Wednesday, May 18, 2011



Once you've read one Deric Longden you want to read them all. Here again we enter in the life of Deric, his wife, and their cats -- a life I for one love to share. Lots of humor and some tears, a book that makes you wish you could live next door to the Longdens.


BROOME STAGES - Clemence Dane

This book by a popular English writer of the first half of the last century and friend of Noel Coward (she was the inspiration for Madame Arcati in his play, Blithe Spirit) is a seven hundred page saga of a theatrical family in England starting in 1715 and ending in 1930.  Filled with fascinating characters and incidents,  it is a real page turner as the reader becomes engrossed in the intrigues and romances of this family and the changing life of the world and the theatre over two hundred years.

Virtual catalogue, Amazon

Monday, May 9, 2011


Aunt Jane's Nieces and Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad - L. Frank Baum

Being a lover of the Oz books, I was pleased to discover on Kindle for free this series of romance and adventure books for young women by Baum.  In the first book, he brings together three girls all nieces of said Aunt Jane who have never met their aunt, a rich recluse, or each other until Jane summons them to her home for a visit in order to decide which one will be her heir.  Each girl is a distinct and interesting personality abd they form a bond which continues through the series. In the second book, Baum includes a description of Naples after Vesuvius had erupted having himself been traveling in Italy when that event occured.

I am saving the rest of the series to read when I want the diversion of this delightful real life Oz.


DREAM DAYS - Kenneth Grahame

A poignant and humorous memoir of childhood days by the author of The Wind in the Willows. Included among the memories is his story of the reluctant dragon.

Kindle free


THE HISTORY OF HENRY ESMOND - William Makepeace Thackery

I read this novel because Anthony Trollope thought it the greatest English novel - better even than Pride and Prejudice, one of his other favorites.  I can't say I share Trollope's enthusiasm.  Although it is certainly a good novel, it had too many descriptions of battles for my taste, and one of the female characters was too good to be true. The woman we are supposed to dislike I found the most interesting because she was so truthful about her own fault, and was quite accurate in her realization that had the hero won her he would have been miserable within weeks.

library, Kindle (free)


Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther, In the Mountains, Christopher and Columbus, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight

 On my Kindle I've rediscovered Elizabeth Von Arnim, whose reputation was revived a few years ago when the movie of her novel Enchanted April was a popular success. I have yet to read that book, though it is on my Kindle list.  I read The Parson's Wife several years ago, but this time started with Christopher and Columbus, a humorous novel about twin girls of eighteen orphaned and sent to relatives in England at the beginning of World War I. Being half German and half English, the girls were a problem for their aunt and uncle who subsequently sent them to America hoping that business friends of the uncle would take them in. The girls are beautiful, charming, naive, and their subsequent adventures are humorous while also being a social commentary on the treatment of Germans in America during the war. 

In the Mountains is a poignant story of a woman who returns to her vacation home in Switzerland from England after World War I, having lost in the war all of those who had spent the summers with her before the war. The early book consists of reflections on her pain.  "You see, what has happened has taken away my faith in goodness," she tells her journal."and the hurt goes too far down to be healed. Yet I know time is a queer, wholesome thing. I've lived long enough to have found that out. It is very sanitary. it cleans up everything."  At another point she writes, "What shall we do when we all get to heaven and aren't allowed to have any patriotism? There, surely, we shall at last be forced into one vast family.  But I imagine that every time God isn't looking the original patriotism of each will beak out, right along throughout eternity."

The main character is engaging and her reflections and memories so interesting (including a letter from Henry James), that the book held me despite its seeming lack of plot - and then half way through two English women arrive at her garden exhausted from walking up the mountain. She takes them into tea and they stay for months. They prove to be both a diversion as now there is conversation but also something of a trial, not because they are difficult but because of their extreme politeness, and a mystery for although they converse there is also much left unexplained.  The main character however persists in attempting to break through their reserve. She suspects one of the sisters, for they are sisters, had a German husband that they fear to divulge.  When the truth comes out finally, the tone turns light and soon a romantic interest arrives to bring more sunlight into their lives. I'm not saying more, read the book.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther is a delightful tale of love gone awry and a heroine who will not be put down by love or loss, The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight is a charming modern fairy tale. Eliizabeth and her German Garden is a wry picture of a woman enjoying herself and her garden despite her husband, whose name we never know. He is always referred to as "the man of wrath".  What is so enjoyable about von Arnim is that her books are not conventional, I couldn't predict what was going to happen, but was quite pleased with all the endings.  Von Arnim was a cousin of Katherine Mansfield. Her maiden name was Beauchamps but she married and later divorced a German count, who gave her five children and material for many novels.

virtual catalogue, Kindle (all free)



A series of letters discussing the varieties of prayer. Much of discussion concentrated on prayers of petition - the question being why ask an all-knowing God for something since obviously such a God already knows what the problem is and from experience we know that not all prayers are granted. He points out that encouraging people to expect their prayers to be answered is a scenario for turning them away from belief at the first unanswered prayer. Lewis discusses Jesus's prayer in the garden as a petition but one which ends with "thy will not mine be done". This being an example of asking but with the understanding that the petition may not be granted for reasons we can sometimes discern and sometimes cannot. I found the book to be wandering and not very satisfying as a guide for someone actually wanting insight into the act of prayer. I did laugh at the truth of one of Lewis' observations however: "It's so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him."

virtual catalogue, Amazon

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Miss Hargreaves -Frank Baker
Two English young men.Norman Huntley and friend Henry, are being shown around a parish church in Ireland when on "the spur of the moment" Norman tells the sexton guiding them that he knew an elderly lady who was friends with the deceased minister of the church. On the way back to the inn, the two men create the character of Miss Hargreaves, and for a joke send her a letter at the English hotel where they decide she would stay. A few days after their return home, Norman receives a telegram announcing Miss Hargreaves' imminent arrival. It turns out when Norman finally confesses to his father that he has inherited an ability to bring people to life from his imagination. The problem is controlling them once on the scene.

Miss Hargreaves is 83, but not a meek old lady. She arrives with a talking bird, a yapping dog, and an unquenchable desire for a social and artistic life with Norman as her helper.  Much chaos ensues.

Reissued as part of the Bloomsbury group series,this is a delightful book for pleasure reading.

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


An Autobiography - Anthony Trollope

Trollope wrote this book six years before his death with instructions for publication after his death. It is not a book that discloses any scandal that he would not have wished published while he was alive, but he did express some opinions that he probably thought would be better kept until after his death.

As a primer for beginning writers, the book is full of good advice. Once Trollope decided to write, he set himself a certain number of pages per day, and even a set number (250) words to the page. He wrote a book and then started on another, sometimes he had two or three in process at once. He did all this while working full time for the post office as a inspector until he was fifty-five, when he had saved enough money to devote his life entirely to writing. He has many other interesting insights on how to write and what to write. One is the idea that the writer must have a "story to tell not tell a story" and another: "Of all needs a book has the chief need is that it be readable."

He allots three short chapters to the miseries of his first 26 years, but with little self-pity, simply as statement of fact, and the chapter devoted to his mother is one of praise for her saving the family by taking up writing in her fifties. His first seven years with the post office were dreary, but once he became a postal inspector, first in Ireland, later in England, he actually liked his work, and became devoted to his mission of establishing a fast postal service. He was responsible for the establishment of post boxes on the streets so people could mail letters at any time of day!

His comments on his books are particularly interesting as he is dismissive of many, some of which were more popular with readers and critics than with him. He praises others, some of which the critics did not appreciate. He clearly lets neither praise nor criticism keep him from his appointed task - to write continually. It is at the end of the book that we understand that his writing was not a task however, but the essence of his life.

He states: "For what remains to me of life I trust for my happiness still chiefly to my working--hoping that when the power of work be over with me, God may be pleased to take me from a world in which, according to my view, there can be no joy; secondly to the love of those who love me; and then to my books. That I can read and be happy while I am reading is a great blessing. Could I remember, as some men do, what I read. I should have been able to call myself an educated man. But that power I have never possessed. Something is always left,--something dim and inaccurate,-but still something sufficient to preserve the taste for more. I am inclined to think that is so with most readers." (I am inclined to agree!)

For readers of Trollope and for writers, this is a gem.

Virtual library, Amazon


Teilhard de Chardin: Scientist and Seer - Charles E. Raven
The Divine Milieu  - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I read Raven's book on Teilhard first, and then, curiosity aroused, read Teilhard himself. It was a good order in which to read, as had I gone to Teilihard first I might not have struggled through the entire book. Teilhard is not easy to understand for a "bear of little brain". Yet there were flashes on the page that shone light into my mind and soul. I do have a sense of what he means by "the divine milieu" - that God is ever present in the universe, but not in a pantheistic way. I am still confused but the best explanation, I found on p. 56: "God must, in some way or other, make room for himself, hollowing us out and emptying us, if he is finally to penetrate into us. And in order to assimilate us in him, he must break the molecules of our being so as to re-cast and re-model us. The function of death is to provide the necessary entrance into our in-most selves"  On that page and the next is a beautiful prayer asking for help in facing death.

The word "milieu" was kept from the French, because no acceptable synonym was found in English, and its exact sense in French is impossible to translate, according to the foreword. From page 84 there is this definition which I found I could understand in some measure: "God reveals himself everywhere, beneath our groping efforts, as a universal milieu only because he is the ultimate point upon which all realities converge. Each element of the world,.whatever it may be only subsists, hic et nunc, in the manner of a cone whose generatrices meet in God who draws them together."

Raven in his biography and commentary is much clearer than Teilhard and is also speaking of Teilhard's whole life thought whereas The Divine Milieu although not published until after his death was one of his earlier works. Raven presents Teilhard as both scientist and religious and is particularly impressed by Teilhard's synthesis of the two world views. Raven writes: "It is perhaps Teilhard's greatest service to our time that having accepted the whole cosmic process as one, continuous, complexified and convergent, he can regard it with unfaltering hope." (p,75)

Raven's accounts of the restrictions imposed upon Teilhard by the Catholic authorities, removing him from teaching positions, not allowing his writings to be published, and his quiet submission, left me with the unanswered questions: how did Teilhard manage to remain in a faith that abused him so, what was it about Catholicism that kept him true to his vows? Finally what made him ensure that his writing would be saved and published after his death? That seemed inconsistent with his previous obedience, I need to read another biography for the answer.

Raven  includes this confession of faith from Teilhard, dated July 1933, a few years after the writing of The Divine Milieu.   It helps explain what is sometimes obscure in the book:

"We can be fundamentally happy only in a personal union with something personal (with the personality of everything) in everything. This is the ultimate appeal of what we call 'love'. In consequence the essential quality of the joy of life discloses itself in the knowledge or feeling that in everything that we taste, create, undertake, discover or suffer in ourselves or in others, in every possible line of life or death, organic, social, artistic or scientific, we are increasing gradually and are ourselves gradually incoporated in the growth of the universal soul or spirit." Raven goes on to comment: "For this conviction all that is needed is an impassioned human heart and the acceptance of three points:  (1) That Evolution or the birth of the universe is by nature convergent not divergent, making for a final unity; (2) that this unity, built up gradually by the world's labour, is by nature spiritual -- spirit being understood, not as a withdrawal from but as a transformation or sublimation or culmination of matter; (3) that the centre of this spiritualised matter, of this totality of what is by nature spiritual, must in consequence be supremely conscious and personal; the Ocean which gathers all the spiritual tides of the universe is not only something but someone; he is in himself face and heart. If one accepts these three points the whole of life, including death, becomes for each one of us a discovery and continual conquest of a divine and irresistible Presence. This Presence illuminates the secrecies and inmost depths of everything and every man around us. We can attain a full realisation not a simple enjoyment of everything and every man. And we cannot be deprived of it by anything or anyone. That is Teilhard's creed.

"And if we are to express it theologically we find him convinced that evil is no accident or regrettable mistake. We have no right to suppose that God would have created a world without evil and suffering; they are, however, we explain it, an integral part of the process.  All we can say is that the world is so constructed that evil and death occur in it. 'Suffering', said Teilhard in his La Vie Cosmique of 1916, 'is the consequence and the price of the labor of development.' 'Creation groans and travails until now,' as St. Paul put it. 'Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, each marking a stage in the divine operation, are they not three phases indissolubly joined in the manifestation of the divine?' (Raven, pp. 183-184)

So, not light reading, but I did find that the concepts presented by Teilhard and Raven did lift my heart - the centrality of love, beauty, truth, goodness, in their theology and the sense of God as a mysterious ever presence waiting to welcome us at the time of our death. (Although I may be oversimplifying. Teilhard is so difficult to understand that I couldn't figure out what the Catholic authorities were afraid of in terms of his being published. However, his books sold 300,000 copies in the first year or so of publication, surely unusual for the books of a Jesuit! So perhaps they were right to fear.)

Teilhard's book available Virtual Catalogue and Amazon. Raven on Amazon.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


 A WOMAN NAMED SMITH - Marie Conway Oemler
 DAISY'S AUNT - E. F. Benson
THE WOMAN IN THE ALCOVE - Anna Katharine Green


After I finished reading Miss MacKenzie, other books were recommended on my screen.  All of them free from Kindle. They are all books from the 19th or early 20th century. Kindle states they were transcribed by volunteers! Since then more have appeared and I've added them to my list. Some by authors I've heard of Benson (famous for his Miss Mapp series) and Elizabeth von Armin (Enchanted April), but others I've never heard of but have enjoyed.  What is delightful is finding all these books for free at my fingertips. I've already made back the price of my Kindle by all the free books I've accessed from what I call The Land of Lost Books - now no longer lost!

A WOMAN NAMED SMITH is a very surprising book. Set in the turn of the century in South Carolina, it is the story of a woman who inherits a house in a small Carolina town. Up to that point in her life, she had been an executive secretary for fifteen years and she brings along her friend, "the worst file clerk in the world". Again I was intrigued to find two such independent women in a novel of this period. They proceed to face a hostile town but two friendly neighbor men and what may be ghosts. The author's handling of the black characters in the book is racist in the sense they are servants, speak in a special dialect, and are stereotypical of an uneducated, superstitious characterization of black people, in patronizing terms, although with a tone of affection. It is not unlike the representation of servants and the lower class in English novels. There is one very racist scene of a vagabond black man who is about to attack the heroine before he is scared away.The "n" word is used by both blacks and whites more as a common way of speaking than as a perjorative, an interesting comment on the time of the writing. There is also a Jewish character and two Moslems treated respectfully. The turnings of plot are those of a Gothic novel, involving secret Masonic chambers, and of a romance novel - in this case with the twist of the supposedly plain heroine receiving three proposals while her beautiful companion pines away for the man of her choice.  A happy ending ensues.

DAISY'S AUNT is romance and a comedy of manners set in England again at the turn of the 19th century. The aunt in question has just returned from a year abroad in which she was healing from the death of her husband of eight years, a drug addict and alcoholic. She returns happily in love with a new man to discover that her young niece is in danger of marrying a roue who unbeknown to the niece had been the illicit lover of her now dead sister in Paris. Having promised the dying woman not to tell her sister of her dissolute life, the aunt decides to win the man away from her and thus show her his shallowness. She has faith her own lover will understand and not desert her, but she soon faces another problem, the roue is actually a good man at heart.  All resolves happily.The book is enlivened by the witty dialogue of some of the minor characters.

THE WOMAN IN THE GREEN ALCOVE is a mystery set in turn of the century New York. A woman is murdered at a fancy ball and her diamond stolen. The immediate suspect has just proposed to the young heroine. She must find a way to convince the police she is innocent. Although her guardian is rich, she has just completed her three year nurses training because she wanted to be independent. Again I was intrigued by such enterprise (although since my own grandmother became a nurse at that same period of time I shouldn't have been). Her nurses' training proves helpful in the solving of the crime.

THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS is a serious novel set in Scotland and written with much Scottish dialect, only some of which is footnoted, but the rest is understandable through context. It is the opposite of a cozy village novel in the Highlands story. The village is full of backbiters and greedy merchants out to do each other in or at least use each other to advantage. The family at the center of the book is the most hated in the village, not without good reason. The father, John Gorlay, is at the height of his power as the novel opens, and has no generosity or kindness to his neighbors. His wife is a slattern, weak-willed although good at heart. His daughter is dying of consumption and his son is a waster. There are only one or two characters in this book I could like, but nevertheless, Douglas opens up the minds of younger and older Gorlay in such a way that I kept hoping there would be redemption for them. The depiction of alcoholism taking control of the younger Gorlay gave me understanding into his addiction. It is a sad but gripping book.



The Last Chronicles a weighty book, just under 900 pages in the copy I read, and took about a week to read, whereas Miss MacKenzie, which I read on my Kindle (more on that later) was a day's reading.  The former is the last book in the Barsetshire series, focusing on a stubborn, absent-minded minister who is threatened with loss of his priesthood and jail because he cannot account for his cashing a check made out to a local aristocrat. His stubbornness is manifested by his unwillingness to accept any of the help that might have quickly resolved the case in his favor. He is a curate to an impoverished parish, devout in worship and in pastoral attentions to his people. However, his pride makes him feel his poverty acutely. Of course, there is also an endangered engagement of pure young lovers and a variety of parsons and higher up clerics and wives of same, in particular, the wife of the bishop,who range from generous-hearted to the extreme of maliciousness.
Sometimes Trollope does go on too long or gets repetitive (he was writing it in installments for a magazine which may explain this), but nevertheless, I read on anxious to find out how he would resolve all the dilemmas. A footnote in my edition included a quote from Trollope's autobiography in which he tells of overhearing two men in his club criticizing the novel and especially exacerbated by the bishop's wife's power. Trollope decided to give the wife a fatal heart attack in the next installment, thus pleasing his readers and giving himself an easier path to a happy ending. (Library. Amazon)

Miss MacKenzie is a short novel of a woman in her thirties, who having spent her youth housekeeping for and then nursing her brother, inherits his fortune to the horror of her remaining brother and his wife. She pacifies them slightly by taking on the care of one of her nieces. In the course of her first year as a woman of substance, she is proposed to my three men and then the discovery is made that her fortune by rights never belonged to her brother but to her cousin, one of her suitors, whom she had turned down.  How all this is resolved for the good is an interesting tale of love and integrity against the forces of greed. One point interesting to me was that faced with a return of poverty, she decides she will look for work as a nurse.It seems that women were more resourceful in finding occupations in the mid-19th century than I had been aware.

You can download this on a Kindle for free. For more on Kindle see next blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011



Definitely not light verse, but thoughtful, profound, and, as advertised on its back cover, quirky -- probably obvious from the title.  The poet's knowledge of archaeology and natural science informs her content. There is a series of poems on a fictional realm, Nab, with references both to its inhabitants in ancient times and its excavators in the present, as well as poems which include references to the spadefoot toad, the quagga, and, better known to most readers, sparrows and moths. Life and death are close in these poems, and love too makes an appearance with great poignancy. Usually I read poetry books intermittently, reading and putting aside, but this one I read straight through because of the story line of the Nab poems and because I wondered what she'd come up with next!

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


Thursday, March 24, 2011


THE STECHLIN - Theodore Fontane

One of the best known 19th century German novelists, Theodore Fontane was just brought to my attention by a review of some recent translations of his books. This novel is his last and according to William Zwiebel, the translator, Fontane "set out to write a serious political statement, a novel which gave full measure of respect to the finer qualities of the Prussian aristocratic heritage, but which also pointed out its provincialism and morbidity and the pressing need for a total restructuring of Prussian society."

All that Zweibel describes is encompassed in the novel, but in a story, which despite being peopled by many soldiers, is a gentle story of the elder Stechlin's humorous and serious meditations on Prussian society as he himself faces death and of his son's meditations on the same while falling in love and marrying. The world is that of Berlin and the Stechlin's country home thirty miles from Berlin on Lake Stechlin. It is a world I haven't read much about and the gentleness and integrity of the main characters made me wonder how from this society the tragedies of the next fifty years could have sprung.  What part would the children and grandchildren of these members of the Second Reich have played in the terrible Third Reich? Fontane died in 1898 in the hope that the Germany of the new century would be enlightened, that a and better order would be established. Zweibel comments "It is one of the small and ironic tragedies of the terrible age that followed, that this manifesto of a sage and humane Prussian, had its message been followed, might have led to a wiser Germany and one considerably less burdened with guilt."

Having just read Anthony Trollope's Dr. Thorne, I was intrigued by the way both authors presented a similar plot: a young man of property who does not want to acquiesce in his elders' wishes that he should marry a woman with money and status. In Trollope the family pushes the son to do so. In Fantone the family recommends but doesn't insist, and although a bit upset because the girl chosen had a mother who was half-Swiss are soon reconciled to her, helped of course by the fact that she does have  money. Trollope's elegant prose moves faster, but his characters do not seem as real as Fantone's, whose characters are revealed mostly through dialogue rather than description. Everyone talks a lot in this novel, about social mores, ethics, the past, the future. Fantone was a military historian as well as a novelist, so his soldiers are much more specific as to past battles than those found in most novels. There are also a multiplicity of minor characters, many extremely funny, such as the young attractive Hedvig, a servant girl who is constantly leaving jobs because of the amorous approaches of her employers. Hedvig is rendered not as a victim but as a spunky girl who allows no one to take advantage of her.

Virtual catalogue


THE OTTLEY'S - Ada Leverson
(A trilogy published together, separately titled: LOVE'S SHADOW, TENTERHOOKS, LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT)

 A friend of Oscar Wilde, Ada Leverson gave him a room in her home during his trial, Leverson shared Wilde's wit and gift for creating comedies of manners, although hers were novels, not plays. This trilogy tells the story of the happy unraveling of an unhappy marriage, that of Bruce and Edith Ottley. However, rather than feeling as angry at Bruce or as sorry for Edith, as I might with another author, Leverson made me admire Edith's skill at manipulating her husband while inwardly laughing at him, and Bruce was just such a booby that I laughed with Edith. Bruce is also a bully, or would have been with a less subtle wife, but Edith simply brushes off his bullying  In the first book, Edith is experiencing romance vicariously through her friend Hyacinth's love affairs, but in the second and third books, Edith herself falls in love and is faced with the decision of whether or not to leave Bruce.

The books are primarily dialogue, off set by the inner thoughts of the characters, a varied and entertaining mix of Edwardian England (the books start in 1906 and end in 1916).

Here's a sample of an exchange between husband and wife:
"'I think I shall have a rest," Bruce said presently, "I had a very bad night last night. I scarcely slept at all.'
:'Poor boy!' Edith said kindly. She was accustomed to the convention of Bruce's insomnia, and it would never have occurred to her to appear surprised when he said he hadn't closed his eyes though she happened to know there was no cause for anxiety. If he woke up ten minutes before he was called, he thought he had been awake all night; if he didn't he saw symptoms of the sleeping sickness."

The Ottley's two children are rendered with an authenticity and humor that made me wonder if Leverson wasn't simply recording the conversations of her own children. The boy, Archie, is particularly engaging, (a sad footnote is that Leverson's son died young).

Virtual catalogue.

Saturday, March 19, 2011



This book's opening sentence grabbed my attention: "It was thanks to Mr. Kandinsky that Joe knew a unicorn when he saw one."  I had to find out what was happening.  A lot, as it turns out, especially for such a slender book. This is one of those lovely books you read in a sitting and sigh in contentment as you close the covers.

Published in 1953, it is the tale of a six-year-old boy living in London's East End with his working mother in the home and shop of an elderly Jewish tailor who has befriended them while the boy's father is off to Africa to seek their fortune. The boy is being raised by mother, tailor, tailor's assistant (also a wrestler), and assorted East End neighbors, all interesting characters. He acquires a "unicorn" after all the one-day chicks he buys for pets die in rapid succession. It is important he has a unicorn because once the horn has grown rubbing it, he will be granted three wishes. How this happens is the story.

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


DR. THORNE - Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope was the originator of the English county of Barsetshire in the 19th century, which Angela Thirkell revisited in the 20th century. DR. THORNE is the third in the six book cycle, though they can all be read separately. I say this since I read the second, BARCHESTER TOWERS, so many years ago, I had forgotten most of it without detriment to my reading of this one. Trollope's wit, wisdom, and warmth are a winning combination (how's that for alliterative criticism!). Although his young lovers are not out of the ordinary,being sweet, loving, loyal, intelligent, virtuous, etc., the other characters are very much individuals, not literary types. Trollope's commentary on the mores, morales, and culture of his time is both biting and amusing. The joy of reading Trollope is also the facility, the ease and elegance of his writing. The copies I was reading were library copies that were one hundred years old and published in two volumes. I had only taken out Vol.1 and rushed to the library the next day to get Vol.2, so involved was I in Trollope's Barsetshire.  I'll be going back to read the next three books in the series soon.

Rockport library, Amazon

Monday, March 14, 2011


CLEOPATRA: A LIFE - Stacy Schiff

A fascinating biography of Cleopatra which brings ancient Rome and Alexandria to life. I read it together with  Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra andwith viewing the film of the Royal Shakespeare's 1974 production of the play with Janet Suzman, Richard Johnson, Patrick Stewart, and Corin Redgrave in the leads.  The biography fills in some of the gaps in the play, although it is amazing how closely Shakespeare kept to Plutarch's account, allowing for his shortening the time of the war to keep the play moving at a quick pace. In the biography Cleopatra's intelligence is highlighted  -- she was a linguist, speaking many languages, an able queen, with an amazing ability to survive as ruler for 22 years (starting at age 17) in a brutal world. Her brutality is also noted; she killed most of her siblings in order to keep her throne, but had she not, they would have killed her. The Egyptian royal family carried dysfunctionality to the nth degree!

Schiff sees Cleopatra's influence extending after her death in freeing up Roman women and making them more assertive in the political life of Rome. Schiff also points out there is much we can never know about Cleopatra - but what remains clear is that she was a powerful and charismatic woman, who lived life to the full.

Library, Amazon

Friday, March 11, 2011



First published in 1931 and republished in 2009 by The Bloomsbury Group, this utterly delightful novel presents us with a family of three young sisters and a mother who enliven their lives with shared fantasy to the bewilderment and disapproval of their conventional governess. When fantasy turns into reality, the Carne family spreads their joy to a childless judge and his wife. A merry romp, the book also suggests that there are many ways to being a "functional" rather than a "dysfunctional" family, and that a family that plays together is a good model for us all.

Virtual catalogue or Amazon


WHAT DID IT MEAN? - Angela Thirkell

This 1954 novel in the Barsetshire series revolves the village's preparations for the coronation of Elizabeth II. For anyone who has ever suffered through committee meetings (is there anyone who hasn't?), Thirkell presents a very funny, and all too real, committee as well as a humorous, poignant middle-aged romance.

Virtual catalogue

Monday, March 7, 2011



Angela Thirkell is best known for her Barsetshire comedy of manners novels, but these two books are diversions from that form.  THREE HOUSES, published in 1931, precedes her other books, and is not a novel but a memoir of her childhood. As such it is charming, and especially interesting as her grandfather was the artist Edward Burne-Jones, her cousin Rudyard Kipling. Her family spent Sunday afternoons at her Burne-Jones grandparents' home in Fulham, London (now West Kensington) and extended visits in the summer and holidays at their home in Rottingdean, opposite which Rudyard Kipling lived with his three young children, one of them Angela's playmate. Her stories of the family and the times (she was born in 1890) create an era already disappeared by the time of her writing in the 1930. There is much humor, both eccentricities of character (she describes one of the family, a Mrs. Ridsdale as: "A person of immense character. Was it not she who invented and carried out the questionnaire for Kipling-hunters? 'Can you tell me where Rudyard Kipling lives?' the tourist would ask. Mrs. Ridsdale would stop and fix him, or her, with her shrewd eye, saying 'Have you read anything of his?' Very often the answer was No, when Mrs. Ridsdale would remark, 'Then I won't tell you.'} and of machines (the Kiplings had a motor car which "didn't like starting and when it had started it didn't want to stop, except halfway up a hill, and it perpetually ran dry on the tops of lovely downs miles away from even a dew-pond.")

CORONATION SUMMER written in 1937 is a comedy of manners novel in Jane Austen mode set at the time of Queen Victoria's coronation, complete with lithographs from the era. It is a short novel, 169 pages, but creates a lively picture of the times. Two romances come to happy fruition despite the follies of parents. As the young lady narrator expresses it: "...parents are created to distress us..." Truly light reading, but with some education on British history thrown in.

Virtual catalogue


A WINTER SERPENT - Aileen Armitage

This time out, Armitage tells the story of Rasputin, the mad Russian unholy holy man, who became the confidant of the Tsar and Tsarina, an association which resulted in his death. Armitage sticks to the historical facts and leaves it up to us to judge. This is not a scholarly biography, but a historical novel with fictional and nonfictional characters. Armitage manages to present Rasputin's colorful life in under 200 pages (large print pages at that). I was captivated by the story, and once I finished went on-line to find out more about Rasputin.

Amazon or me



A few weeks ago I was down with my second cold of the season, fortunately I was not without books, but I didn't want high brow books. I was flat on the couch, sneezing, snuffling, and in general feeling, about a thousand years old. Now is the time I decided to break out Jilly Cooper. I had ordered three Jilly Cooper books because two of my favorite male authors from Yorkshire both wrote about her favorably. Having never heard of her, I was curious. I looked her up and learned she is regarded as the creator of  "chick lit", although from the evidence of my reading I'd say her books would still qualify as bodice rippers, except that there is nowadays so little bodice to rip, rendering that genre obsolete, now replaced by "chick lit" in which lingerie (if there is any) is willing flung off. So all high brows stop here, these are not the books for you, even in a cold-remedy induced haze. However, for those who occasionally dip into the low brow,{I don't say trash, since Jilly has been awarded some kind of order of the British Empire by the queen for her contributions to English literature.) Jilly is a fun diversion. What the guys mentioned, and the reviewers even, is that Jilly has a sense of humor. Are her books trashy romances or satires of trashy romances? That is the question, but whatever the answer, she tells a good story, often many good stories, with brio, elan, and all those other exuberant words. I was so interested in finding out what would happen that I kept spooning in the chicken soup to make sure I'd survive to the end of the book - and since the books I had were a trilogy, each over 500 pages - Jilly kept me diverted from the ravages of my cold, until finished with her sexy saga, I realized I could breath freely again. The novels all take place in the mythical English county of Rutshire (satire, anyone?) with love affairs, wickedness, horses (these are English novels, and perhaps the horses explain the Queen's award), and in this series, music as the leading villain is a symphony orchestra conductor, Maestro Rannaldini. 

These novels are from the late 1990's. Cooper wrote less convoluted romances before that, and has since written more of the Rutshire series.

Not available in Rockport library or the virtual catalogue. Can be purchased at Amazon or you can borrow from me.

Monday, February 28, 2011


A WANDERER'S WAY - Charles E. Raven, D.D., Canon of Liverpool and chaplain to the King.

A friend lent me this book published in 1928.  It is the story of the Reverend Raven's journey to the Anglican priesthood. More unusual is his very liberal theology (liberal even for a present day Anglican priest). He writes very clearly, that is to say not like a theologian. He recounts his unhappiness at boarding school,  his early indifference to and then rejection of religion. At Cambridge he ranged from paganism to neopaganism to materialism, but although he thought Christianity "bankrupt", he found its replacements even more so. How he finally became a Christian - albeit as he terms it "I was at home with the heretics and an anathema to the devout"  -- is a journey of twists and turns. He is an advocate for changes in the creed and forms of service of the church. He looks at God with the knowledge of a scientific age.  Here, he distinguishes between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the Twentieth Century:

               "He (the OT God) was a sultan, they His ministers sending out decrees from a supernatural realm to which man's intellect could not aspire nor his criteria of judgment apply. Nowadays we must start from the data furnished by science, history, and experience, observing the world, the records of mankind, and our own personal and corporate lives, testing and comparing the results, and forming hypotheses to cover and explain them. For us God is manifested always and everywhere, the fullness of the manifestation being determined by the quality of the medium in which it is given. We can learn something from the flower in a crannied wall, more from knowledge of our own physiology and psychology, more still from men of large heart, sound intellect and moral worth, most from Jesus, the full-grown Son of Man." . 

I found his book inspiring and am trying to find more of his writings, most of which are out of print. If you'd like to read it, I'm sure my friend will lend it to you.


I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF - Deric Longden; A PLAY ON WORDS - Deric Longden

I've already reviewed several of Longden's books. The first one here dates from 1990 when he and his second wife, the writer Aileen Armitage, move to Huddersfield in Yorkshire. Longden describes his books as his writing about nothing. That is, he can write an entire chapter about going shopping or a repairman fixing the stove or a cat with attitude (and all the Longden cats have attitude). The point is that somehow all these very ordinary enterprises become humorous in his writing. In the second book, he recounts more of his ordinary adventures and also his more extraordinary as he takes part in the filming for TV of his story about his mother. His world is such a pleasant one. Reading his books is like being in the presence of a friend. Of course, it helps if you like cats.

Amazon or borrow from me


GROWING UP - Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell with her usual wit makes even World War II Barsetshire seem like the place to be.Best to start earlier in the series, but if you find you like Thirkell, you are in for a treat as she, like the author who is a character in her books, wrote a book a year for many years.  Although full of humor, the novel also depicts the continuing changes in English society from one of landed aristocrats and servants to land-poor aristocrats with a few old retainers and most of the young unwilling to be servants.  The war in this case has moved the lord and lady into the servants quarters (which in fact they find more comfortable) as their manor house is turned into a convalescent hospital. Men and women, as is usual in Thirkell, manage to fall in love, but all the characters are touched by losses of loved ones in this war or the last.

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


JUST WILLIAM - Richmal Crompton

This is the first book in a popular English series of the 1920s-40s.. Supposedly a book for children, it is certainly an entertaining book about one particularly rascally boy that adults will enjoy. Whether today's children will, I am not sure. Apparently the young of England did at one time as there is a club, they can join, the Outlaws,and receive a badge, wallet, secret password, etc. Crompton is an inventive writer. William manages to get in trouble in chapter after chapter, and always leaves the reader smiling. Excellent before bed reading and also because the book is actually pocket-sized and the chapters are self-contained, a good book to put in your pocket for times you may have to wait in line, or more appropriately, in a queue.

Amazon or borrow from me.


THE SHOOTING PARTY - Isabel Colegate

The novel depicts a fateful weekend in the lives of the aristocrats and servants taking part in a shooting party at a stately home in England in the fall of 1913. The author weaves together the individual stories flawlessly, bringing to life pre-war English society.Here is the last look at a society about to be changed forever by war and its subsequent social upheaval both for good and ill. The shooting party with its codes that once broken bring about disaster is a microcosm of what is to come. Beautifully written, this is a book that takes you back into a lost world.  An excellent movie was made from this book.

Library, Amazon



An elegantly written tale of a secret love by a French-Chinese author, winner of the Grand Prix for Lifetime Contribution by the Academie Francaise.  This poetic novel balances passion with restraint in the lives of a man and a woman who fall in love at first sight and are then separated for thirty years. Even upon meeting again their love must remain unrequited physically as she is married, and he, a monk now. Still they manage to express their love in such a way as to enrich their lives while not breaking their vows. A bittersweet reflection on the power of love as well as the pain of unfulfilled love.

This book was a discard from our local library. You can borrow it from me. Probably available on Amazon.



For readers of the above authors, this book is a pleasant account of their friendship and its effect on their writing and spiritual lives. The fascination of the two men for the "other" world of fairy, myth, and Christianity and the joy they found in all three was the foundation of a friendship that survived the politics of Oxford - and most probably helped them both to survive the same. 

Virtual catalogue, Amazon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Read a review of the Miller book which led me to read the book itself, and then wanted more of Greece, so went to Eurydice Street. Henry Miller's book, published in 1941, tells of his travels in Greece in 1939-40 as war is taking over Europe. He fell in love with Greece, and the book is a rhapsody on the beauty, mystery, spirituality, joy of Greece and Greeks. At that time, Greeks were friendly towards America (not so by Zinovieff's book in 2001). Miller traveled often in the company of Laurence Durrell, an English writer who lived on Corfu, and of the Greek writer, Katsimbalis (the Colossus of the title). He gives a vivid portrait of Katsimbalis. One of his comments I particularly liked: "He saw the humorous aspect of everything, which is the real test of the tragic sense."  Certainly true of Shakespeare.

Sometimes Miller rants and raves a bit too much, but more often he paints his adventures so vibrantly you feel you are there. I found some of his passages so lyrical and the insights so incisive that I bought a copy of the book after returning the library copy. It is a Greece that died with the war, and a Greece that is eternal.

EURYDICE STREET is Zinoveiff's account of her family's settling in Athens in 2001.  Her husband, a Greek, had been living aboard for years. She had lived in Greece before but was brought up in London, where her divorced Russian parents lived. She presents her story and enough Greek history to give the reader context to help understand the perspective of contemporary Greeks. She too loves Greece and decides to become a citizen - a journey fraught with bureaucracy. A good trip to present day Greece for those who can't afford the passage, and for those who can, your trip will be more interesting having read this book.

MILLER:  Virtual catalogue, Amazon  ZINOVEIFF: Rockport Public Library, Amazon

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Fred Secombe

I reviewed the second book in this series, CHRONICLES OF A VICAR, in January blog.  The curate book here precedes that one, and the more chronicles continues it. All of these books are actually Three in One books, containing three of each series in one book, a great buy!

Each series is entertaining and heartwarming as Secombe relates the story of his life as an Anglican priest in Wales in the 1940s and 50s.

Amazon, or borrow from me.


DIANA'S STORY - Deric Longden

"Wide-eyed and Legless", a song beloved by his wife, was the title Deric Longden wanted for his book, but the publisher opted for the more conservative "Diana's Story".  Diana Longden suffered, and suffered is the operative word, for fifteen years from ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, an excruiatingly painful, crippling disease. Worse, she suffered from doctors who could not diagnose her condition (it was finally diagnosed after her death), and subjected her to test after test, and some of whom told her unfeelingly that "it was all in her head."  Meanwhile, her fingers would turn into claws without the special plaster casts she had to wear daily, and even with the casts, the fingers eventually clawed and had to be broken and recast several times. Despite her almost constant pain Diana's pluck and good humor are what dominate the book, as do the same attributes in her husband, Deric, who cared for her throughout her illness. Both are upheld by their son and daughter, and Deric's mum, a character he wrote about in his previous book, LOST FOR WORDS, as well as by friends and neighbors. For a book of such seeming sadness, I laughed as often as I was angered in Diana's defense and cried for the terrible loss all suffered. I started reading and didn't put the book down until I was finished.
There is a movie of the book available from Netflix, on the BBC, it was called "Wide-Eyed & Legless" but on Netflix has been renamed THE WEDDING GIFT.

Amazon or you can borrow from me.



I discovered these books reviewed together and immediately requested both from the library. The two animal subjects couldn't be more disparate - the ferocious tiger and the mild snail - yet each is equally intriguing.

John Valliant tells the story of the hunt for a man-eating Siberian tiger in 1997 in Primorye Territory in Russia's Far East. He spares no details (this is not "light-reading") of the tiger's ravages while also presenting a case for the preservation of tigers in the Territory, one of their few remaining viable habitats, although here too poachers kill many adult and cubs. The mystery of the story - why did this tiger kill in an extraordinarily vengeful way, not usual for tigers -- remains only partially solved, but the investigation is thrilling. Vailliant presents the differences in perspectives to the taiga and its wildlife of the European Russian newcomers, and the indigenous Nanai, who view the tiger as a spiritual totem. Both live in near poverty in a harsh climate, yet one of sometimes amazing beauty.  Virtual catalog.

In THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING, Elisabeth Tova Bailey tells of how a snail brought in on a plant helps her live through a devastating illness. Struck down after a flu with a fatigue so paralyzing she was confined to her bed for several years, and from which she did not completely recover for 20 years, Bailey starts observing the snail as it lives its only slightly more active life confined to a terrarium beside her bed. She reads up on snails and shares her knowledge with us, and it is fascinating. I would never have guessed that snails have an active and loving sex life (so do tigers, but somehow that was not as surprising). Bailey's stoic description of her own life, her joy at being transferred from a bed where she couldn't see out the windows to one where she could, the simple heroism of living with a debilitating illness, is inspiring. Coincidentally, one of her diagnoses is for an illness ME myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is the illness which afflicts the woman in the next book I review as well.   In Bailey's case, however, she is found to have a different mitochondrial disease from which she recovered to some extent.

Rockport Library

Sunday, January 30, 2011


WAIT FOR ME! - Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire

This poignant memoir by the youngest of the famed Mitford sisters (Nancy, Pamela, Unity, Diana, and Jessica) chronicles the 90 years of change and growth in her own life and in England's. For anyone who has enjoyed Nancy Mitford's hilarious novels of growing up Mitford, this memoir provides a point of reference by which to sift out the fantasy from the reality of the strange but utterly intriguing family therein portrayed. However, there is much more here than a different view on the common Mitford childhood. Deborah Mitford married at 21, raised a family, helped establish Chatsworth House as a viable country house open to the public, and mixed with many of the notables of the 20th century, including the Kennedy's. (Her husband's brother married Kathleen Kennedy, Jack's sister.) She tells her story with respect, humor, and honesty - an absorbing blend. Her courage informs the text though she never speaks of herself as courageous, but the way in which she relates the trials she faced is a lesson to those whiners among us. She comments on the books her other sisters, Diana and Jessica, wrote about the family, making me decide to read them as well.

Rockport Library



A novel of three sisters, ages 27-33, who've come home to Ohio to help their mother who is undergoing cancer treatment. Named Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia by their Shakespeare professor father, and renamed Rose, Bean and Cordy by themselves, the sisters are each at crossroads in their lives. Two are struggling for redemption, and one for freedom. In the family they often speak to each other by quoting Shakespeare, which certainly enlivens the dialogue and provides a common denominator for these three very different women. In the course of six months, they all manage to make decisions that promise happy beginnings ahead. I'm not sure their good sense and good luck are realistic, but since I had grown to like them, it was good to leave the now not so weird sisters in the glow of Christmas cheer.

Rockport Public Library

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


 -  Joyce Dennys

The second of Dennys' World War II columns from seaside England (not necessarily the safest place to be during World War II). As the columns were meant to raise morale, for the most part Dennys presents a light-hearted view of the home front, but never without the sense o the strain and tears the humor is trying to combat.  Her most poignant column is one that abandons humor completely as she reports the death of the younger son of  friends who have already lost their elder son.

A professional artist, her sketches enliven the text or you can borrow from me.



Yes, you will finally learn the difference between Amish and Mennonite (although not until the end of the book). This is a nonfiction account of the healing Janzen experiences as she spends her sabbatical at home with her Mennonite family after a difficult marriage and divorce. Her humor keeps the book upbeat while still dealing straightforwardly with the trials of living with a bipolar man who when off his meds is corrosively emotionally abusive. Although no longer a Mennonite in religious affiliation, Janzen has no anger toward the Mennonites, nor does her family (at least her parents) toward her. Instead she gives us an interesting glimpse of what life was and is like for practicing Mennonites, and what parts of the tradition still illuminate her life.

A friend lent me this book, but I'm sure it's either in the library of the Virtual Catalog, and certainly available on Amazon..



Entertaining series set in a fictional village, Prior's Ford, located in Dumfries and Galloway, on the southern border of Scotland. The novels weave together the stories of individual villagers and of the community as a whole. In the first, they confront the possible reopening of a granite quarry, causing rifts not only between villagers but within families. The novels are low key but engaging, and enough questions are left at the end of each to make you reach for the next book.  A new book  is due out in January 2011.

Amazon or you can borrow from me.


LOST FOR WORDS - Deric Longden

The book opens with Deric's Mum creating a comic pile up in the local Marks and Spencer's when she spills cherry yogurt and butter on the escalator. He goes on to regale us with Mum's various quirks, her belief in the medicinal efficacy of Buttercup Syrup, her deflection of the anger of an annoyed football fan who tells her the cafe is reserved on Wednesday for Sheffield Supporters, with her remark, "My cat watches Match of the Day, but I prefer the wrestling myself."  Mum Longden's eccentric wit and wisdom help Deric heal after his first wife's tragic death and propel him into the arms of his second wife. Then Mum has a stroke that takes away her ability to speak coherently. Deric records his efforts to help her live with some happiness the last difficult years of her life. Near the end frustrated by the nurses' failure to see his mother as a person, he brings in a photo of her as a young, vibrant woman. He writes: "When the shifts changed over the new nurses picked up the photograph and saw for themselves just a glimpse of the real woman behind the twisted tongue and the addled brain and they talked to her as they changed her dressing." This book should be required reading for all who attend the elderly.

The book was made into a television movie starring the wonderful British actress Dame Thora Hurd and Peter Postlethwaite. I remember seeing it and being very moved. I'm hoping it's available through Netflix. or you can borrow it from me.


LONDON WAR NOTES - Mollie Panter-Downes

Having read Panter-Downes collection of New Yorker short stories from World War II, I went on to read this book containing her biweekly letters from London to the NYer from 1939-1945. She paints a vivid word picture of Londoners reacting with courage and down-to-earth humor to the terrors and strains of both being bombing and not being bombed (while knowing that the bombs would return).She predicts accurately that England will be changed forever by this war with a final knell being tolled for the supremacy of the aristocracy and an easily available servant class, neither perhaps gone completely, but certainly never again to rule or serve with the rigidity of pre-war England. How are you going to keep the girl back in the kitchen once she's been in the munitions factory and armed forces? The answer is clear, very few will ever go back, and most of us would say, a good thing too!

Virtual cataloge

Monday, January 17, 2011



I loved the book (and movie) COLD, COMFORT FARM, a hilarious story of English eccentrics in 1he 1930s, but didn't realize Gibbons wrote other books. I was delighted then to discover this one, and titles of several others which I'm hoping to find.  This novel set in 1936 is both satire and heart-warming fairy tale, albeit with an occasional reference to the world outside the charmed setting of the novel, "a world toppling with monster guns and violent death." The author sees with a straightforward eye the flaws and foibles of her characters making us smile at their pretensions, while still not entirely disliking them, and sometimes becoming quite fond of them.The Withers family live in a house, The Eagles, filled with good-quality furniture bought fifty years before and never scuffed or scratched. Mr. Withers' pleasure is counting his money and requiring his family to be entirely respectable to the point of terminal dullness. Then his son's widow, a young, dreamy twenty-one-year-old comes to live at The Eagles. Within a year the world of the Withers is in bloom.

Gibbons has a wonderfully light and elegant style infused with humor.  In the dark days of 1938 when it was published, the book must have provided a welcome escape from the reality of  "the monster guns and violent death" confronting her readers.  It provides that same escape for us.

Virtual catalogue

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Robb Forman Dew

This trilogy is absorbing reading. I read the three books just managing to stop for the essentials of every day life so eager was I to find out what would happen next in the life of the Scofield clan of Washburn, Ohio. Dew calls Washburn a town about which "people are incurious" and then over the course of her three books makes her readers insatiably curious about these ordinary people in an ordinary town living ordinary lives - which we soon realize are extraordinary in the sense that all lives are extraordinary, even, and to each of us, especially our own.

Along with plot and characterizations that weave a spell, Dew's writing is also quite beautiful, at times elegiac. I haven't been so intrigued with Ohio since I read Winesburg, Ohio years ago. In fact, I'm curious to reread that slender volume (compared to Dew's books) to see how the two diverge or agree.

Dew weaves in the times people are living through and how those times impinge on their lives, for the most part deftly, though in the last book of the trilogy less fluidly.  In that book I did find myself wondering how she could know the inner workings of actual people's minds, marriages, and lives (Werner von Braun, for example) and sometimes simply was eager to get back to the more real fictional people she had left in limbo while presenting the context of the times  However, that is a minor quibble with three books that created a world of people so tangible that I feel I have shared their lives and almost expect that I could go to Washburn, knock on the door of one of the Scofield's homes, find the latest generationl there and happy to chat with me over coffee, filling me in on the latest Scofield lore about which I will, until that eventuality, remain insatiably curious.

Rockport Public Library

Thursday, January 13, 2011



Funny and poignant, nonfiction narratives of the life of a Church of England vicar in a small parish in Wales right after WWII.  It is part of a series that begins with CHRONICLES OF A CURATE.  Fred Secombe  and his wife, Eleanor, a doctor, are a good team as they minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the town and cope with two troublesome curates: one feckless, the other pretentious, and the helpful and unhelpful among their parishioners. They direct a Gilbert and Sullivan society which provides comic diversion and help their parishioners cope with tragedy in the wake of a cave-in at the coal mine. The last of the trilogy is set in coronation year with the advent not only of a new queen but of televisions into the community.

Virtual catalogue. Other books by Secombe available from Amazon. (I've ordered some so if you read this and are hooked, I'll be happy to lend them to you.)



Entertaining, nonfiction account of a young Australian who falls in love with a Frenchman and France, but not without some major adjustments. Her observations are interesting: French women don't want friendships with other women because they look upon women as rivals; Parisians in particular and the French in general take a long time to warm up to people even as acquaintances (they want to be sure you're here for good before going to the effort of talking to you at a dinner party); in France (or at least Paris) it is obligatory to dress up even when going to the bakery, you owe it others to present a good appearance; and you have to learn how to deal with the French bureaucracy. She loves Paris, however, from the start, and her lover, later husband, helps her through the difficulties of culture shock.  She even learns to love the north of France, his home country. Fun reading and helpful if you're planning a trip to France.

Rockport Library

Monday, January 10, 2011



Thirkell wrote so many books, all highly entertaining, that I won't review them all, but rather suggest if you like the first you read, look at the list in the book's front and order from the virtual catalog at the library or Amazon. In this novel a loving family copes with a father suffering from memory loss and general frailty, a young girl struggles to find a way to leave her very comforting family nest, and an older couple finds love.

This novel is late Thirkell, 1956 (she died in 1961), but her wit is ever lively.  Here's some quotes that made me chuckle. From Mrs. Morland, a writer now in her sixties, "Your son's your son till he gets him a wife.But he goes on expecting you to help him to support all his children all your life." Mr. Choyce, the vicar, talking of the Bishop. "He has found a new hymn by a religious Atheist beginning: "O God, although Thou art not there, Men sing to Thee as if Thou were."  And this one, not necessarily funny, but so true of my life: "The reason she was not listening was that Mrs. Morland was involved in a discussion about the way one was always losing things because you put them in a safe place and then you don't know where it is."  (Ah Yes Moment for Me!)

Gentle comedy of manners by an author who clearly loves her characters and you will too.

Virtual catalog

Thursday, January 6, 2011



Charming non-fiction account of a middle-aged American divorcee who receives a telephone call from a man at the next table in a Venetian restaurant asking her to coffee. She refuses four days in a row but finally on her last day in Venice agrees to meet him. He tells her he fell in love with her in December when he saw her at a distance on a previous visit of hers to Venice. Unlikely as all this sounds, it is true, and she takes the plunge, not into the canal, but into love. The book records the first year of their falling in love, her leaving St.Louis, Missouri, to live with him in Venice, their wedding, and subsequent new beginnings together. It is romantic but down-to-earth as they face the adjustment from fairy tale romance to actually living together. Venice is a major player in this story - the people, its history, the infuriating bureaucracy of state and church, the different life views of the Italian worker (Work long enough to buy the grappa but not so long as to miss out on drinking the grappa with co-workers during extended lunch hour. What's the rush?).   De Blasi is also a professional chef and includes recipes at book's end. Enchanting reading for all of us who have wished to be swept off our feet with good practical lessons as to how to then sustain and cherish love in marriage. She has also written two follow-up books, so if you like this one, you have two more to enjoy.

Non-Fiction. Rockport Public Library

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



An exquisite book of short stories written from 1939-1944 for The New Yorker by Panter-Downes, who also wrote fortnightly Letters from London from 1939-84. Unlike most NYer stories of today, these are witty, poignant and understandable. (I do like some contemporary NYer stories but many still leave me cold.) The first half are quite funny, even light-hearted, although with the shadow of war and possible invasion ever close.  The later stories are more sober, though never without wit. The last set on D Day is extremely touching. The stories chronicle the changes in society, particularly the class structure, that started with the first war and now are being accelerated with the realization that English life will never be the same even after victory. Some welcome this change, and some mourn it (and often the mourners are those from the servant rather than the master class). Her dry humor is a delight, for instance, this from the first story about the meeting of two former lovers: "She felt that age had withered and custom staled Gerald's infinite variety considerably, and she improvised an early appointment at the hairdresser's."  I am now interested in finding whatever of her other writings are still in print!

Available from the virtual catalogue

Monday, January 3, 2011



Fun, light reading with a quirky cast of characters once more in Yorkshire. The heroine, Charley (for Charlotte) wakes up one morning to the news her husband wants a divorce now. Stunned she agrees to his terms and returns to the family home of her famous writer father  The household is run by her sister Em, a great cook and Wiccan poet, who is made furious by father's new mistress. Soon another sister, Anne, a war correspondent now in cancer treatment, returns and brother, Bran, a professor suffering some sort of nervous collapse is brought home to recover. The two small daughters of the mistress complete the menage a whatever.  All the children were named after the Brontes in the father's attempt to replicate that family's creativity. There are also two quirky servants and soon a handsome actor-writer with his young daughter move into an adjacent cottage. Romance follows for Charley and Em complicated by love potions from the resident witch (one of the quirky servants). Family secrets are revealed.  Although the Prince Charming is over-the-top perfect, the happy ending he precipitates is cheering. I did wonder though what the book would have been like if she had opted for more realistic scenario.

Available Rockport Library



Angela Thirkell wrote about 50 novels, creating the world of Barsetshire where clergy, lords, farmers and most particularly women of all classes keep Britain going through thick and thin. Thirkell has a wry humor that pokes gentle fun at her characters and a way with a plot that keeps the reader engaged even though in some books, such as this one, not too much happens.  Written in 1941 the villagers are rallying to beat off an expected invasion while enjoying the presence of all the officers billotted among them, and less so, the evacuees.   The book must have raised the morale of its readers during the war and continues to do so now, as one doesn't need to be in a war to suffer from too much Christmas or to enjoy the way a son returning home can turn a room into chaos in a matter of minutes.

Available through virtual catalogue


A NEST OF MAGPIES - Sybil Marshall

 More than a cozy escape this book depicts the changes wrought in an East Anglia village in the 1960s   Written in the first person, the heroine, Fran, a middle-aged widow of means, buys back her family home and returns to the village after a long absence.  She renews ties with her male step-cousin and engages a childhood friend, and daughter of the original housekeeper, as her housekeeper.  She also becomes friend with a newcomer, a glamorous woman who evokes ardor from men and resentment from women. Fran's reflections on class and morals make this book deeper than the usual village romance, and she provides an event-filled plot that keeps you reading to find out what will happen next.

Available Rockport Library



This is the second book in  the account of Fermor's walk from Holland to Constantinople in 1933 at the age of nineteen   He wrote the first account A TIME OF GIFTS in 1977 and this one in 1986, the third is still to come. Fermor is now 95 and still writing after living a life full of adventures.  Considered a classic of travel writing, the book is dense with descriptions and history making it slow but fascinating reading. Two times -- the time before World War II when he was walking and the post war time when it was written, and in which the reader lives inform the book.  I kept wondering what happened especially to the gypsies, the rabbi and rabbinical students,but really to everyone he met along the way.  He tells us a few of the afterlives of the people he kept up with, but of the chance acquaintances we can only wonder as to their fates.  It is a picture of the world of Hungary, Rumania, and Transylvania, now lost forever.

Available from virtual catalogue. You might want to start with first book A TIME OF GIFTS