January, 2016 Wrap Up

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Here is a round up of book related favourites for the month of January, 2016. For a glimpse into December, 2015’s Bookish Favourites please see here.

1. Books

 I read a total of seven books in January. I read mostly from the modern classics genre and successfully ticked off two titles from my list of 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016 (that made me feel very good!). I enjoyed all these books so much, especially The Diary of A Provincial Lady and A Month in the Country.

1) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp

I realised I posted about this book in December but didn’t manage to finish it till January. I reviewed this book as part of Margery Sharp Day hosted by Jane from the lovely blog Beyond Eden Rock.

Britannia Mews is a book that describes the life and times of the central character 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.

Set in the late nineteenth century, Victorian London is portrayed at the intersection of where the rich meet the poor.  Adelaide Culver, marries her struggling art tutor and thereby goes to live in the slums of Britannia Mews. This is the story of what happens to a girl who has bravely broken away from the family shelter into a life of domestic strife and hardship. I enjoyed Margery Sharp’s excellent writing, descriptive and laced with subtle wit and wisdom. For a full review please see here.

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2) Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the story of twenty-one year old Sophia, during the time when she was married to Charles Fairclough. The story is in its entirety, a first person narrative and tells of the harrowing poverty, the ups and downs of the young couple, in a time during which Charles refuses to take any financial responsibility for his household, using his need to practice his art as an excuse to shirk his duties. This was an exceptional book! For a full review please see here.

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3) A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith

A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith is the story of the relationship between two families: those of May and June, two sisters, who marry two brothers, George and Robert. When May and George decide to relocate to the countryside for a few years, on a landed estate with a small cottage, it seems the most natural thing for June and Robert to leave their father’s house and set up home in the cottage on May and George’s leased estate. Robert, a skilled but lesser known writer plans on writing his magnum opus in the idyllic surrounds of the cottage. June is happy to be carefree and close to her sister. Robert and George’s father, Baggy, comes to stay with George’s family. May and June’s delightful mother, Fran, decides to stay with her two daughters for a while. The children in the family come upto the property on weekends, from London or the boarding schools they go to and a good time is had by all in the family. Then the close proximity leads to unforeseen events…

For a full review please see here.

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4) A Month in the Country by JL Carr

A Month in the Country by JL Carr is the story of war veteran Tom Birkin and the unforgettable summer he spends in the country, uncovering and restoring a medieval wall mural inside an old country church. It is a journey of discovery for Tom Birkin, both in regards to his work and rediscovery of self after the trauma and ravages of his war experiences. This was a charming, poignant novel. I felt that the narrative was a little uneven, which made it a bit of a slower read, but on the whole the story was so wonderful and evocative that I can’t help but look back upon it, with starlight in my eyes.

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5) The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield

This was my favourite book this month and it really made laugh. The diary entries are so self deprecatory and certain incidents so cringe-worthy, they make great reading.

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I am #currentlyreading (tagged by Jessica @bookreveries) EM Delafield's classic novel 'The Diary of a Provincial Lady' first published in 1930 and wondering why it took me so long to read this little gem. A domestic diary of a Devon housewife full of self-deprecatory hilarious anecdotes, it is definitely a laugh a minute. The following is an encounter between the diary writer and neighboring Lady Boxe. ~ "Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls… Do I know, she asks, how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September, really, or even October, is the time. Do I know that the only reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem? Cannot catch the name of the firm, which is Dutch, but reply Yes, I do know, but I think it my duty to buy Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately Vicky comes into the drawing-room later and says: 'Oh, Mummie, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworths?" #theyearinbooks

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6) Mystery at Saint-Hilaire by Priscilla Hagon (Mabel Esther Allan)

I don’t remember how I came upon this book or the author but I was lucky enough to find a copy at my library. I’m glad I did. It read exactly like a grown-up Enid Blyton book so if you are a Blyton fan, this is a book for you.

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Mystery at Saint-Hilaire' (1968) (also known as 'Castle of Fear') by Priscilla Hagon (a pseudonym for Mabel Esther Allan) is a perfect example of a book fitting into the #followmetobookland tag. It's a work of fiction that is set along France's Brittany Coast, where the people speak the Breton tongue (with Celtic origins) rather than the native French. It's hard to categorize the writing: to me it felt more like an Enid Blyton book for grown-ups with a faint whiff of a romance story. The penmanship is not terribly sophisticated but it fits into the old-world, charming, writing style that I enjoy. The story centres around a young British girl called Gwenda, who spends a summer working in a British bookshop in Paris. Whilst perusing some books that have been recently returned from an address in Brittany, Gwenda discovers a note, tucked into the pages. The note is written by another English girl called Sarah, writing to her brother, and she claims that her life is in danger. She speaks of sinister goings on and the death of a fisherman near the Chateau of Saint-Hilaire. Gwenda feels compelled to investigate further and finds herself journeying to an unknown medieval castle, located in the middle of the sea, off the coast of Brittany, to unearth the letter's mystery, only to find herself in the midst of romance and grave danger. An indulgent read, 'Mystery at Saint-Hilaire' is a fabulous foray into the romance of yesteryear. ~ Last night, I stayed up late and finished of this 'adult Enid Blyton' novel accompanied by a square or two of chocolate. I think Enid would have approved. Happy Friday friends. What plans for the weekend? //ps: can we also admire my lilies(?) soooo voluptuous !!

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7) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This was another favourite book this month. Quite funny, with several quotable, witty, one liners, this tells of a day in the life of staid, middle aged Miss Pettigrew. It is a day of astonishing unexpected events that transform Miss Pettigrew’s mind and outlook on life for ever.

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2. Movies and Audiobooks

The only movie I watched this month was the BBC adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles (screenplay by David Nicholls) and it was soooo good! It really made me want to pick up the book and read it. I listened to the BBC full cast adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery. I do enjoy these full cast dramatizations: it almost feels like going to the theatre.

3. Miscellany

I bought so many books this month. Most of them were bought with Christmas money or were gifts to myself to revive my dwindling library. I hope to enjoy and read them over the next couple of years. Here is a picture of the books!

I hope you all had a great month of reading. I have several library books to get through in February which I am excited to share. Do have a great month!

September 2015 Favourites : Books, Audiobooks, Bookish Blogposts, Movies, Library Hauls and Much More.

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September 2015 was a slow but good month for new books, audiobooks and movies. It took a little time getting into our normal routine after our month long trip to India. Here is a round up of my September (and a little bit of August) favourites …

In the month of August the only two books I had read from my Holiday Reading List were coincidentally Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (a fantastic read) and Tempestuous April by Betty Neels.  Both of them contained April in the title but here the similarity end. I will leave you to arrive at your own conclusions…

Enchanted April is the perfect read for a summer vacation and found it into my September blogpost that lists Eight Books that Remind Me of Summer. Set in Portofino, Italy, Enchanted April tells of a sort of ‘re-birth’ of four different women who travel to Italy to spend time in a rented medieval castle, to find solace in the beautiful surroundings.

In September we frequently visited our library.

Little M and I are continuing to read from the Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books. Two books on this list are Tuesday by David Wiesner and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

Tuesday is more of a picture book with terrific illustrations. It tells the tale of a series of animal invasions that strike at a particular time and place, namely Tuesday evening at around eight o’clock in a small suburb. Frogs invade the skies in hundreds of thousands, flying along on lilypad aircraft. They invade backyards, dark sitting rooms where people are dozing off in front of the television. Neither the press nor the police know what to make of it the day after, when the town is strewn with abandoned lilypads. All is well until next Tuesday at the same time… when a shadow of a flying pig is seen eerily set against a barn door…

Owl Moon is another wonderfully atmospheric book. It tells the story of a young child setting out on her very first owling expedition with her father. The night sky glows with the golden glow of a full moon- the best time to view an owl in the deep, snow laden woods. It is a tale of patience and forbearance, excitement and anticipation.

We are really enjoying all the books on the Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books. I cannot recommend them enough. Not on the list but of great entertainment value to Little M, is another installment of the Sofia the First entertainment series (she missed her a great deal whilst in India).

My reading in September was slow. I’ve started The Land Where Lemons Grow  by Helena Attlee which is a history of the introduction of citrus fruit in Italy. In great detail it researches how this fruit  has invaded the Italian imagination, from Calabria’s Diamante citrons, the blood oranges of Sicily, to the bergamot thriving on narrow strips of coastline. There is a bit of everything in this part history, part horticulture, sociopolitical culinary book offering.

I finished the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh series featuring philosopher Isabel Dalhousie called ‘The Novel Habits of Happiness’. As usual the book has a little bit of everything that I love, scenes from a Scottish city, romance, a light mystery, memorable characters and very large doses of reflection. It is the first book I reach for when I come back from our holiday.

Another book that I have started is a ‘cozy’ post-WW1 mystery set in Leeds called ‘Dying in the Wool‘ by Frances Brody. Speaking of mysteries, September marked the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dame Agatha Christie which I celebrated with my blogpost ‘An Ode to Agatha Christie: Celebrating Her 125th Birth Anniversary with Eight Memorable Books’.

I bought an audiobook from Audible in September called ‘In and Out of the Kitchen’ by Miles Jupp and cannot recommend it enough. It is a BBC 4 radio drama about a ‘cookery writer’ Damien Trench and his writing and domestic struggles.The writing is so very funny in a wry sort of way… really enjoying it.

As the mother of a 3 year old I find it impossible to visit the cinema nowadays and watch ‘non-princess themed’ movies. One of the bonuses of the Emirates flights to and from India was the excellent selection of current movies . On the way to India I watched ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ which I loved and has inspired me to give this favourite Hardy a re-read. On the way back to the US, I was lucky enough to watch the dramatized version of Vera Brittain’s poignant WW1 memoir ‘Testament of Youth’ which was epic. I cannot recommend these two movies enough.

Lastly, the whole family watched not one but two dramatized versions of C.S. Lewis’s classic -The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe… and Aslan made it into my art journal.

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Hope you had a wonderful September. See you in October xxx.

Preparing for a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, a Library Haul (week 25, 2015) and my obsession with stationery

My brother of Budgettraveller.org fame is visiting us this week. We will be going on a mini-holiday with him to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As usual, it’s more about preparing for the trip for me. I like to plan, make lists of things I would like to do, see and eat on the trip… and there is one thing you should know about me. I love stationery. Notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, pencil pouches- I love them all. This is the first trip on which I will be using my Midori Traveler’s Notebook or MTN for short. It looks like this.Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Basically, its a piece of beautiful dark brown leather that can house several small notebooks that you can take on your travels with you or use at home. One of the three notebooks I have inside has a long list of things to do in Martha’s Vineyard. Of course there’s a section devoted to the bookshops and public libraries on the island ( typical of me and my priorites in life).

Something else that I am planning are the art supplies that I want to take with me.

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Here’s what I am thinking: my mtn, the hobonichi for journaling which I have neglected in the past week, a moleskine sketchbook and a Winsor and Newton pocket paint palette. Oh, and the little orange suitcase is a tiny receptacle for holding paint water!

Something else that I am currently obsessed with is my summery watermelon pouch, immortalized forever in my art journal.

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I am planning to take Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence with me. I am reading a chapter a month throughout this year and have April, May and June to catch up with. It’s the perfect book to take on travels.

Here is the library haul for this week.

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Sometimes books on my ‘to be read ‘ list are very much pre-meditated. Sometimes, though, visiting the ‘New in Fiction’ book shelf at the library can be a very dangerous place for me. Especially if the blurb on the back seems interesting, and the front cover is appealing- you will find the book quickly disappearing into my library book bag. The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera- had me in two seconds. Briefly the book is about Prudence Prim, a young woman who accepts a position as a librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois and quite unexpectedly finds love. A young woman, a rural foreign setting, mentions of tea, cake and libraries – it was all more than I could resist. Can’t wait to start this book.

I have been on the waiting list to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo since the beginning of this year. I was requester number 556 on the long list and this week my luck changed and it was my turn to take the book home. I’m not really in the mood for spring cleaning at the moment but I will give the book a quick lookover, given the great popularity that surrounds it at the moment.

Inspector Lewis is a great detective series that I thought we could watch together in the evenings at Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve not seen or heard anything about Clatterford, but it is a BBC production and therefore in my eyes can do no wrong.

Tangled- well it is a great favorite of Little M’s especially since she has a Rapunzel or ‘Funzel’ nightdress now. The poor DVD spends more time at our house than on the library shelves!

Till next week, when I will hopefully bring back travel tales, farewell friends!

Week Nineteen 2015- A Library Haul and Other Musings

FullSizeRender-2Week Nineteen was packed full of events and books. We celebrated multiple birthdays in our small family and there was lots of cake and good food. I made a pasta drenched in lemons, olive oil, thyme, parsley, garlic and with Italian sausage and red peppers. It was based on a recipe from Laura Vitale who is a great favorite in our household. Our chocolate birthday cake had pastel colored  tiny sugary confetti on it that Little M called ‘little M and M’s’.

On Mother’s Day we visited Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, which is an outdoor historical museum showcasing some authentic period houses that have been moved from their original locations to OSV. Actors dress up in period costume and tell stories of their past. We badgered them with numerous questions, especially in the  village store selling merchandise of all kinds. Being particularly interested in the stationery and art supplies of the day I was fascinated to find an old watercolor set which would have been popular- perhaps with young ladies painting botanical illustration. Here it is. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Back to the Library Haul. Little M enjoyed Fraggle Rock recently. I decided to pick up the Complete Season 1 of Fraggle Rock along with a book. The book is more like a comic strip and a little too advanced for Little M. Nevertheless she is having a good time looking at the pictures.

Recently I enjoyed re-reading the Darling Buds of May by HE Bates. I decided to pick up the dramatization of the various books. It features stellar performances from the inimitable David Jason as Pop Larkin, Pam Ferris as Ma Larkin and a very young Catherine Zeta-Jones as Mariette.

I had requested a vintage crime novel  from the library by John Dickson Carr called the Mad Hatter Mystery. It came in this ancient omnibus edition. Looking forward to my first book by this acclaimed master of the locked room mystery.

Lastly, Emma: A Modern Retelling was lying on the new book shelves at the library. I have too many books to finish at the moment but I could not resist picking this up. McCall Smith is one of my favorite modern day writers. I wonder what he will do with Austen’s masterpiece?

I leave you with some pictures of Old Sturbridge Village and an entry in my art journal.  See you next week!IMG_0807IMG_0733IMG_0738FullSizeRender-3

Library Haul Week Eighteen- 2015

IMG_0352Week Eighteen of 2015 bade farewell to April and ushered in the month of May. Finally we have apple and cherry blossom gracing trees that had been naked for too long. Daffodils are blooming along with tulips and every morning we awaken to sweet birdsong. The days are long and the sunsets glorious. May is my birthday month. This year I received a set of glorious Faber Castell polychromos colored pencils. I can’t wait to experiment with them.

With the new set of colored pencils in mind it seemed a good idea to request Ann Swan’s book on creating Botanical portraits with colored pencils. The book has several tutorials for creating very realistic botanical illustrations and the tools and colors needed to replicate them. I am finding it an interesting read.

Next on the reading list is Mary J. Macleod’s book ‘Call the Nurse’. The book tells of an English family’s migration to a Scottish Hebridean island. The exact identity of the island is not disclosed but it could be one of the following islands forming the Outer Hebrides. I could be wrong.

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Mary J. Macleod’s family fulfilled their dream of living on this Hebridean island and moved there in the early 1970’s. Macleod earned her living as the island’s nurse. The book tells of encounters with the island’s many inhabitants, their unique way of living, the isolation and beauty of the island and the challenges of living in such remoteness. It is nice to read a book that describes a place that I would love to visit. I am still in two minds about the writing style but of course the story is a unique one and worth reading.

For Little M, this week’s library haul brought to her the pleasures of Jim Henson’s inimitable Fraggle Rock. I watched this series as a child and I just adore it. The puppets are marvelous but the best feature of the shows is the music.

Lastly we are playing catch up with Downton Abbey Season 5. This drama continues to entertain us. Dame Maggie Smith- the dowager is the crowning glory of the show but the various plots and sub plots also hold great interest. From a historical perspective this show is a joy to watch too witnessing the collapse of the English aristocracy and the blurring of class barriers.

I will leave you this week with a recap of some of my journalling efforts from the Month of April. Have you read or watched something interesting recently. Do share!

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Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

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Title: Whistle for Willie

Author and Illustrator: Ezra Jack Keats

Published: 1964

Main Characters: Peter, his Mother and Father, Willie the dog.

Short Synopsis of the Story: Peter wishes he could whistle. He wants to learn how to whistle so that he can call his beloved dog named Willie. He tries and tries different ways to whistle but no sound comes out from his lips. He goes home and tries on his Father’s hat and then tries to whistle again but even that fails. Peter hides in a cardboard carton that he finds in the street and tries to whistle yet again and this time a whistle is heard! Peter’s dog Willie rushes towards him and responds to the whistle.Later on, Peter’s mother asks Peter to run an errand for her. Peter whistles all the way there and back followed by faithful Willie.

Favorite Part of the Story:  The story is such a simple one. The images are very striking and are drawn with sweeping, colorful brushstrokes that immediately conjure a lively image of city life. We are immediately drawn by the pictures to a young boy’s visualization of his place in a busy city. The story teaches us of the importance of persistence and determination but this is done in such a subtle way that we do not feel that the story is overly moralistic. The way Peter puts his Father’s hat on and feels that this would magically conjure up his whistling powers made me smile. Lastly, the love between a small boy and his dog are endearing.

Library Haul Week Sixteen-2015

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We’ve had glorious weather this past week. The snow has melted, birds are chirping, the first of the gentle buds are forming on the tips of branches. Nature is poised to leap into Spring. We went on a glorious picnic on the weekend. I read a Betty Neels book- ‘Sister Peters in Amsterdam’ on the picnic. I had never read Betty Neels before and was recommended this book by a friend on Instagram. When I received the book from the library I laughed at the funny cover design!

IMG_0470Since then I’ve read a couple of her books and have come to the conclusion that her stories  are a nice, very light read but are a tad formulaic. There is usually a young British nurse, a Dutch doctor and the romances are very genteel… at least the ones I’ve read. What I liked most were descriptions of food, nature, clothing and how charming the books are, if a little repetitive. They are set in interesting locations. Madeira, Amsterdam, Delft and rural England featured in the ones I read. The books are not always very complimentary to women, however. The women always forsake their careers for marriage- which seems to be the be all and end all purpose of life. So if you are willing to overlook the ‘datedness’ of these book you may enjoy them.

‘Whose Body’ by Dorothy L Sayers was my first book by this author who I have been meaning to read forever. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the story and am eager to read more about Lord Peter Wimsey. Find the full review of the book here.

‘I Want my Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen was an interesting book for Little M. It was funny and quirky and just a tad cruel. Little M  did not fully comprehend the ending and I didn’t force the truth upon her.

Lastly we have been hooked on the dramatization of the Outlander. Last year I read the book and had mixed feelings about it. I loved the premise of the book- a woman slipping back into time several hundred years into medieval Scotland with a chance to change history. I found the book rather long and some of the descriptions gruesome but overall  I enjoyed it. When I saw the DVD at the library I leapt at the chance to see it. The picturization of rural Scotland is just captivating and the dramatization very well done. Cannot wait to catch up with the second half of the series which is airing now on television.

A good week. I will leave you with my journal entry for the cover of Sayer’s ‘Whose Body’

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