Saturday, August 30, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Loaves, Fishes, and Flowers

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

"The sight of the refectory was inviting: each place was laid with a snow-white napkin, a glass of wine, a bunch of grapes, a small wheaten loaf and a brown earthenware bowl of vegetable soup. Apricot puffs and cheese were laid along the side tables. When the nuns were seated, the Abbess came in, wearing a white apron and white sleeves and with her came the kitchener, Sister Priscilla, bearing a great silver silver salver of fish."

"The Abbess went to every nun, serving her and laying beside her plate a nosegay of small flowers: violets, wood anenomes, grape hyacinths, tiny ferns, pink heaths."
The right book at the right time. Joining this enclosed community of Benedictine nuns and following the peaceful, ordered measure of their days through the seasonal rituals and observances brought a solace that I'd been struggling to find in the books I'd picked up recently. I enjoyed the personal stories of the individual women but it was the beautiful descriptive passages of daily living, the garden through the seasons and the family of cats that I really loved.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Bit of Book Buying

With the exception of three secondhand books in July these are the first books I've bought this year.

I needed to buy for Jane's Margaret Kennedy Week in October and the choice was more or less made for me. From what I read about it I didn't fancy The Constant Nymph but several other titles are being re-released and the only one I could be sure would reach here before October was The Ladies of Lyndon. I love the cover and after a sneak peep at the first page I loved that too so hoping it will live up to expectations. Of course ordering just one book from the Book Depository always seems a bit ridiculous so I added on a few more.

I always knew that sooner or later I'd end up buying Angela  Thirkell otherwise I'd be the last man standing who hasn't read this series and I do dislike feeling so left out. The same could be said of The Vet's Daughter.
I do feel a little guilty (but not very much) buying No Name because I know I could download it to my Kindle for nothing but although the e-reader is useful for some books, when it comes to my favourite authors I prefer the real thing.

So that's my new, new books and I also picked up another three secondhand. I'm really enjoying having a used book shop in town and as we've been away much of August I can feel another visit coming on.

The Brontes by Juliet Barker - I've read this but I wasn't going to let the opportunity to have my own copy slip by . $3 well spent!

For Love Alone by Christina Stead - an Australian author best known for her novel The Man Who Loved Children which I have yet to find but this will do fine for now.

A Breath of French Air by H.E.Bates - the irrepressible Ma and Pa Larkin off to France promises great fun.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sissinghurst - The White Garden

"I'm trying to make a grey,green and white garden. This is an experiment which I ardently hope may be successful, though I doubt it.

 My grey,green and white garden will have the advantage of a high yew hedge behind it, a wall along one side, a strip of box edging along another side, and a path of old brick along the fourth side. It is, in fact, nothing more than a fairly large bed, which has now been divided into halves by a short path of grey flagstones terminating in a wooden seat...

...from there I hope you will survey a low sea of grey clumps of foliage, pierced here and there with tall white flowers. I visualise the white trumpets of Regale lilies, grown three years ago from seed, coming up through the grey of southernwood and artemisia and cotton lavender, with grey and white edging plants.....

...Stachys Lanata , so much nicer under its English names of Rabbits' Ears or Saviour's Flannel. There will be white pansies, and white peonies, and white irises with their grey least I hope there will be these things.

It may be a terrible failure!"
Vita Sackville-West (1939)

Extract from Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst - The Creation of a Garden by Sarah Raven, wife of Vita's grandson, Adam, with many excerpts from Vita's own writing. Illustrated with over 150 black-and-white photos and twenty-four pages of colour it traces the history of Sissinghurst from the time it was built in the Elizabethan era to the present day with the focus on the 1930's and the transformation achieved by Harold Nicholson's architectural design and the vibrant, romantic planting of Vita Sackville-West. On a more practical note there are separate chapters on climbers, shrubs, flowers for scent etc and what to plant where.

A beautiful book and one for all gardeners to delight in.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Library Loot & a reading update

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they have checked out from the library.

I returned home after 10 days away to a pile of unread library books most of which were already, or very near to being, overdue. I decided to take most of them back and only renew the three I really wanted to read.

Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst - this is a beautiful book packed full of gorgeous photographs - I know I will love it and refuse to return it unread.

The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene - more about this one below.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - the only title on the Booker longlist I felt drawn towards reading.

To these I added...

Thursday's Children by Nicci French - the latest in this series featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein has her returning to the Suffolk coastal town of her childhood. Should be good bedtime reading

This Is Not A Novel by Jennifer Johnston -  'only Imogen believes that her brother did not drown thirty years ago.'

Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden - when Fintan Buckley develops an interest in old autochrome photography, strange things start to happen.'

I was wandering the shelves with my little green notebook when I saw these last two authors written at the top of a page. No book titles with them and I have no idea why I wrote them down. After seeking their books out I found they are both set in Dublin and are by Irish authors. They are also both barely over 200 pages long which suits me right now as I'm having difficulty settling on what to read and staying concentrated on it.

I finished reading Jane's Fame last night but am putting Emma aside until another time.

I read The Headmaster's Wife over the weekend and enjoyed it very much. I thought it sounded like a psychological thriller but was completely wrong. This book doesn't belong anywhere near a crime/thriller shelf. It's written in short, rather terse sentences and the author really builds the tension in the first half while the reader feels an increasing unease and uncertainty without knowing why. The narrator changes halfway through from the headmaster to his wife and the answers start to reveal themselves.

The headmaster teaches English and loves the Russian classics - Turgenev is mentioned several times which I take as a sign from the book fairy as to where to go next. My Classics Spin book is Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev and with several reading events in September I think it would be a good idea if I read this next week. It also has only 200 pages for which I'm very thankful - the spin definitely worked in my favour.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's been a very sad time

It was this time last year when life became difficult and I stopped blogging because I felt unable to keep up a positive public face when I felt so low. I know now that was a huge mistake and one I'm not going to make again. I'm not going to pretend to be alright when I'm not but I am going to continue blogging even if for a while there will be little of substance written. So I need to tell you...

On Monday 4th August our beloved and beautiful seventeen-year-old granddaughter took her own life. The expert care and counselling, the love and protection that surrounded her - none of it was enough to keep her safe from the darkness of the depression that overcame her.

It is a devastating and heartbreaking loss for our family. It has been the worst ten days of my life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Classics Club Spin #7

Time for another game of chance from the The Classics Club - to make a list of twenty unread titles from our list and on the 11th Aug one number will be chosen. The challenge is to read the book that corresponds to the number by Oct 6.

My Spin List

Five I really want to read

1. No Name by Wilkie Collins
2. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
4. The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns
5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Five that have been on the shelf too long 

6. The Odd Women by George Gissing
7. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
8. Possession by A S Byatt
9. The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
10. Vanity Fair by William M Thackeray

Five  about the Boys

11. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
12. Adam Bede by George Eliot
13. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
14. Maurice by E M Forster
15. Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Five by authors I haven't read before

16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
17. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
18. Washington Square by Henry James
19. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
20. A House for Mr Biswas by V S Naipal


Monday, August 4, 2014

I Love Literary Allusions

I've been reading A Taste for Death by P.D.James. It's been a long time since I enjoyed one of her novels and I'm wondering if, in the past, I ever took much notice of the way she is constantly bringing other authors into her story. I doubt it but this time the literary allusions delighted me and added a whole new dimension to the reading experience.

Appropriate for Austen in August -

"'His temper might, perhaps, be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty he was the husband of a very silly woman' 'Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennett.'
'Sense and Sensibility, Mr Palmer. And when one meets Barbara Berowne the bias doesn't seem so unaccountable.' 
'Sense and Sensibility? Are you sure? 
The scene of the murder is St Matthew's Church, Paddington where the bodies of Sir Paul Berowne, recently retired Minister of the Crown and Harry Mack, an alcoholic vagrant, are found in the vestry with their throats brutally slashed. An unhappy event for the dispirited Father Barnes , already struggling to cope with the disdain of some of his new parish .
"His most recent library book had been a Barbara Pym. He had read with envious disbelief the gentle and ironic story of a village parish where the curates were entertained, fed, and generally spoilt by the female members of the congregation. Mrs McBride would soon put a stop to anything like that at St Matthews. Indeed, she had put a stop to it."
The bodies were discovered by Miss Emily Wharton , a lonely 65-yr-old spinster whose life revolves around her Wednesdays and Fridays, dusting the chairs and doing the flowers at St Matthew's. She could have stepped straight out of a Pym novel.

Solving the case is in the hands of Commander Adam Dalgleish, a detective with a love of architecture and a talent for writing poetry, and his team, the upper-crust DCI Massingham and, new to the scene, DI Kate Miskin, a working class girl determined to succeed. She has a boyfriend who she asks to recommends books..

"At present her bedtime reading was Elizabeth Bowen. The life of her heroines, their private incomes, their charming houses in St John's Wood, their uniformed parlourmaids and formidable aunts, above all the sensitivity of their emotions amazed her. 'Not enough washing-up, that's their trouble,'she told Alan, having in mind the author as well as her characters.

At over 600 pages A Taste for Death has a great deal more depth than an ordinary police procedural crime novel. Tension and conflict between social classes is one of the major themes in the book, not only simmering between Kate and Massingham, but coming to the boil within the family of Paul Berowne and their servants, none of whom are very pleasant people. As the investigation proceeds ugly and dangerous secrets are exposed beneath the veneer of prosperous gentility.

It was perfect reading for a very wet winter weekend and I will be reading more P D James. Loved it!