually cooking from them!  There have never been so many herbs in my house before – the lamb dish we made this weekend was loaded with parsley, cilantro, and dill, and was absolutely delicious.  Summer may not be the ideal time for all of these Ukrainian and Georgian/Azerbaijani dishes but we march on regardless.  I can’t wait to make all of the soups – but I have been waiting because even a soup fiend like myself knows it’s a horrible idea to spend hours with the stove on when its 30+ degrees outside.  But the heatwave here is set to end this weekend and my soup pot and I will be reunited – and unstoppable.

Made in India by Meera Sodha – I feel like I am cheating on Madhur Jaffrey but am quite enjoying these delicious and easy recipes.

And, since the library isn’t just for books, here are the DVDs I have out right now.  An Ideal Husband (Jeremy Northam with a mustache!) and The Winslow Boy (Jeremy Northam without a mustache!) are old favourites but the rest are new to me.

What did you pick up this week?

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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via Cabin Life

We’re in the midst of a heatwave here and nothing could be more appealing than escaping to a cabin somewhere (ideally by a lake but I’d accept one on the ocean if necessary) and spending the hot days bouncing between the water and a bookish room like this.

I love A Century of Books, I really do.  But I hate the feeling of doom that encroaches as I slack off and my list of books to review grows ever longer.  (On the plus side, this means I am reading from years that are part of my Century and not going entirely off piste again.  Hurrah for me!)  The only way to silence this dread is with action and so I give you three very brief reviews of three very different and not entirely memorable books.  They vary from not at all good to absolutely delightful but all three are guaranteed to disappear from your memory relatively fast.

Let’s start in 1948 with the instantly forgettable Pirouette by Susan Scarlett.  Scarlett was the pen name under which Noel Streatfeild wrote a dozen light and extraordinary gentle romances.  They are all formulaic and trite but generally enjoyable.  Unfortunately, this one was just trite and formulaic.  It’s the story of Judith Nell, a young ballerina (and young means very young – only 18), who has just been offered a big professional break.  At the same time, her boyfriend accepts a job in Rhodesia and asks her to marry and go with him.  In the background are discontented ballerinas – one of whom is more than happy to go out dancing and drinking (and who knows what else’ing) with Paul while Judith struggles with her decision – and young men who see no future in England, only in Africa.  As we know, that’s not going to end at all well for anyone.  There are class struggles, career struggles, and familial struggles and yet it all manages to be quite dull.  The only good thing about it is the portrait of Judith’s family and how all its members struggle because of Mrs Nell’s stage mother ways.  It’s a bit overwrought but essentially good, especially the conspiracies that spring up between the other members of the family as they try to out manoeuvre Mrs Nell.


Much better but still forgettable was Meet Mr Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse from 1927.  Mr Mulliner is a slight variation on The Oldest Member, here to regale unwilling listeners with stories of his family’s comic exploits (rather than The Oldest Member’s golf-focused yarns).  While I was delighted by the career of Mr Mulliner’s nephew Augustine, a once meek curate whose entire life is changed thanks to an extraordinarily effective potion created by his relative Wilfred Mulliner (whose tale is also told), the rest of the stories were a bit too repetitive and never truly caught my attention.  That said, a little Wodehouse is better than none.

And in the entirely satisfactory category of “frothy and forgettable but enjoyable” we have Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland.  First published in 1961 and recently reissued, this is a very amusing little book of de Havilland’s observations as an American among the French.  Shortly after divorcing her first husband, de Havilland met a charming Frenchman while attending the Cannes film festival.  Soon enough she was moving to France with her small son and marrying her Frenchman, taking on both a new spouse, a new country, and an entirely new culture.  Her stumbles as she finds her way are recounted with an impressively light touch and it’s delightful to see her enjoyment of the country.  And it’s one an enjoyment that hasn’t faded – she moved there in the mid-1950s and is there still at age 102.

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).  

via Stribling & Associates

There are not a lot of books I find worth staying up for on a weeknight.  Sleep is a wonderful thing and I take it seriously.  But last night I foolishly started reading just before (what should have been) my bedtime and ending up reading until almost midnight, caught up in the joyfully comic fantasy of Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon.

Adapted many, many times for the stage and screen, this tale from 1903 will already be familiar to many of you.  When his grandfather dies and leaves him a million dollars on his twenty-fifth birthday, Monty Brewster knows his life will change.  No longer does he need to work for a salary – good though he was at his work – or leave anxious tailors and tradespeople waiting for bills to be settled.  No, he can live as he likes and begin to help the people he loves live a little better too.  And he can pursue the girl he loves, knowing he has fortune enough to give her a life of luxury and ease.  Yes, the future is bright.  But only days after his first inheritance Monty learns of another: an eccentric uncle has left him seven million dollars – but only if Monty is penniless by his twenty-sixth birthday.  And penniless with conditions – the money must not be thrown away in excessive gestures of charity or idiocy – it must be spent wisely and reasonably and he may tell no one about the second inheritance.  With only a year to do it, Monty sets methodically to work.

I found the entire thing delightful.  Monty is, as we are told at the beginning, entirely admirable.  He has “a decent respect for himself and no great aversion to work”, the ability to stay calm in a crisis, to mix with all sorts of people, and to view things in perspective and with humour.  He is warm and friendly and trusting, yet with a solid business sense and no nonsense about him.  He is, in fact, a rather perfect hero and I loved reading about his successes in carefully spending his fortune – and his failures when his attempts to invest poorly or gamble away bits of his fortune backfire and find him with more rather than less riches.  It is no small thing to spend a great fortune but he sets about it methodically and sensibly, enjoying himself along the way.

Enjoying themselves far less are his friends and loved ones.  At first delighted by Monty’s well-deserved wealth, they are pained to see him frittering it away and constantly on the look out for ways to curb his spending and save him from himself.  The first flush of spending – lavishly decorating a new apartment, throwing extravagant dinner parties – was fun for everyone but as the year goes on and Monty’s excesses grow more and more extreme both his friends and society at large can’t help but lament his extravagance and judge him harshly for it.  And when you are being judged extravagant by New Yorkers at the turn of the century, in the most gilded city of the gilded age, you really must be an extreme case.

I think McCutcheon must have had fun dreaming up all the ways to spend a million – and carefully accounting for them in the ledger Monty keeps.  Silly parties can only help so much.  It’s when he hits on the idea of taking a party of friends to Europe that the money really starts disappearing.  First with the hire of a yacht.  Yachts will always be a wonderful way to spend money very quickly and get very little return.  True then, true now, true always.  And once in Europe Monty is wildly successful at spending.  He buys cars, hires a villa, rents out hotels, and hires an opera company and opera house for not just one night but two.  But the joyful spending of the early days in gone and as his birthday draws near it becomes a chore to rid himself of all his funds, made painful by the taunts of society and the disapproval of his friends.

There is, of course, a romance, though not the one Monty himself dreamed of when the year began.  It is obvious from her first introduction who his real love interest will be – a girl who knows him well, who can tease and speak freely with him – and it’s satisfying to watch them both realise their true feelings over the course of the year.  A little less satisfying when the girl is abducted off the yacht by an Arab sheik in the middle of the night and a daring rescue is then enacted but, oh well, McCutcheon was clearly getting bored with all the accounting Monty was doing and felt the urge to liven things up.

It’s all a bit of whimsy but whimsy is wonderful.  The second half is weaker than the first but it matters not.  It’s a quick book to read and the overall effect is so fun and sprightly that the odd weakness can be overlooked.  Definitely a book worth staying up late with.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – a classic case of a hold coming in and me having no memory whatsoever of ordering the book.  I guess the good thing about long hold lines at the library is they can make books first anticipated months ago feel like new discoveries!  Now that I’ve reminded myself of what this one is about, I’m intrigued to try it.

Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon – I am in fact still working on my Century of Books (this means a glut of reviews are coming…one day) and this comic classic from 1902 will help fill one of the difficult early years.  I’ve heard about it before, this tale of a man who must spend a million dollar inheritance in one year in order to receive an even larger one, and it sounds like a good, fun summer read.

Kaukasis by Olia Hercules – I have been reading a lot of cookbooks focused on Georgia lately (Tasting Georgia, in particular, is marvellous) so I’m looking forward to Hercules’ take on the region.  My issue thus far has not been finding inspiration but in finding people who will let me actually cook the recipes for them.  Maybe I just need to stop giving them a choice…

What did you pick up this week?

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).  

Paris home of Pierre Sauvage
credit: Architectural Digest