June and Hours of Happy Reading

veerJune 2, 2014

I feel as though I am talking to myself but hope some of you out there are able to share what you will be reading/have read this month.

I finished Austerlitz as discussed on Jan's thread 'Hallo Again'. A challenging read but good to be made to think about what is still a serious subject.

Much more enjoyable was As Green as Grass by Emma Smith.
This is the third book of memoirs/bio taking her life up to her marriage in 1951 (she is now in her nineties).
Her first prize-winning book The Maidens Trip came out when she was only in her early twenties and covered her experiences working on the English canals during WWII. An eye-opener for a well-brought-up young lady from a middle class home.
The next work On the Great Western Beach covered her early life living in N Cornwall in a house dominated by an 'odd' angry father, a put-upon mother, older twin siblings and later a baby brother. It sounds ordinary enough but ES brings to life the everyday happenings of a family living in 'reduced circumstances'.
As Green as Grass takes off from the above. The family remove to Devon, edge of Dartmoor. Emma and her sister go to 'real' school. The disillusioned and angry father goes quite mad, is locked away and the family bloom without him.
WWII brings enormous changes and Emma, after the canal work and a series of happy coincidences lands a job with a documentary film-making team and meets many influential and 'arty' people of the day. Script writer, Laurie Lee is a friend with whom she travels to Assam to make a film about tea planting/production.
These subjects might seem very mundane but they are so well-written I found myself reading them slowly to make them last longer. ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: As Green as Grass

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I just finished Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. This is a book of advice columns she wrote for an online publication, and they are much like her book Wild -- gritty, heartbreaking, and beautiful. I'm very impressed with her ability to grapple with the uglier side of people's emotions and motivations and still find beauty and value in the most imperfect aspects of humanity. She's not for everyone. Some of her stories about her life are harrowing to the point I wish I could scrub away a few images now lodged in my brain. Her choice of words is sometimes overly coarse (lots of F-bombs) and almost all of her answers tie back to her own life experiences (which makes her advice that much more compelling, IMO, but can also be a bit too much about her). Overall I think she's hugely talented and I'm going to look for her other book, Torch.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 7:40AM
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On Sunday I finished The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, most enjoyable. In fact it has been a long time since I have been so caught up in a novel, reading long after I should have been asleep and letting errands go undone. All the things I love are combined in this book - mythology, the supernatural, fantasy, a whacking good story, and great characters. (I know I lost a lot of you with those first three elements.) I was sorry when it ended.

Now I am deeply into Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and liking it almost as much. Kind of a groundhog day-type novel, lots of jumping around. Don't really know how to describe it! Rather inventive device of a character who is dies and is reborn over and over and over, as so we march through the 20th century. Witty, happy, bittersweet - well, you can pick just about any adjective and it will fit.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 1:32PM
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Hi friends!

I've been here and reading, but just not saying anything. (Makes a change, huh?) But I'm back now after my self-imposed hermitage. :-)

Vee mentioned Laurie Lee in her post above, and curiously, I've just finished his travel memoir (As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning") about his walking around in Spain in 1934 just prior (?) to the Civil War. I had forgotten how lovely Laurie Lee's writing was and I just loved this read. It's lyrical, funny and poignant, all at the same time. (I'm also curious to find out more about Spain's history at that time now...)

Then picked up and read "True Grit" by Charles Portier, a 1969 John Wayne-ish cowboy novel set in the late 1800s about a young girl who travels west to get revenge on the man who killed her father. Fast moving and exciting, this was a fun read. (My friend would call it an "ice hockey" book as there was lots of action and it happens quickly - like an ice hockey game.)

And for non-fiction, I'm halfway through the massive book, "Five Days at Memorial" by Sheri Funk. This has won tons of literary non-fiction prizes and I agree with all those nominations. It's a fantastic read.

It focused on New Orleans and how the city was affected by Hurricane Katrina, especially the hospitals who lost power and everything else during those five days immediately after the hurricane. So this covers the considerable poor planning that occurred during the time - it's amazing how incompetent the agencies were, both public and private. It also steps into the murky waters of euthanasia - did that happen to some of the critically ill patients who died that week in their hospital rooms?

Funk has done an incredible job of describing this in a fairly neutral approach using reportable facts - a hard job to do well when so much went wrong and was mostly preventable. Loving it although it might take forever for me to read. (I had got it from the library, but in physical size, it was too overwhelming so took it back and bought it in an e-book. Much better.)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 6:05PM
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I, too, have finished Austerlitz. I celebrated by reading a book loaned to me by a friend who knows the author, a fellow Kentuckian. The book is The Romanov Ransom by Anne Armstrong Thompson. It was written in 1977 and is a Cold War spy story in the style of Helen MacInnes and was very enjoyable, to me at least who loved those stories. Ms. Thompson only wrote three books, the other two of which I have. It's been so long since I read them that I've forgotten them and plan to reread them right away,.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 7:22PM
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The early days of winter here put me in the mood for reading Christmas books set in the Northern Hemisphere!
Kate Sedley's "The Christmas Wassail" gives a good look at old traditions.
Elizabeth J. Duncan's "A Killer"s Christmas in Wales" gives a modern UK look although the cover features a mug of cocoa with marshmallows on top. More a US drink, surely?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 2:23AM
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After a week of nothing but rereading old favourites, I am back on track with new reads and enjoying Simon Winchester's Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. It's funny, but while I am enjoying this tale of a catastrophic volcanic eruption, I am at the same time translating a frustrating document full of geological terminology, half of what I am having to make up new translations for (with the aid of a geophysicist). Of course, Krakatoa is about much more than just the eruption/explosion of the eponymous mountain. I'm on chapter three and Winchester is still setting the scene.

I'm also dipping into a book on Japanese cookery. Very interesting, especially all the aesthetics and philosophy involved.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 3:51AM
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I've been surprised by how good a read this collection of short stories is. By Anthony Doer, it's a 2003 pub called "The Shell Collector" and it's really an excellent read so far.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 2:09PM
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I meant to respond to Vee about the Emma Smith book(s). I didn't realize (or had forgotten) that there was more to her backlist than the one about her childhood. Will be adding those to the list. Thanks for the tip.

Now - scouting around for a classic to read... I might be reading "Puck of Pook's Hill" by Rudyard Kipling. (It also meets one of the years still to be filled in for the COB project so that would be nice.)

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 5:28PM
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I've started Why Kings Confess, the latest Sebastian St. Cyr by C. S. Harris. It's not grabbing me the way his usually do, except that Hero's baby is about due and her doctor wants his maternity patients to eat very, very little and be bled often. She isn't buying it. The story is to do with French royalty in London twenty years after the revolution.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 8:14PM
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I finally finished the lengthy "Prague Winter", a memoir of Madeleine Albright. It details how she, raised a Catholic, discovered her Jewish ancestry, as well as delineates WW II, and its debacle upon Czechslovakia. Having read much of Teresienstadt in the Sebald novel, I was interested in how Albright treats the same venue in her book.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 10:55AM
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Siobhan, I read The Golem and the Jinni a while back and really enjoyed it. I have suggested it to my book club and we will be reading it in a couple of month.

Carolyn, I read a couple of the earlier Sebastion St Cyr books. I enjoyed them then fell away. Perhaps I will take them up again.


    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 10:35PM
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Actually, the St. Cyr book got better as it went along, and I stayed up quite late last night finishing it.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 3:21PM
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I just finished listening to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie again (it's been a while and I was in the right mood for it). I find that I go for longer, more frequent walks if I have a book to listen to while walking.

I also read a graphic novel: The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgoredov. It was okay, but I am not a big fan of graphic novels so perhaps that is why it didn't grab me.

I had Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings but had to return it to the library before I really got into it. I couldn't renew it as it had several holds. I had been waiting for it for a couple of months myself and wasn't in the mood to start it right away when I finally got it. I guess I'll have to wait until it's off the hold list before I try it again. Have any of you read it? Did you like it? Is it worth my trying for it again?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 10:36PM
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At a public library sale I found several books by Barbara Pym. I've begun Crampton Hodnet, which she wrote in 1939, reviewed in the 1950's but was not published until 1985. It takes place in academic Oxford.

The Emma Smith books sound very good. Our library does not have them. However, Amazon does.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 5:20PM
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I've started The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. I haven't read her other books except for Fried Green Tomatoes and am liking this one a lot. Are the rest of them good, too?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 7:47PM
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Reader in transit, I enjoyed Pym's books. They used to be very popular when I started library work. You were lucky to be able to buy some.
I am gradually finding the Roger the Chapman series by Kate Sedley. I have had to shop world wide to find the early mysteries.
They are cosy medieval which isn't my usual fare but written in a modern language. I don't like too much "Prithee" when I am reading!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 9:39PM
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reader intransit Emma Smith is such an excellent writer I really wanted her 'life-story' to carry on! Her first book Maiden's Trip was an amalgamation of the two years she spent on the war-time canals, written as a single narrative.
Annpan, I am also reading about Chapmen but unfortunately probably less interesting than your book. I'll post something about it when it is finished . . . it is a great 'bedtime read'; has me asleep in minutes. ;-(

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 4:45AM
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I've just started Rumer Godden's "Pippa Passes", set in Italy, with an English ballet company. It reminds me a bit of Godden's " A Candle for St. Jude", also set in the ballet world. I seem to recall the author used to teach dance at one time.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:32PM
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At that same public library book sale, besides Crampton Hodnet, I found these other books by Barbara Pym:

A Few Green Leaves
Some Tame Gazelle
Excellent Women
Do you remember any favorite one?

On the strength of your recommendation, I'll consider getting Emma Smith's books either from Amazon or as interlibrary loan, which are $5 per item. Thanks for the link.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 1:15AM
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I don't think I have read all the Pym books. I checked her output and recall some of the list. I read some in the 1950s so cannot remember any particular favourite! Quartet In Autumn was well received, I recall. A Booker Prize short-listing.
$5 per item for an ILL! We get them free but can only request fiction books within our State Library system. Non-fiction are treated differently but I haven't requested one for years so cannot comment on current loans.
I have been able to borrow some of the early Roger the Chapman books but some have been discarded so I have ordered three written in the 1990s from Abe books. I am not too fussy about the condition as long as the postage charge is reasonable. Some booksellers want unreal amounts for the books and the postage varies too!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 5:53AM
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I almost feel like I should introduce myself - it's a while since I posted *shame*

However, this afternoon I finished an ARC of Louise Penny's forthcoming The Long Way Home. The blurb says it is her 'break out novel' that will make her popular around the world, but sadly I didn't enjoy it as much as her earlier works. I wasn't terribly keen on the previous one either.

Tomorrow the next book in the Outlander series is released, so that should keep me busy for a couple of weeks, and will be followed by the final of Deborah Harkness's trilogy.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:20AM
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Carolyn I have yet to read the new book by Fannie Flagg, but I have read an enjoyed several of her other books.

Welcome to the World Baby Girl; Standing in the Rainbow; and Can't Wait to Get to Heaven are a trilogy by Fannie Flagg about the people and events in the same town-really good books IMO!

I have read several good books in the last few days. House Divided by Mike Lawson a book in his series about Joe de Marco a lawyer who works for the Speaker of the House in DC.
I re-read The First Commandment by Brad Thor over the weekend which is very politically topical just now. Anyone who enjoys a good political thriller this is a great read.

I have barely started The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham in his English police procedural about Tom Thorne.

It has been very hot here-104F today - so I am very glad for my kindle and that I can stay indoors and read without having to leave to go find more books!


    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:28PM
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RIT --

That was a heck of a find at the library sale. Those are quite scarce titles, so you have scored without realizing it. Nice one.

As for which titles, I've read some Pym and TBH, they've all been good. Nothing too deep or meaningful, but just nice rather gentle reads with a sly sense of humor every now and then. I'd spread them out rather than binge-read or they lose their "special".

Out of the titles that you've found, the two titles I've heard most about (and that I have read) are "Some Tame Gazelle" and "Excellent Women." I think they are stand-alones for the most part (maybe a recurring character here and there, but not a series.)

They're nice gentle happy reads for the most part. I enjoy them every now and then when I can find them.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 4:14PM
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I'm still ploughing through Funk's Five Days at Memorial, non-fiction about how one of the hospitals in New Orleans handed (or didn't handle, really) the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. (It's amazing that it was such a calamity really.)

And then just finished a read of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, fairly gentle read about life in general which I enjoyed as it was SO well written and had no typos.

Yesterday, I read a graphic novel from Canada called "One Last Summer" by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. Lovely reminiscence about the summer two young friends spend at a lake -- a coming-of-age book. Pretty ok but nothing too great.

Now - what to read, what to read....

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 4:20PM
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Thanks for the Flagg info, Pat. I finished All-Girl Filling Station this afternoon and found it delightful.

Now I have finished the library books I have on hand, I'm ready to reread the two Anne Armstrong Thompson books I've had since the 70s. Don't remember a thing about them but really did enjoy the other one that my friend loaned me. She only wrote three.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 8:00PM
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You are right. I got the Barbara Pym books without realizing they were quite a find. They are old: the original price for A Few Green Leaves was $3.25! Two of them belonged to the same person, a certain Mark, who wrote short notes at the beginning of the book, one for each chapter, in this way (these are from Some Tame Gazelle):

1 new curate visits Bede sisters
2 preparing vicarage garden party, Belinda sews dress, visits Hoccleve

...and so on. He wrote the same note at the beginning of each chapter. He also had the unfortunate habit of underlining. I didn't see it until after I had bought the books. I may have not got them if I had seen it at the book sale.

As you say, I plan to space them out.


Our ILL were free until about 3 yrs ago. Five dollars is still less expensive than buying a book (sometimes), but it's a bit hefty for a book that you will not keep. I don't know where they send for the ILL's.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 1:44AM
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reader intransit (and others) when buying a UK printed/published book have you ever considered buying through amazon.co.uk (and no, I don't work for them!)
I have bought several second-hand books this way, some of them brand new and many for as little as one penny so, even though p&p/shipping might add a few $$'s to the total it can be cheaper than an inter library loan plus you get to keep the book.
For example I checked out The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith in both hardback and paperback and copies could be had for a very few pence.

Here is a link that might be useful: Second Hand at Amazon

This post was edited by veer on Tue, Jun 10, 14 at 16:47

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 4:42AM
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Liz, are you able to pick up the BBC? If so listen in to As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. It is on in 15 min parts all this week.
See below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Radio 4 Laurie Lee

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:04PM
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I recently finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I found it difficult to get into at first, mostly because I could not stand the main characters, Frank and April Wheeler. But at some point, the story clicked and found the story of their tragically unhappy marriage to be quite compelling.

It was published in 1961, and was considered quite scathing about the lives of suburbanites. How ironic that their lives seem so idyllic compared to now. The economy was booming, for example, and you did not have to be a millionaire to buy a house. It is amazing to think there was a time when a young couple, with children, could live quite comfortably on one income.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 1:53AM
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I'm reading Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas. It's a detective series set in Victorian London. I love those books with covers that show a foggy London scene with lighted gas lamps. I once bought a paperback because it had that kind of cover, and the story was not very good.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 7:55PM
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I have just finished one of the most boring books I have had the misfortune to order from the library . . . and it came highly recommended in a w/end paper (no doubt from a relative of the author)
It is The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapmen and their Wares by Margaret Spufford. MS is/was a Cambridge Don, and appears to have written-up and published a thesis on the people we would call 'pedlars' and what they sold. She has obviously trawled through local archives to find copies of Wills and Inventories of deceased pedlars in the late sixteen hundreds and the book is little more than lists of how many items were left in their houses and what they cost.
I have learnt that chapmen/pedlars supplied country people with small items such as needles, pins, some clothing . . . caps, gloves, 'sleeves', ribbons, handkerchiefs and lace.
She mentions a selection of linen and rougher/finer cloth carried and I would have liked some detail about them. So, eg's I had never heard of included sleasy diaper, inkle, lockram, scotch cloth, fleams, hockingfields, barras, osnabrucks, gulix, hammils, leltis, inderkins. I had heard of holland and dimities but would have appreciated some idea of what they were sewn into by the housewife. Apparently there is almost no information about the clothes worn by poorer people (the great majority of the population) or how much was 'home made' against 'tailor-made'.
The only rather blurred photo of clothing was that of a man who fell into a Shetland bog where the material was preserved!
This could have been an interesting book but was deadly dull. ;-(

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 7:08AM
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Poor Vee....My Chapman mysteries are more lively. I have got caught up in them to the extent of chasing up the earlier ones and am having them sent from all over the world! There are some good descriptions of what a pedlar would carry in his pack, what was eaten, social customs and the living conditions of the various levels of society in the mid 15th Century.
I like the style, one doesn't feel the weight of research by the well informed author. I usually avoid the medieval sleuth novels and have only read, also watched, the Cadfael series. When I finish this set, I might try another.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 8:21AM
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Vee, that book sounds as if it could have been fascinating, with more detail added. I do know what "osnabruck" is, as it is a type of fabric I once had curtains made from. I was told it was worn by monastic orders in the Middle Ages.

I am engrossed in a wonderful memoir: "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" by Alexandra Fuller. This well-written book is a portrait of her parents' lives in Africa in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It gives much detail re the Mau Mau uprising, the Boer War, the Dutch "trekkers" who settled the "veldt" and the Colonial Life in "equatorial light." I cannot wait to read Fuller's previous work "Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight."

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:17AM
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Finally gave up on the Hurricane Katrina/hospital book as it was taking me AGES to read and that's usually a sign of me not really liking a book. So - down it goes.

Finished up a good read of short stories by Anthony Doerr (full review later), and then picked up Bleak House - Charles Dickens as my classic (which I have been neglecting of late.)

I saw the movie Belle the other day, a narrative based on the true story of an eighteenth century's family's struggle with slavery and a grand-daughter who is half-African and half-Caucasian. Sumptuous costumes, good acting and in England (lots of green and trees). There were quite a few actors who had also played in Downton Abbey and other UK films (like Cranford etc.) so a lovely way to spend the evening. Plus it was half-price night. :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Belle movie (IMDb)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:29AM
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Another library book has bitten the dust.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.
A few punters on the Amazon.uk raved about this but I didn't even bother to get through half of it.
Two 'stories' presumably linked ('though must have been in the final part which I never reached). Set in 1900's N Y City. An extremely nasty Russian-Jewish boy recently arrived in the US and a girl who is an 'exhibit' in an amusement place on Coney Island.
Is Ms Hoffman's held in such high esteem that her editor wont use the blue pencil on sloppy writing and a rambling non-plot?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 12:17PM
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Vee - I had a looksie at Ms. Hoffman's bio, and it seems that she has published approximately five million books most about magical realism stories, I think. Perhaps she is above the run-of-the-mill editor in terms of sales... Shame. Good writing is good writing, no matter where you are on the bestseller list.

Speaking of good writing, I'm really enjoying one of Mary Wesley's earlier book, "A Sensible Life", set around the life of one woman and how it overlaps with a set of friends as life progresses. It got off to a bit of a rough start (S-L-O-W), but now has picked up and I'm enjoying it a lot more.

NF-wise, I'm reading volume one of Robert Lacey's "Great Tales from English History" which goes back to include figures such as Alfred the Great (who was really a good guy and the only sovereign given a "Great" at the end of his name). I'm up to the Vikings right now - they are relentless in invading England at this point in time. Lacey is a good author and makes this history all very interesting to me so far in manageable chunks.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 12:31PM
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Finished Alexandra Fuller's "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" and liked it so much I began a re-read. Now I have in hand her "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" about her childhood in Africa. She writes so well! Looks like a night of great reading coming up!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 1:44PM
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I finished Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym. Very good, witty and cozy. That world of vicars, spinsters, dons and an old lady's companion felt a galaxy away. There were a couple of characters that were hard to believe. Like a wife that shoos away her don husband from his own home, when he wants to sit down and talk to her and their daughter. She suggests he goes to the Bodleian library, because "is so much better when he has something definite to do". This is her prevailing attitude. Maybe this was normal back then...

According to the introduction by B. Pym's biographer Hazel Holt, this novel is one of her "earliest completed novels, and in it she was still feeling her way as a writer". Since this is the first book I read by her, I can't compare, but will try to read her other novels I got at the book sale in chronological order, over time.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 9:06PM
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Possibly Pym knew someone like that. I would suggest that being the earliest novel, she would draw characters from life.
I recall that Mary Stewart wanted to withdraw her first book as she felt it was too autobiographical.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 9:31AM
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Finished Krakatoa, enjoyed it very much. Winchester was educated as a geologist before he became a journalist and clearly has a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject, combined with an ability to clearly explain quite complicated concepts to laypersons. He is one of my favourite non-fiction writers because he delves with such curiosity and interest into his subjects and then writes about them in a way that makes them come alive.

I also read The Red Badge of Courage, which I found to be an excellent psychological novel, and Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name, which is such a beautiful story. I can't recall another book I have read that handles the subject of death with such sensitivity and yet at the same time a complete lack of pathos.

I am now reading an English translation of Thor Heyerdal's Kon-Tiki. Funny enough, when I was about 2/3 through it, I found a copy of the Norwegian edition, which I bought because it has many more photographs, in addition to artwork that I think was done by one of the expedition members. However, I think I will finish reading it in English because if I switch to the Norwegian now I am sure to remember it as two separate stories.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 5:35AM
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I am reading "French Women Don't Get Facelifts" by Mireille Guiliano which was recommended on a TV program. I don't usually read "self improvement" books. Not that I think I am perfect already, of course!
It has good practical advice about aging and good grooming.
I really should throw out clothes that no longer fit!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 6:22AM
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I'm reading Booty Bones, newest in the Sarah Booth Delaney series by Carolyn Haines. This is another series I'm not sure why I'm still reading.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 8:50PM
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Oh, I know that feeling! One wants to know more about the characters lives though, even if they begin to grate or the plots get feeble.
I have dumped a couple of series when I found I wasn't that interested in the characters or I actually disliked someone.
One series had a husband I positively loathed! A real MCP, IMHO!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 8:53AM
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Reader in Transit, I'm another Barbara Pym fan. She's wonderful and you picked up two of my favorites, Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women. Quartet in Autumn is also outstanding, but much more melancholy than her other books. Enjoy!

Astrokath, I'm counting the days until The Book of Life arrives (July 15 in the US). I've already warned the family they're on their own for food and laundry while I binge-read all three books. I can't wait!

I'm still on a paranormal / steampunk / romance reading jag. I just finished two books by Kristen Callihan, Firelight and Moonglow, which were good. I've also been reading the several novellas that accompany Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series on my iPad. She is fabulous, and of all the books of this sort that I've been reading, I like hers the best.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Life has been a bit busy lately so not as much reading as I'd like. However, I did finish Mary Wesley's A Sensible Life which was mostly good. (Almost put it down after a slow beginning but then it picked up and got much better.)

It was a good read, except that it was one of those reads where there's not a lot to say afterwards. I quite like Wesley's books in general and this was on the TBR pile. It's not a keeper.

I just learned about Wesley's life. Her bio reflects that she was a bit crabby for a lot of her life, and there are times in her books when you can see this. One notable tidbit about her:

Late in life, Wesley ordered her own coffin from a local craftswoman and asked that it be finished in red lacquer. She kept it as a coffee table for some time in her sitting room and requested that a photographer from a large magazine feature take a picture of her sitting up in it. The idea was politely declined. :-)

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 2:37PM
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I've just finished Vertigo 42, a new Richard Jury book by Martha Grimes. She hadn't had one of his for awhile, and I enjoyed it. The Little Piddlington gang is back in full fettle.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 8:30PM
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As I was invited to check out this forum, I should introduce myself.
I am mylab and though I do love to read, I no longer read nearly as much as I once did.
I have read several threads and you strike me as a delightful group. I must confess though that the group's reading material strikes me as far more sophisticated than what it is I tend to read when it is that I manage to sit with a book.
However, I so thoroughly enjoyed the friendly banter of conversation between you all that I might peek in from time to time, if you don't mind.

The last book I very recently completed was "The Secret History" which I believe will haunt me for quite awhile. It was one of the better books I have read.

Cheers to you all!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 11:44PM
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Welcome, Mylab. My choice of reading isn't at all sophisticated. I mostly read cosy mysteries and rarely post about my current book.
I do love a chat though and have been posting here for over ten years. It is like talking to friends.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 12:18AM
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Greetings mylab, and don't feel you have to read any particular kind of book to fit in here. All that we ask is that everyone is polite :)

I finished Diana Gabaldon's latest, Written in My Own Heart's Blood and was really pleased with it. Not only did she resolve the cliffhangers in the previous book, the story moved along much more quickly than the last couple of books, and involved all the characters I like the best.

Has anyone read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert? I enjoyed the first two thirds, but then suddenly lost interest.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 7:41AM
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Mylab, welcome! I hope you stick around. IMHO, this forum is considerably more polite than others I'm familiar with.

Your comment on Donna Tartt's "Secret History" has made me want to dig out my copy and re-read it, and to find her latest novel.

I am re-reading Alexandra Fuller's 2 memoirs about her family in the setting of Rhodesia and Kenya before I must return both to the library. I really like this author's style.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 10:00AM
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Peek away, mylab, and feel free to join in. My favorite genre is murder mysteries without horror, so not very sophisticated at all.

I just ordered the new Diana Gabaldon book, Astrokath, and your comments make me want it to hurry up and arrive!

I am reading House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, a free download from Susan Hill's Top 40 list at the end of Howard's End is on the Landing. I got all of them that were free and so far have only read one other, Thackery's The Way We Live Now. Not my usual pursuits but interesting every so often. I thought they would be good for trips, which is about the only time I use my e-reader, and I went on a bus tour to the Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island with a friend last week. We talked so much I didn't get much reading done, but the lilacs were gorgeous.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 6:58PM
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How wonderful to have gone to the Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island. Ever since I read an article about it in a Victoria magazine years ago, I have thought of going, but never have. Was it too crowded? Can you tell me a bit more?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 12:28AM
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You said above:
Possible Pym knew someone like that. I would suggest that being the earliest novel, she would draw characters from life.

I had not thought of that, but you are most likely right.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 12:36AM
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Carolyn, I have Howards End on the Landing somewhere but can't find it. I want to take a look at Hill's 'Final Forty' so I thought I would do an Internet search for it. No luck! Every site with reference to the list plays coy, trying not to spoil the ending, I suppose, for potential readers. The intention may be well meant, but I'm annoyed with the "you'll just have to read the book" close-to-the-chest attitude. I DID read the book, so what Hill wants to read 'for the rest of her days' is not some deep, dark secret that I shouldn't be privy to just because I no longer have the book at hand. Pffft!

Anyway, Carolyn, if you know of a place where the 'Final Forty' is listed, I would appreciate direction to it. I would ask you to copy & paste the list here, but I don't want to raise the ire of any readers who think it's a spoiler. :-)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 1:04AM
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I've just finished reading an Icelandic translation of The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly was not what I got. The book is a funny and somewhat Monty Pythonesque story of a knight who exists only as animated, empty armour, which doesn't stop him from walking, talking and fighting. You can read it as a simple entertaining fantasy story, or as a philosophical story about alienation and duty.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 6:00AM
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Here you are Frieda, I found it in part of 'Alex from Leeds' blog. I don't know who she is, but she too had been looking for the list of the '40 books' that Hill would be happy to re-read if nothing else was available.

1. The Bible
2. The Book of Common Prayer (1662)
3. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
4. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
5. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
6. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carson McCullers
7. A House for Mr Biswas, V. S. Naipaul
8. The Last September, Elizabeth Bowen
9. Middlemarch, George Eliot

  1. The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
  2. The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, Anthony Trollope
  3. The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald
  4. To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  5. A Passage to India, E. M. Forster
  6. Washington Square, Henry James
  7. Troylus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer
  8. The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
  9. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  10. The RectorâÂÂs Daughter, F. M. Mayor
  11. On The Black Hill, Bruce Chatwin
  12. The Diary of Francis Kilvert
  13. The Mating Season, P. G. Wodehouse
  14. Galahad at Blandings, P. G. Wodehouse
  15. The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
  16. The Bell, Iris Murdoch
  17. The Complete Poems of W. H. Auden
  18. The Rattlebag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes
  19. Learning to Dance, Michael Mayne
  20. FlaubertâÂÂs Parrot, Julian Barnes
  21. A Time To Keep Silence, Patrick Leigh Fermor
  22. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  23. Family and Friends, Anita Brookner
  24. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  25. The Journals of Sir Walter Scott
  26. Halfway to Heaven, Robin Bruce Lockhart
  27. The Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson
  28. Clayhanger, Arnold Bennett
  29. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  30. Among Women, John McGahern
  31. The Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot

Happy reading!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 9:32AM
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Vee, thanks for posting the list. I have read 5 of the works Hill lists, out of the 40. I am a bit surprised at her list, as I admire her own books, but her reading taste is not my own. For example, I disliked Fitzgerald's "The Blue Flower.'' Many on her list I have never even heard of.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 10:19AM
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Thanks for posting the list, Vee, so I didn't have to type it all out! My only addition is that Ms. Hill specified the King James or the Revised Standard Versions of the Bible. I'm fond of the RSV myself. My mother gave me a copy back in the early 60s when it was still a bit controversial, as in the supposed quote, "If the King James Bible was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me."

Reader intransit, the Lilac Festival does attract a lot of people, but cars are not allowed on the island so you don't get as bogged down as other places. There is just one main street along the lakefront and another parallel to it but not having as many shops. Just as information, the islanders call the tourists "fudgies" because there are so many fudge shops and all are well patronized. (My favorite was the penuche.)

I had been once before with family something like twenty years ago, and we did not stay overnight on the island. It's a five-mile ferry ride across Lake Huron on a fast ferry. The Festival is in June, and the lilacs there are not shrubs as they are here in Kentucky and, of course, bloom later. Theirs are trees that reach up to the second story windows of the houses. There are several different varieties, and they smell heavenly.

This time we did stay on the island overnight. This was a bus tour, and we had a buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel, where they charge $10 just to go onto the porch if you are not staying there. It's the world's longest porch at 660 feet and has lots of white rocking chairs on it. We stayed at the Bayside Inn, which is located just across the street from the ferry dock. It was very pleasant, and our room had a front view of the lake.

There are a ton of all kinds of bicycles to rent, and the thing to do, besides eating fudge, is to take a carriage ride in a horse-drawn open sort of wagon that has padded seats and holds eight or ten people. On my first trip, the weather was beautiful. This time the sun was shining, but the wind was blowing hard and we were pretty cold during the ride.

More than you wanted to know? If not, send me an email.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2014 at 8:08PM
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Danke, Vee, for ferreting out the list. It's seems pretty conventional for an Englishwoman to me -- nothing that requires the secretiveness that some readers seem to want to tantalize others with. I don't get it.

I like some of Hill's writing/books, but Howards End is on the Landing actually didn't make me think I would like Ms Hill very much in person. Of course every reader is entitled to her own favorites, taste and all that, but I think she rubbed me the wrong way with her dismissal of Australian and Canadian writers and what seemed to me to be her grudging admiration of some (just some) American writers. But I laughed over her assessment of Jane Austen and Janeites.

Carolyn, I'd choose The King James Version because I love the sheer poetry of the phrasing, although I understand the translators got plenty of things wrong. The Revised Standard is less perplexing, I think, and the language use is still quite poetical.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 2:46AM
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I'm trying to read too many books at once as copies I ordered from the library, as always, arrived at once and have to be read first.
The one I have finished is That Woman; the Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba. Not my usual reading material but it made a change. I don't suppose there is anyone in the UK or the USA older than 50(?) who isn't familiar with the story and I don't think Sebba had much extra to add but I learnt something about her early life, reliance on wealthy relatives, the ability to 'flirt' with men, the need for money and then more money. The unhappy marriage, the later marriage for security (and money). Joining the Prince of Wales' 'fast set' and then finding she was more or less captive to the needy, totally besotted Prince.
It seems she always believed the PofW would tire of her and she would go back to Ernest Simpson with her trunk-loads of jewellery, but she was unable to control the situation, political events went too quickly for her and she found herself in a constitutional minefield. Everyone knows how the couple spent the empty years from 1936, and especially after 1945. The round of parties, shopping, holidaying, complaining about the Royal Family, esp. as Wallis was never given the title HRH.
Possibly the best thing Wallis ever did for Great Britain and the Empire was to take Edward VIII from them as he would have been a most unsuitable king with little moral fibre and no sense of duty.
Is there any interest in Mrs Simpson in the USA these days?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:43AM
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Vee, a piece of trivia.
When I went to Australia in 1960, we went through the Suez Canal. Due to political problems that had arisen, for some reason we migrants had to stay on board our ship, so the Egyptian salesmen came in small craft to try to interest us in their wares.
They all called out "Hello, Mrs Simpson" to the women. No one could explain why.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 7:36AM
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Vee, I've long been fascinated with Wallis, in part because she was a southerner. I've read at least 3 biographies, as well. Some of the stories that went round are amazing to me, such as the sexual secrets she supposedly learnt during her sojourn in China. I've always been intrigued by the sympathies of this couple towards Hitler and the Nazis. I believe I read that Edward was posted to an island in the Caribbean to get him out of the arena of Europe because of his friendliness with same. Yes, I quite agree that Wallis did England a huge favor inadvertently by taking Edward far from the kingship.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 10:33AM
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Thanks, Carolyn, for the Lilac Festival information. I'll keep it mind if I ever go. The Grand Hotel charging $10 only to go onto the porch?! Though it sounds like one of a kind porch... I'm trying to visualize lilac trees instead of bushes.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 3:43PM
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I'm trying to decide which of three titles to concentrate on, and would appreciate comments and recommendations from people who have read any of these:
-Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel (this is not the recent novel of the same title, but a travelogue about tigers and recovery from a breakup).
-Danube by Claudio Magris. Another travelogue, this one a philosophical one, tracing the course of the Danube from source to sea.
-John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 7:23AM
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Netla -

Sorry - not familiar with any of your titles, but as I adore tigers (and stories about them), that's the one I'd pick. You may have a more scientific method though!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 10:09AM
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Netla, the Danube book sounds interesting . . . if it doesn't get bogged down in too much 'deep thought'. ;-)

I have just finished a light read Aprons and Silver Spoons by Mollie Moran.
MM, now aged almost 100, came from a poor family in Norfolk (East Anglia) and became a scullery maid at the age of 14 to a wealthy family with properties near her home and in Kensington, London. Despite the very long hours, hard work and strict discipline she describes how by watching the cook she learned many skills and by the very young age of 20 she became a cook herself serving an endless string of meals three times a day to the family and guests 'upstairs', to the nanny and small children in the nursery and to the indoor staff of butler, housemaids, kitchen maids, hall boy etc 'downstairs'. As she points out all this was done without the benefit of any 'modern' cooking aides. She only took the cook's job because the family had bought a 'fridge! Quite a luxury in the late '30's.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 1:06PM
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I picked up a copy of UNDER A FIG TREE at a local library sale.
It is a family memoir telling the story of the author's grandparents who were Sicilian immigrants.
What a beautifully written and interesting book.
It was one of those times when I felt that I needed to write to the author and tell her how much I enjoyed her work.

My mother's parents were Sicilian immigrants who came to the US in the late 1800's and so much that she recalls brought back sweet memories for me.

Here's her website if anyone is interested:

Here is a link that might be useful: Under A Fig Tree

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 9:10AM
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It has been a long time since I've posted here but I have been reading. Sometimes I have so much to say there isn't time and sometimes I have nothing!

In the last week I finished three very enjoyable books and wanted to give them a mention.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker is about 650 pages long and I finished it in less than a week because I couldn't put it down. It is a thriller about a writer who develops writer's block after having written a very successful book. He visits his college professor, Harry Quebert, also a writer who had one very successful book. The story jumps around in time and would have been impossible in audio book format. This book has the most mixed reviews on Amazon that I have ever seen, about evenly mixed between those who loved it and those who hated it. I loved it.

The Big Tiny by Dee Williams is about a woman who discovers she has a heart problem in her early 40s and decides to simplify her life by leaving her home that she had done so much work on and building instead a tiny house that measures 84 square feet and is on wheels. She built the house herself and has lived in it for 10 years, I believe. While I could never live in a house nearly that small, it does make me think about having so much stuff (especially books) and why can't I live without a lot of this stuff. Fantastic book!

The third book is another wonderful thriller, Suspicion by Joseph Finder. I like all of his books and saved this one for a few weeks because there will be a long wait for another book by him. It has a few gruesome spots but I was able to skim through them without too much problem. This one makes you wonder who you can trust.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 3:08PM
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