February 2020 Month in Review

My February Diary

February was a very busy and challenging month but a good month overall. My parent’s both had minor surgeries so I was pre-occupied with that. The 8 year old had school sports and to her great joy actually won a silver medal in the Class 2 relay race. She displayed her medal the next day on the dresser with a hand written plaque in front of it – ‘Mehuli’s first medal’.

The highlights of the month included watching ‘Little Women’ at the cinema – oh so good! Reading ‘William’ by EH Young – do read it ! And having an article accepted for publication in an Indian magazine (I’ll share more soon).

I also got to meet up with a school friend visiting from San Francisco and it was great catching up. The weather changed into beautiful sunny, balmy weather. I was gifted three rose plants that are still alive and I made the husband buy me a Valentine’s present (of course a book). Read on, to discover more! Much love and hope you had a great February.

 

This is my month in review :

The Books I read in February:

1)The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Chalet School in Exile - Elinor M.Brent Dyer

I re-read ‘Chalet School in Exile’ after many years. It stills remains my most favourite Chalet School book with the thrilling flight from Austria at the outset of WW2 forming part of the plot line. What made reading the book even more special was reading in this unabridged Girls Gone By edition that contained a chapter I had never read before. What a treat!

 

William by E.H. Young

William by EH. Young

My first time reading an E.H. Young novel did not disappoint. Dealing with the topic of parental expectation and differential reactions to the news of a child’s decision to leave her husband and live with a lover, the book ‘William’ has discourses on morality that are deep and meaningful. Definitely going on my list as a contender for Best Books of 2020.

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

I was able to complete ‘The Duke’s Children’ by Anthony Trollope in the space of one calendar month. Yay! This was another book about the reactions of parent’s to the decisions their children make in choosing their life partners. I thought it was a fitting ending to the concluding book in the Palliser series.

Ichigo Ichie by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

Ichigo Ichie by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

‘Ichigo Ichie’ by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles was my non-fiction pick of the month. The book describes the Japanese concept of Ichigo Ichie- or the art of cherishing each and every moment in life. I found it a helpful and comforting book.

Mixed Media in February

Podcasts

I listened to ‘Reading Resolutions’ – the January podcast from Slightly Foxed. Also Episode 81 of ‘Tea or Books’ – Style vs Plot and Living vs Loving by Henry Green. Though I haven’t read Henry Green, Simon and Rachel’s discourse didn’t leave me overly enthusiastic to put Henry Green’s novels on the TBR, any time soon.

Movies

I actually got to see Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ at the cinema. I’ve written about it in the blogpost listed below. I absolutely loved it!

As I enjoy watching old black and white movies the most and don’t have the ability to concentrate on movies for protracted periods of time anymore, I’ve resolved this issue by watching movies in short bursts – whenever I have some downtime during the day. This month I watched ‘Meet John Doe’ by Frank Capra and I highly recommend it. The story is so heartwarming and the acting very good.

I’m looking forward to watching a few more next month as I easily get bored of many of the Netflix dramas.

Music

Our song of the month was ‘Senorita’ by Camilla Cabello and Shawn Mendes. This is a song that definitely makes you want to dance. On YouTube I’ve been watching the channel ‘Our Stupid Reactions’. A group of Americans react to videos on Indian culture. I find the videos very entertaining and enjoy the appreciation of our rich Indian culture, especially those on Indian Classical music.

What I Bought or Received in February

Book Haul - February 2020

Here are the second-hand books I bought or received in February. Some of course are my daughter’s but we always agree to share.

1) The Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘The First Four Years’ and

2) The Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek

3) ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’ by E.H. Young

4) ‘The Runaways’ (alternative title ‘Linnets and Valerians’) by Elizabeth Goudge

5) ‘White Boots’ by Noel Streatfeild

I also asked my husband for a Valentine’s Day present (shameless, I know!) and his gift was

6) ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan

Books received from publishers included:

7) ‘Ichigo Ichie’By Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (gifted review copy)

8) ‘Business as Usual’ by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford (Handheld Press e-book gifted for review)

Posts I Published in February

I published three posts in February. The first – January Month in Review. The second post was an ode to watching the new Little Women movie. Lastly, a book review of the magical, fairytale – ‘A City of Bells’.

Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady – January 2020

Love and Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Love

Elizabeth Goudge’s Magical ‘A City of Bells’

A City of Bells - Elizabeth Goudge

The Highpoint of February

The high point of February was meeting up with a schoolfriend on her annual visit to Kolkata. She lives in the USA and five of our friends met up for a Valentine’s Day brunch and we did a gift swap. I came home with a lot of good memories, essential oils, face masks, body cream and tea.

 

Favourite Book Quote of February

“In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ Grandfather from ‘A City of Bells’

 

Ichigo Ichie was received as a review copy from Hachette India but all opinions are my own.

January 2020 – Month in Review

 

My January Diary

January was a month of new beginnings. On the work front I had new things to learn and new projects to embark on and they kept me very (pleasantly) busy. I was also craving good book discussions and participated in two readalongs on Instagram. One – was ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair. I read this with a close group of friends and the book was light and it was amusing to share excerpts and peculiarities of character, whilst reading.

The second book I read with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram – ‘A City of Bells’. I had this beautiful first edition sitting on my bookshelf – just crying out to be read. I enjoyed this book so much.

We had two birthdays in the family – my daughter’s and my Mum’s. I bought Amitava Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island’ for my mum because she is a huge fan.

Mid-January, the husband and I had four nights of attending Dover Lane Music Conference – an Indian classical musical soirée in Kolkata. Two nights, we stayed up all night and walked home as the sky was turning pink at dawn. There is nothing so uplifting as music and is so needed to lift one’s spirits. I’ll think of the good music I listened to and it will make me happy when I remember it throughout the remainder of the year.

The weather has been unseasonably cold in Kolkata. That, and perhaps the new flat is rather chilly! Whatever the reason – I finally caved and bought a space heater. We celebrated Republic Day with Subway Chicken Tikka sandwiches and Dutch chocolate ice-cream. There was a holiday deal. Sandwiches are the highpoint of our (Meli and my) fast-food life!

Meli spent most of January practicing for Sports Day at her school. She is reading aloud ‘Little House on the Prairie’ to her grandmother, who is visiting at the moment.

I hope you all had a good start to the New Year.

 

This is my month in review :

The Books I read in January

A City of Bells - Elizabeth Goudge

1) ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

I read ‘A City of Bells’ with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram. The lady who hosts the readalong accompanies the books with wonderful images taken from the scenes of the book… in this case the city of Wells, England. This definitely helps to make the book come alive.

’A City of Bells’ was such a charming book. Very well written, a nice plot that was engaging to the last and a host of very endearing characters. And the best of all! The story contained a quaint little bookshop. How can a bibliophile not love a book with a bookstore in it? More on the book later… as I hope to review it in depth.

2) ‘The Prime Minister’ by Anthony Trollope

I’ve been listening to Trollope’s ‘The Prime Minister’ on audible for a few months now. I finally managed to finish the book in January and enjoyed it overall. I think the fact that the central character had a very dislikeable personality deterred me from listening to the book. Sometimes, his vices and personality got too much for me. The book is the fourth in Trollope’s famous ‘Palliser Chronicles’. The most important themes in the book were politics and a greed to make easy money.

3) ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair

Elizabeth Fair - A Winter Away

 

4) ‘The New Chalet School’ by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

I read ‘The New Chalet School’ in an Armada paperback version and it is abruptly cut short at the end. I will have to search for the next Armada book ‘A United Chalet School’ where the story continues to satisfactorily resolve the story. Next month I will pick the most momentous book in the series – ‘The Chalet School in Exile’ and I have an unabridged Girls Gone By Publishing edition that contains the missing chapters of the Armada editions. As ‘Exile’ is my favourite book in the series, I am VERY excited to proceed.

 

Mixed Media in January

I didn’t watch much television at all in January but did manage to watch a few episodes of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Particularly haunting, was the tragedy that befalls a Welsh mining town. Meli and my Mum are re watching episodes of ‘Anne with an E’. I hope to catch up with the newly released third season soon.

I was ever so hopeful that the ‘Little Women’ movie would come to theatres in Kolkata but it hasn’t and I’m still hopeful and waiting!…

Meli and I have discovered Maroon Five’s ‘Memories’. Quite distressingly, Meli has also picked up the lyrics which might not be the most appropriate for an eight year old …

I listened to the Slightly Foxed podcast. Episodes that I enjoyed included Episode 13 (Nature and Story) and Episode 14 (The Vital Spark). The latter was a very engrossing discussion on what sparks a lifelong love of reading. This is a topic very much after my own heart as I take great efforts to encourage Meli to read.

The husband and I spent four very lovely evenings (and in two instances whole nights) at the 68th Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata. It’s an Indian classical music conference held every year in our city and I attended the event after many years. My favourites were a Double Violin recital by L Shenkar and a vocal recital from Ustad Rashid Khan.

 

What I Made in January

Noel Streatfeild - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I made a delicious chocolate banana almond bread in January. Although we enjoyed it, I still found it on the dry side and will be tweaking the recipe further.

I also baked a chocolate layer cake with coffee chocolate icing for Meli’s birthday. It was delicious and not too heavy on the icing at all, which we like. Meli loves to have Cadbury Gems (or M&M’s/ Smarties) spell out the birthday number on the cake. I’ve been doing this since she was a small child and she loves the tradition.

I’ve been making and drinking a lot of cardamom milk tea this January. I find it very soothing to drink during the colder months. Simply boil pierced cardamom pods in water, add strong black tea and gently simmer for about 5 mins on the stove top. Add milk and sugar to taste and then serve.

 

What I Bought or Received in January

January Book Haul - Laura Ingalls Wilder- Enid Blyton

I purchased books for the 8 year old’s birthday, because as she says herself – books make the best presents. The books I gave her were Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Holiday Stories’. I was a bit naughty in that I wanted this beautiful book for myself but I managed to convince my daughter that she would enjoy it too when I mentioned that one of the stories was labeled ‘Chicken for Supper’. As my daughter loves to eat chicken and food in general, she didn’t need much convincing after that! The second book we gave her for her birthday was a Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘By The Shores of Silver Lake’. There was also another old book find – to add to the Famous Five collection. She also received a splendid illustrated edition of ‘The Goblet of Fire’ by J.K. Rowling from a generous uncle.

Books I bought for myself included a second hand copy of E.H. Young’s ‘William’ and two Girls Gone By Publishing stories – ‘Highland Holiday’ by Jane Shaw and ‘Refuge for the Chalet School’ by Amy Fletcher.

 

Posts I Published in January

Milton Place - Elisabeth de Waal - Persephone Books

I regained my blogging mojo in January and published a few posts that I’ve listed below:

6 Tips to Overcome the Post-Christmas Blues

The Faded Glory of the Old English Country House: Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

Best Books of 2019

The Highpoint of the Month

Brown paper packages

I received a wondrous package from two dear Instagram friends – Kathy (kstarnes on Instagram) and Shelbi (the nobbylife on Instagram). I spent a whole afternoon opening the parcel and enjoying its contents while sipping on a cup of tea. The wrapping was so pretty that I had to take a flat-lay photograph to share. The books are highly coveted vintage editions of O. Douglas – out of print and hard to find. I love them so much. I feel very grateful to have such considerate friends.

O Douglas - The Setons - Priorsford

Favourite Book Excerpt of the Month

“I think it will last,” said Grandfather. “In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

The Faded Glory of the Old English Country House: Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

Milton Place - Elisabeth de WaalMilton Place’ is the story of an old English country house and that of its owner, Mr Barlow and the turn of events that present themselves, when he invites the daughter of an old friend into his heart and home.

As with all good stories, Milton Place is a tale that has a dual storyline. On the surface, there is an absorbing story that recounts the complex tangle of relations and relationships between a group of individuals who either live in or visit Milton Place. But peeling back the layers of the story, ‘Milton Place’ is an ode to the old English countryhouse, the old aristocratic way of living and thinking that perished in the face of two earth shattering World Wars. It is the story of the dissolution of a way of life and the attempts of the English landed gentry to hold on to the old life, for as long as possible and de Waal renders this picture, quite perfectly.

The story starts out with elderly Mr Barlow, owner of Milton Place, receiving a letter from the daughter of an old friend. We discover that the old friend was a sweetheart, who lived in Vienna and whom he was unable to marry due to family and societal expectations. Mr Barlow invites the daughter, Anita Seiler, a widow to his old, rundown countryhouse, Milton Place.

Barlow, a widower himself, lives alone with the help of an elderly couple who endeavour to take care of the house and those duties that are required in minimally keeping up such a large house. There are two grown-up, married daughters. Cecilia, who has married a doctor and lives a restricted and unhappy provincial life. They have a teenage son Tony, who benefits from a private education due to the largesse of his grandfather, much to the chagrin of his son-in-law. Emily, his other daughter has married well and lives a busy life involved with several local committees and charities.

The life that Mr Barlow leads is a lonely one, in a ghostly shell of a house that has known better days. His daughters are completely self-absorbed. Cecilia suffers from pangs of depression and is bullied by her bitter husband. The estranged relationship with her only son, doesn’t help matters.  Emily is constantly scheming to sell Milton Place and remove the burden of the upkeep of a country house languishing on dwindling resources.

Anita Seiler, with all her energy, efficiency and pleasant demeanour comes as a breath of fresh air to Mr Barlow’s dull and dreary life. Slowly but surely, Anita, who has come to England in search of work, carves out a place for herself at Milton Place. She is a companion to Mr Barlow, devotes time to long walks and conversation and even tries to revive certain rooms in the old house. Mr Barlow’s daughter’s see her as a threat to their lives and are unhappy with her continued presence at Milton Place. Then, an unexpected event occurs that threatens to upset the delicate balance of Milton Place and things must come to a head…

Though Elisabeth de Waal’s storytelling was quite compelling there were other aspects of the book that made it stand out in my mind- and that was the background story of the dwindling fortunes of the English countryhouse. Although the comparison might be a tad long-drawn, the books of Thirkell come to mind when examining Milton Place.

Thirkell’s plots are often quite loose, some might deem them as silly, but I enjoy reading the books to learn about a lost era, a long forgotten way of life. Social history and domestic detail are so important for our better understanding of historical and political events. Snippets of daily life add luscious detail to the intricate tapestry of human living. Each story from the past can provide rich details to render this picture, all the more clearer.

There are also particularly moving musings on life and old age, seen through the eyes of old Mr Barlow:

At my time of life every season, almost every day day, is a grace, and the spring is not an ache, but a glory. It is true, one loses most of one’s desires, but one also loses one’s impatience, and there is given to one the only moment of life that is real- the moment that always had seemed to escape- the present.

 

If you read Milton Place, I hope you will enjoy the story, but more so, I hope the facade of the crumbling old house, the gentle manners of an old English country squire, the long walks in the English countryside, descriptions of flora and fauna that grow in the gardens will inspire you, as they have done me, to read more and learn more about that particular time, that is no more.

I was provided a complimentary review copy of ‘Milton Place’ by Persephone Books, but all opinions are my own.

‘The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

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’The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill follows the personal story of a young woman scientist, through the course of historical events that dominated the women’s suffrage movement in England, leading up to the outbreak and onset of the First World War.

Although the story is one of fiction, the series of events that pervade the novel, come across as remarkably real, no doubt drawing from the personal experience of Edith Ayrton Zangwill – a member of the WSPU herself.

The ‘Call’ refers to the call to action experienced by Ursula Winfield. A call to shun and relinquish everything she held dear, in order to enable the progress of the women’s suffrage movement.

However, as the novel progresses, we discover that this call to action is experienced by other people and for other causes- be they women’s suffrage, the call to do one’s duty in the war, or the call of a more personal nature- that of all-consuming love.

Ursula Winfield is an unusual young woman born before the turn of the twentieth century. Born in a fairly well-to-do English family, her Father has died but she has an affable stepfather, Colonel Hibbert, and a loving but seemingly frivolous socialite mother, who has her head caught up in the unending outings and soirées of the elite London circle. Rather than join the fashionable set, Ursula remains locked up in the chemistry laboratory she has painstakingly set up in the attic of 57 Lowndes Square- the Hibbert family residence. It is a time when women have not been accorded the respect of being allowed to accept a university degree.

We witness the seeds of Ursula’s discontentment during various scientific meetings- meetings at which she sometimes puts forward her scientific ideas. However, for the most part Ursula’s ideas are not taken as seriously as she would like. A certain Professor Smee, champions Ursula’s cause – invites her to speak out at a particular meeting and later on, invites her to practice her experiments at his laboratory in London.

Middle-aged and slightly disenchanted with his romantic lot in life, Professor Smee develops a deep infatuation for the intelligent beautiful Ursula, which she completely fails to recognize.

At the time of these events, echoes of the women’s suffrage movement are to be heard all over Britain. The movement, headed by a group known as the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) were a militant organization that used demonstrations, marches, actions leading to incarceration and in certain cases- hunger-strikes.

Ursula finds herself interested and drawn to the women who form the backbone of the party but for the most part- she remains disapproving of their militant methods. Ursula meets and falls in love with a young man, a man from a respectable, well-to-do family, who later goes on to work  for the civil service. When Ursula gets engaged to Tony, Professor Smee is dismayed and has to quietly nurse his wounds.

One day, Ursula happens to save a destitute old woman from drowning, in an attempted suicide. Whilst she is at the court hearing of the old woman’s trial (suicide being a punishable offence), Ursula hears about the case of a prostitute and the sexual assault of a minor. Ursula has been so shrouded in a life of science, and so distant from the reality of living on the London streets that she is shocked to the core.

Was it only this morning? Then the world had been a clean and pleasant place of healthy men and women. Now it had become rotten, crawling with obscene abomination. These suffragettes talked as if the vote would help! If people were so vile and bestial, nothing could help, nothing! It was all horrible. She did not want to live. Science was dead, futile. Everything was tainted- even Tony

 

After this event (unfair treatment of the woman and child at the trial) and despite her reservations regarding  militant actions, Ursula finds herself drawn to the cause of the WSPU. Tony’s absence in distant India, results in her joining the group without his knowledge (or indeed consent) and when he realizes the fact- he is very disapproving. Ursula finds herself drawn more and more into WSPU activities and at a point – she must make the painful decision of deciding whether to answer to ‘The Call’ of social justice for women or heeding to the emotions of her heart.

Much later, when the Great War breaks out in Europe, sweeping the rest of the world into the upheaval, men who were disapproving of the militant tactics of women suffragettes are ironically called to militant action as well. There is a dissolution of social classes, standards, prejudices  and men and women work together in the war effort. It is an effort that accords women (over the age of 30) with the right to vote after the war ends.

’The Call’ is an extraordinary story that sweeps the entirety of this very interesting but trying time in the history of men and women and their relative status in society. The story is about millitancy and pacifism and in the course of the novel we witness how the lines between these opposing ideals can get blurred to a certain extent. A man who opposes militant methods adopted by women is called upon to take up arms in War. A woman who has embraced pacifism her entire life is goaded on to take up the cudgels of millitantcy in the face of extreme opposition. The times are trying and it is very interesting to see how societal balance is restored, at least to a certain extent, at the end of the story.

Do read ‘The Call’ if you get a chance. It is a story about an incredible group of women, who went to extraordinary ends to achieve women’s suffrage.

 

I was sent a review copy of ‘The Call’ by Persephone Books, but as always all my views are entirely my own.

14 ‘Lovely’ Books That Will Get You in the Mood For Valentine’s Day

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While the present-day commercialization of Valentine’s Day might not be up everybody’s street (I must admit – it can be a little too much for me now that I’m heading into my dotage), there are many of us who won’t say no to a good love story. 

A good love story, that of the epic kind, can leave us in a thrall of emotion- having us reeling from its heady effects. In fact, when I finished reading one of my favourite love stories, ‘North and South’ (omitted from this list due to having lost personal copy), I was in a state of acute sadness, which I later classified as a ‘bookish hangover’.

The emotion of love has been portrayed by writers in innumerable ways, in the most differential situations.

The sweet intoxication of first love, the poignancy of love lost, the illicit pleasure of forbidden love- all have been written about by the greatest of writers.

Here, in no particular order are some ‘lovely’ books that will make your Valentine’s Day reading, hopefully more fulfilling:

 

A Valentines Day Reading List

1) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The epic tale of a savage love between Heathcliffe and Catherine is definitely one not to be forgotten. Set against the wild backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, one feels the intense emotions felt by the characters to be mirrored in the harsh landscape.

 

2) The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West is about a Great War veteran who has returned from the trenches suffering from shell-shock.

His amnesia prevents him from remembering his wife of ten years, with whom he has loved and lost a small child.

To the dismay and disgust of his wife Kitty, the one person he can remember is his sweetheart from fifteen years ago- Margaret, with whom he has a very romantic history. She was then, a young, simple girl, a poor inn-keeper’s daughter, of little sophistication.

Christopher and Margaret meet again and rekindle their relationship at Christopher’s behest but Kitty is anxious for her husband to meet a doctor and be treated for his lapse of memory.

It is left to Margaret, with her superior understanding of Christopher’s mind (in-fact the perfect soul mate) to trigger an emotion that will bring about the return of the soldier in both the physical and emotional states.

This is a story about love and sacrifice and is also an exploration of the relative strengths of different human relationships.

 

3) Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I’m currently reading Flaubert’s tale of a country doctor’s wife who will do anything to provide relief from her life of boredom in a French provincial town. I believe the story is packed with passion and turned more than a few eyebrows when first published.

 

4) Little Women by L.M Alcott

Who can forget the unrequited love story between teenage Laurie and Jo March? Despite Jo’s rejection for the young Lawrence boy, one can’t help but wonder why Jo and Laurie wouldn’t have made a good pair.

 

5) Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Earth and High Heaven’ is the love story of Marc Reiser and Erica Drake, set against the social and political backdrop of a segregated Montreal, in the midst of the turmoil of the Second World War.

The social milieu of Montreal is very important in the context of the story. Montreal, at the time, consisted of a majority of English Canadians (the Drakes) and a minority of French Canadians and Canadian Jews (the Reisers). ‘Earth and High Heaven’ is a very elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

 

6) Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple

‘Young Anne’ is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes in love that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

There are some dreamy scenes in the middle of the book that capture the heady romance that first love can bring.

 

7) Persuasion by Jane Austen

As opposed to dealing with the theme of young love, Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ is an interesting story about love that has been lost in youth and the listlessness that a loveless life can bring. Anne Eliot’s feelings of being thwarted and rejected are so very poignant that they make the reader weep internally for her.

 

8) Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

Lady Rose leads a life of great privilege but it is largely bereft of love. Her parents neglect her, her first husband marries her for her money and title. So when she meets the love of her life in a commoner, on a park bench in Edinburgh, she has a momentous decision to make. Should she follow the dictates of social etiquette or shun society, follow her heart and thus lose all she holds dear?

 

9) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This gothic romance is so swept with passion that it reminds us, that the Bronte sisters could write with great passion, revealing a depth of emotion that is quite contradictory to the dictates of the staid Victorian Age.

The fiery love story between Rochester and Jane are one of the reasons that this book remains a popular classic, to this day.

 

10) Fair Stood the Wind for France by HE Bates

Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H E Bates is a war time work of fiction that deals with the story of a group of British airmen, who are compelled to make a forced landing in occupied France and have to take refuge in the home of a kind French family, who risk all they hold dear to help the men.

In particular it is the beautiful story of the love and trust that grows between the injured head flight pilot and the daughter of the French family.

Fair Stood the Wind for France was poignant, a World War Two story about love and trust and loss on an epic scale.

 

 

11) Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

If dashing, swashbuckling pirates who smoke tobacco and bored ladies of the English nobility, teaming up and going on daring Robin Hood-like adventures around the Cornish coastline are your thing, then you will most definitely enjoy du Maurier’s ‘Frenchman’s Creek’. It may be just a little too romantic and unrealistic for some- but on Valentine’s Day- why hold back?

 

12) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp

Britannia Mews’ is a book that describes the life and times of Adelaide Culver, a child of privileged circumstances, living in one of the row of houses along London’s Albion Place. Adjacent to Albion Place, stands Britannia Mews, once a stable, housing the horses used by the genteel folk living in Albion Place but now reduced to a slum at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Adelaide falls in love with her art teacher and aspiring artist, Henry Lambert and throwing all caution to the winds, elopes with him, to live a life of severely reduced circumstances and drudgery in a small house in Britannia Mews. In the beginning, Adelaide is happy with her new found independence, the novelty of keeping her tiny house spick and span and the belief that Henry will make a name for himself in art circles.  Slowly, however, she is resigned to the fact that Henry is a drunk and will never make a name for himself. The book deals with how Adelaide resurrects her life in the wake of her husband’s accidental death and how love comes to visit her life again.

 

13) The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

Published in 1940, The Bird in the Tree, is the first in a trio of novels – collectively called the Eliot Chronicles. The Eliots are a large family and their story is as intricate and detailed as most familial tales.

Without giving too much of the plot away – the book is a gentle dialogue on the tousle men and women have of choosing between personal gratification gained from love or making choices that benefit family and future generations.

 

14) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The last book in our tribute to Valentines Day is Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.

 

Do you have any recommendations that should be added to our Valentine’s Book List? Please do share.

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Wellcome Book Prize With ‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew

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I’m delighted to be part of the Wellcome Book Prize Book Tour hosted by @wellcomebkprize.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the prestigious prize that over the last decade has been dedicated to celebrating everything from novels, to memoirs, to popular science.

The anniversary Book Tour aims to celebrate and showcase a range of titles, that have over the years, been recognised by the Wellcome Book Trust for illuminating our relationship with health, medicine and illness.

I chose to focus on a book that was shortlisted for the 2014 prize- ‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew.

In the introduction, the author chooses to highlight the voices of the innumerable wounded soldiers that were casualties in the Western Front during the Great War. 

Just as the words of war poets told us about the pain and suffering of war, those that have been rendered wounded and their caregivers have an important story to tell too.

Gathering testimonies of individuals from archives or hastily scribbled letters sent home to loved ones, Mayhew assembles these neglected stories and weaves them into a social history. 

The first story traces the history of a young soldier, Mickey Chater, injured at the Front in the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

After working and waiting in the trenches for many days, responsible for digging relief trenches, the guns crash into life one morning at 7.30 am. What follows is a barrage of artillery that made them stop work in the trenches because ‘ both air and earth became one quivering jelly’. 

Squadrons of aircraft flew over head but what Chater vividly remembered was the frantic song of the larks who were rudely disturbed in their hundreds from the fields surrounding Neuve Chapelle. The town was decimated within half an hour of shelling – blasting the town square, tossing trees hither- thither into the air- hitting the brewery and scattering wooden barrels into the streets.

Though Chater survives – his well-being is short lived. In a subsequent attack the following day Chater is hit by enemy artillery – hot metal clawing away at his cheek, teeth and jaw bones. Blood streaming into his eyes and pain bringing him to the edge of consciousness – he is later rescued due to his pleas of help and taken to an abandoned farmhouse. Here a Regimental Medical Officer slips morphine tablets into his mouth to numb the pain so that he can be transferred by a jolting ambulance ride to the nearest hospital – sixty miles along the Boulogne road. 

He is scheduled for surgery once there. As he falls asleep he is filled with wonderment for his personal war. 

“Months of waiting and then just minutes of fighting. There would be no great victory for him to remember, only this pain. But also something else: the faces of all the men and the women who had appeared before him, determined to fight for his life. Those were the memories worth saving.”

‘Wounded’ is a gripping, raw and very personal look at the stories of the casualties of war and their struggle to overcome their injuries. 

#WBP2019 

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Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth

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‘Miss Silver Comes to Stay’ is the sixteenth book in Patricia Wentworth’s ‘Miss Silver’ series. It’s the second Miss Silver mystery that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

As far as I can tell, each of the Miss Silver mystery stories can be read as standalones- at least this particular story was not reliant on any previous knowledge of characters, apart from Miss Silver herself.

There are 32 Miss Silver mysteries published over a period from 1928 to 1961. They do have a listed chronology. The first mystery in the series is ‘Grey Mask’ and I had the pleasure of reading it in 2011, when I commuted daily on long train rides to and from Boston.

I remember being totally in thrall of the rich atmosphere of the book. I felt I had slipped into a black and white film noir.
I must admit that one of the negatives of such standalone mysteries is that you don’t get very much time to acquaint yourself with a host of new characters. I did enjoy getting to know Miss Maud Silver better.

Miss Maud Silver predates Miss Jane Marple by a few years and one can’t help thinking that they might be closely related to one another. Silver haired, soft spoken but with the most piercing eyes that ask the most pertinent questions- being interviewed by Miss Silver is enough to intimidate the most wily criminal.

In ‘Miss Silver Comes to Stay’, Miss Silver visits her friend in a quiet English Village, but as ‘luck’ would have it, a murder occurs.

The victim is a 41 year old James Lessiter, who arrives in the village after 20 years as an extremely wealthy man, who has inherited his Mother’s large property in the village.

He has a number of scores to settle with numerous people in the village. There is the case of Catherine Lee- who has embezzled a large portion of his Mother’s personal fortune. Then there is Rietta Cray- his sweetheart of many years ago, whom he broke up with in a quite unpleasant manner.

There are several other people who might stand to gain from James Lessiter’s death- and so when he is murdered – there are many possible suspects.

It’s left to Miss Maud Silver to place the pieces of the puzzle together and help out the local police force.

Though we didn’t get to see too much of Miss Silver, I did enjoy the little bits in the story where we glimpsed into her brilliant mind.

The story had a number of red herrings, like most Golden Age mysteries and I must say that the mystery aspect of the book was rather good.

I remember finding Grey Mask quite scintillating – so for me, this mystery paled a little in comparison. Nevertheless, with all 32 of the Miss Silver mysteries packed into my Kindle (picked up on a great deal during a Black Friday sale, when I used to live in the States), I’ll be eagerly reading through everything else Wentworth had to write.

I’ll then be moving on to Marsh and Allingham.

Do you enjoy Golden Age mystery and have you read Patricia Wentworth?

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton

Processed with VSCO with a4 presetI must admit that ‘Guard Your Daughters’ was one of those books, where one paragraph in, I just knew that this was going to be one of my most favourite books.

One can’t but help draw a comparison between Dodie Smith’s voice in ‘I Capture the Castle’ and Diana Tutton’s in this particular novel.

There are heaps of whimsical characters, a novel writing Father who keeps himself locked up in his dressing room, an unconventional upbringing, a sort of coming-of-age story but here the similarities end.

Guard Your Daughters deals with the unconventional upbringing of five daughters. Five daughters, who despite a lack of formal education, shine in different ways.

Their father is an eminent detective novel writer, their mother is a delicate lady, suffering from unknown neuroses- the main one being the relative sequestration of her daughters from mainstream society. The Mother strives through various means to ‘protect’ her girls by not sending them to school, discouraging them from going to parties or dances, and not having a social life. The girls strive to never cross their Mother, mainly due to the constant watchfulness of their Father but there are stray incidents that threaten to upset the delicate balance of the family.

The daughters, devise various ways of meeting young men. A certain gentleman is literally pounced upon when his car breaks down in front of the family homestead. Another young man is befriended at the cinema. None of them is encouraged to visit the isolated family.

Due to the fame of the literary father, none of the girls needs to venture out of the house to earn a living. There is no dearth of money as such – but the limitations and deprivations of post war rationing are evident in the conjuring up of the family meals. As the girls observe – Father is never stingy with his money but there’s a mystery about where all the money goes, given his great fame and fortune.

It’s only during the last few pages of the novel that you realize that Guard Your Daughters is quite a serious novel and it deals with quite a serious subject- that of mental health. In retrospect, one appreciates that the author has been building up slowly to this realization through the entirety of the storytelling process.

One of the things that drew me to Guard Your Daughters was the strength of the mother and father’s relationship. It was very beautiful to see, especially given the sacrifices the father made to appease his wife.

Guard Your Daughters would have undoubtedly been one of my favourite novels – given the sprinkling of odd characters, memorable situations, sparkling and witty dialogue and creation of beautiful moments. But for me, Diana Tutton takes the story to an entirely new level with her dexterity in storytelling, and her ability to convey raw emotions. I will be thinking about this book for a very long time.

The juxtaposition of the funny and the extremely sad has been so skillfully managed by Tutton. In a modern world where mental health issues are so frighteningly relevant, Tutton seems to strike a very raw chord. If you were to read only one Persephone book this year, please make it this one.

The Bird in the Tree

‘The Bird in the Tree’ was the first Elizabeth Goudge novel I’ve ever read and certainly won’t be my last.

Published in 1940, The Bird in the Tree, is the first in a trio of novels – collectively called the Eliot Chronicles. The second and third books in the trilogy are ‘The Herb of Grace’ and ‘The Heart of the Family’.

For the Eliots of Damerosehay, the family homestead, Damerosehay, as such, is very much the central character in the story.

The Eliots are a large family and their story is as intricate and detailed as most familial tales. The matriarch, Lucilla, is still living- Mother to many children and grandmother to many more.

The children- her beloved son Maurice (father to David) and Roger have died in the Great War. All who remain are an unmarried daughter, Margaret , a son Hilary- a parson, Stephen and George who lives in India.

Damerosehay means a lot to Lucilla. She found it during a particularly troubled time in her life and sold the dwindling family fortunes to create a home – a sanctuary of sorts – that would protect her and her descendants for years to come.

Damerosehay is a large homestead situated along the Hampshire Coast. Surrounded by sprawling gardens, woods and marshes – the sea is not that far away and is a part of the charm of living at Damerosehay.

Grandson David, son of her favourite child Maurice, is the apple of Lucilla’s eye. They see eye to eye on many things- one of them being their shared passion for Damerosehay. Lucilla deems that David is the true future protector of the family fortunes – and she decides to bequeath Damerosehay to him upon her death. The other grandchildren, George’s children are still too young and uninitiated as to the great value of the estate.

However, David has a guilty secret of his own to disclose- a secret that threatens to break the Eliot family apart and the homestead that provides a roof over their heads.

Rather than fight a battle with David, Lucilla trusts that David’s love for Damerosehay will win through in the end and he will forsake his private passions for the greater good of the family.

In trying to persuade David to do this, Lucilla reveals secrets from her own past that are quite personal and that provide an example of her past sacrifices for her family.

Without giving too much of the plot away – the book is a gentle dialogue on the tousle men and women have of choosing between personal gratification or making choices that benefit family and future generations.

Whilst the story was a compelling one, what drew me to the book was Goudge’s unhurried storytelling, her talent for noticing the small things in life and her gift for writing beautifully about nature.

I’m quite eager to carry on with this family saga- and follow the future fortunes of the Eliots of Damerosehay.

Have you read this particular book and do you have a favourite Goudge novel?

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My Thoughts on Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles Series

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It took me two years, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally finished the set of six novels that collectively form the Barchester Chronicles series.

The genre of novels I enjoy, mostly modern classics written by women, tending to focus on matters of home and hearth and human psychology, frequently referred back to this seminal work by Trollope. So, for this reason I was eager to discover his writing. A group of fellow Trollope enthusiasts who decided to readalong with me, enabled me to finally find out what all the fuss was about.

 

The Chronology of the Barchester Novels

The six books in the series, in chronological order consist of The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and lastly, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

 

Favourite Books in the Barchester Chronicles Series

It’s hard to pick favourites, but if I was compelled to, I would choose The Warden for being memorable and the Last Chronicle of Barset due to its poignant, soul-searching subject.

 

The Subject Matter of the Series

Though the focus of each individual novel differs, on the whole, the series addresses problems within the ecclesiastical system of Victorian England. Trollope pinpoints various gaping defects in church matters in the obvious hope for reform. The clergy are depicted as flawed individuals, sometimes greedy for power, sometimes prone to  earthly pleasures like other mortals. In this sense, the world that Trollope paints is incredibly real and believable.

Trollope’s female characters are no mealy-mouthed individuals. They have plenty of spunk, force of character and show that they can and will marry for love alone. For this reason the names of Lily Dale, Mrs Proudie and Eleanor Bold are memorably penned in the annals of Victorian literature.

In short, without revealing too much of the plot, here is what each individual novel focuses on:

The Warden

‘The Warden’ takes place in a fictional cathedral town in Victorian England-Barchester. It highlights the plight of an elderly man, a church employee. As he is suddenly thrust into the middle of a much publicized national scandal surrounding his (suspected) inflated salary, thereby cheating several bedesman, under his direct care, out of the stipulated income in an old will. It is a story involving several Victorian institutions: the government, the press, the church, the law, and several tiers of society. But at the heart of the matter, it is the story of a man’s desire to quell his conscience.

Barchester Towers

‘Barchester Towers’ takes us back to the hallowed precincts of Barchester, a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off. The main plot centres around three key events- the position of Warden at Hiram’s Hospital is still unoccupied, the Bishop of Barchester is on his deathbed and John Bold has left for his heavenly abode.

There is a struggle for ecclesiastical power which highlights the power hunger greediness of the clergy.

Another plot line is that of the love interests of newly widowed Eleanor Bold- who unfortunately falls prey to several bachelors, some of who are interested in acquiring Eleanor’s substantial private income.

Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is one of the most romantic books in the series and deals with the story of Frank Gresham and Mary Thorne. Frank Gresham is the son of a bankrupt landowner, so it is highly derrière by his family that he marry for money to revive the family’s fortunes. However, he falls in love with a lovely girl, Mary Thorne, said to be illegitimate and certainly with no claims to fortune. The story has an excellent twist and is highly readable.

Framley Parsonage

This, the fourth book in the series deals with the ambitions of a young clergyman, Mark Robarts, who quite naively strives to climb the social ladder and lands himself in woeful monetary trouble due to the dubious company he keeps.

The Small House at Allington

The main issue that the novel deals with is the question of whether or not a person should marry solely for the purpose of money. The two sisters in the novel have two very distinct personas. There is Lily Dale- a Victorian version of Elizabeth Bennet/Marianne Dashwood (bubbly and impetuous) and we have the more cautious figure of her sister Bell. Each of the sisters is part of a unique love triangle. The novel largely deals with the love interests of each sister.

Virginia Woolf describes ‘The Small House at Allington’ as perhaps ‘the most perfect of English novels’ alongside Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The last book in the Barchester Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul-searching, heart-rending book about a man’s effort to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

 

Who Should Read This Series?

Readers Who Love a Good Love Story

Trollope is surprisingly eloquent when he expresses the feelings of love between men and women. Nearly each novel has a central love theme and Trollope waxes quite lyrically during the innumerable love scenes.

Readers Who Enjoy Long Detailed Novels

The Victorians loved their long novels, many of which were published in serial format in many reputed newspapers and journals of the time. Trollope is no exception to the rule. The Warden is the only slim volume in the pack.

Readers Who Love Cozy, Comforting Books

People might be taken aback by the length and breadth of Trollope’s bibliography, but fear not! Trollope’s writing is incredibly comforting and cosy. Once you get used to the Victorian language, the writing is very easy to follow,

Readers Who Love Learning About Details of Victorian Living

How Victorians dressed, what they ate, their education and most importantly, how they managed their money, are all subjects of interest in these novels.

 

Favourite Quotes

What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?…Was ever anything so civil?” – The Warden

 

“Don’t let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine.”- Barchester Towers

 

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”- Barchester Towers

 

“Rest and quiet are the comforts of those who have been content to remain in obscurity.”- Doctor Thorne

“And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”- Small House at Allington

Further Reading

If you enjoyed Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’, the good news is that he wrote lots, lots more novels- over and above 50 novels! Other Victorian writers who come to mind who remind me of Trollope are Mrs Gaskell and Dickens- although Trollope’s characters ate more middle-class than Dickens’ poor people. The novelist who perhaps was the most influenced by Trollope was George Eliot.

Later Angela Thirkell set her series of loosely linked novels in the fictitious county of Barsetshire. Several Trollopian characters reappear in different avatars in her books, Great fun!

 

Trollope was one of the most prolific of Victorian writers. Her wrote exactingly and untiringly about the quotidian details of provincial life. And he sought to highlight some glaring flaws in ecclesiastical order. He deserves to be read more widely by modern audiences.