Friday, 31 December 2010

Reading halt

Over this Christmas and New Year I intended to read much more than I did, but with visits from family, some staying a few nights, some coming for the day, I seem to have come to a slight halt. Nevertheless have started reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, which seems to be a very promising read, and have also finished a couple more, started earlier.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Our Reading Group discussed Jill Dawson's The Great Lover the other day. I had read it earlier, ( and posted about it here) but didn't re-read, so found the discussion interesting. Many of the group weren't that keen on it, but most had read it and one or two who had'nt finished said they would read to the end. They felt slightly confused by the mix of fact and fiction, not knowing precisely which might be which. I had enjoyed reading it last January, but didn't feel inclined to re-read, partly because I could still remember much of it. We were joined for our discussion by one member's new ( born in October) daughter, who was extremely well behaved for a first timer, barely a cry, just an interested look round most of the time.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Foodie time

I seem to be a bit of a food provider at the moment. A week or so ago it was our local residents association autumn social, for which i organised the food along with a fellow committee member, nothing too fancy, just nibbles such as salmon tartlets, vol-au-vents, small sandwiches and some small sweet nibbles, and for drinks wine or fruit juices. Then my brother-in-law came to stay, so a couple of slightly more elaborate meals were called for, such as a slow roasted shoulder of lamb with greens and roasted potatoes, parsnips and carrots followed by an apple cake for pudding. Tomorrow I shall be contributing to a light lunch following a book club meeting, and next week a group of friends are coming to my home to have a lunch - we usually go out together once a month, but as we normally meet up near the end of the month, which in December gets a bit near Christmas, we decided to have our get-together in someone's home, and I volunteered this year. Happily I usually enjoy cooking and feeding other people (than oneself and husband) does help get the cooking creativity going, even if mostly its fairly simple stuff.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Our Book Club recently discussed Tracy Chevalier's latest novel, Remarkable Creatures. The story of Mary Anning and her discovery of the first complete ichthyosaurus, and her friendship with Elizabeth Philpott, a spinster dumped in Lyme Regis together with her two sisters, make a very readable story. Tracy Chevalier's research is good, although obviously this is fiction, so facts are altered for effect on the story. Nevertheless, she brings to life two women from different classes, makes their friendship very real, and also highlights the real difficulties Mary Anning had throughout her life with money and recognition for her work in finding and preserving fossils. We pretty much all enjoyed the story, several of the group know the area very well, so their interest was was more intense. Most of us had read several of Tracy Chevalier's other novels, but some felt this latest title was not quite of the same standard. Personally, I feel that her writing and storytelling is up to the expected standard, although even if the actual plot was fairly slight, she has made an interesting tale out of it.
I've recently finished George Sand's Winter in Majorca, the story of some months she, together with her lover Chopin and her children spent in that island in 1838 and early 1839. The translation I read was by Robert Graves and also has notes by him. Her writing is captivating, especially when describing the beauty of the scenery, but her attitude to the inhabitants was at the least offhand, if not actually rude on occasion. They in turn were scandalised by her relationship with Chopin, and also very concerned about his illness. I recently watched a television series in France about George Sand's life, which brought out how eccentric she was, but also how hard a worker she was to maintain a home for her children, as she brought them up on her own after separating from her husband.
A different read was Helen Garner's The Spare Room. The story of a visit by Nicola to stay in Helen's spare room, while undergoing some alternative treatments for her almost terminal cancer at a clinic in Melbourne. Helen is at first eager and willing to help Nicola in any way she can, but as Nicola's treatments take their toll, so Helen's emotions change and the reader is made aware of the dificulty Helen has in controlling her feelings while Nicola maintains an almost frightening optimism. A beautiful piece of writing , describing raw and painful emotions on the subject of a forthcoming death.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Back from France, after a cross country drive through some beautiful countryside, and an overnight stop in the small town of Brou. The hotel we spent the night at , the Plat d'Etain, was very comfortable, with pretty bedrooms and dining room and excellent food. It's mentioned in the Routard guide, which used to be published in English, but no longer, but is still available in France. It's a useful guide, as it lists hotels in places not always mentioned in the Michelin guide. The hotel was easy to find, being on the main town square. Petrol was easier to find, as the blockages of the refineries ceased over a week ago. However, there was a protest meeting in Le Havre as we were heading for the ferry.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Autumn colours

We haven't had a lot of sunshine recently here in the Auvergne, although the temperature is a bit milder than when we arrived a couple of weeks ago. Although the days are a bit dull and cloudy, the trees fillng the valley are in glorious autumn colours, mostly golds, yellows and russet with occasional brighter red. They seem to be more spectacular this year than last.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sam Meekings novel Under Fishbone Clouds is a tremendous, poetic read. The story is about the long marriage of Jinyi and Yuying, he from a poor peasant family, she an educated girl, daughter of a restaurent owner. Their marriage is arranged, in that Yuying isn't given a choice, it was decided by her parents. The point of view of the story is unusual, in that it is the Kitchen God who tells us the tale, through various reported conversations with The Jade Emperor and through a third person narrative.This is a bit confusing at first, but becomes easier to understand as the story progresses. Although apparently the story of a marriage and a family, the novel is also the story of modern China, from 1946 to the present day. The changes and upheavals that Chinese society goes through in that period is reflected in the events that happen to Jinyi and Yuying and their family.

Although I did find this somewhat depressing at times because of the awfulness of many of the events that occur, as well as the frequent mentions of dirt, lack of cleanliness, spitting and generally appalling poverty, the characters did grab my attention and I really felt I wanted to find out what happened to them, for good or ill. The writing is also extremely beautiful and the mention of many ancient Chinese myths and legends make this a very impressive debut of a novel.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Auvergne autumn

Well I'm at a loss to understand why students and schoolchildren are joining in the demonstrations against Nicholas Sarkozy's pension reforms in France. as they are the ones who will be paying for it, as we older baby-boomers have been paying the pensions of the previous generations in Britain, and all those people of our own age who managed to take early retirement in their fifties. Pensions don't jsut appear out of thin air, they have to be paid for somehow.

However, to change the subject, the last few days have been glorious autumn sunshine, which has melted the snow on the Puy Mary which appeared the other day, when we had rain, sleet and hail
We have spent some of the sunny days tidying up the small garden, in the probably vain hope that it won't be too overgrown when we come next spring and maybe need less weeding.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Petrol problems

Travelling to the Auvergne yesterday and the day before, from Le Havre was a somewhat anxious experience. The route we followed was one of the shortest we could find, across country and avoiding motorways completely. The reason was that with a tankful of petrol, we needed to be as economical as possible with our driving, as the possibility of filling up on the way diminished day by day before our trip. We did manage to find petrol in a small supermarket on our route, but we were limited to 23euros worth. . We stopped overnight at Aubusson for a comfortable overnight stay in Le France hotel. However at journey's end, we managed again to find that our nearest supermarket still had some petrol, limited to 20euros worth, but enough to keep the car topped up enough for some days to come. The French strikers seem to be calling off their efforts to change Sarkozy's mind, but may strike again on the 27th of this month.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Random reading

On a recent visit to my nearest branch library, I picked up a copy of Susan Hill's newest title, The Small Hand. I read this over a couple of days, even though it is fairly short. However, it is still a tour de force of a story. Adam Snow is a dealer in rare and antiquarian books and on a journey from visiting a client, manages to get lost and finds himself in heading down a country lane, only to end up in the overgrown remains of a once beautiful garden and house. The small hand which creeps into his brings with it terror and tragedy, both slowly and subtly revealed. I enjoyed this very much, as the quality of the writing is excellent and the build up of tension and terror is quietly menacing. A satisfying read.
On a totally different level, Elizabeth Chadwick's historical novels are also for me satisfying reads. They give a picture of a historical period outside that of historical academic writing, but are well researched, but readable. The plots and characters are believable, the language she chooses to use flows easily. Maybe the real historical characters she is depicting didn't speak exactly as she describes, but what is written is believable and reads well. The most recent of her novels I have read is titled The Time of Singing, and describes the lives of Ida de Tosney and Roger Bigod , both actual historical characters. Ida has been mistress to King Henry 2nd from the age of fifteen, but after bearing him a son and meeting Roger, decides to ask the king if she can be married. Henry agrees and Ida and Roger are wedded, but Henry keeps Ida's son William at court. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Roger's father had been in revolt against the king, while Roger, heir to the earldom, had sided with the king. The turbulent lives of the period, the alliances by marriage, the intrigues between King Henry, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons, Henry the Young King, Richard and John are all well described. History in a easy to digest form, fun and easy to read.
Although entirely about another war and its aftermath, Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a very different read. It is basically an exchange of emails between two women from different cultures. and very different outlooks and expectations. Bee is a Londoner, married with two daughters and a third child on the way, May is older, a lecturer in English and Human Rights and democracy at a University in Baghdad, divorced from her first husband and childless. Bee works for the BBC World Service and is introduced to May through an interview. They begin a correspondence by email and friendship grows as aspects of both their lives are revealed, Bee's that of a working mother, May's that of an a fairly ordinary Iraqi,living in what was a nice part of Baghdad, coping with the aftermath of the war and the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Her comments about life under Saddam Hussein being at least more ordered than the chaos of the present may not be quite what we westerners expect. The conflict between Sunni and Shi'ite sects also affect May and her husband Ali, adding the very real fear of death to their already fearful lives. An excellent read for anyone wanting to find out how Iraqis coped after the invasion.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sweet reasonableness

Andrew Marr's recent comments, made at the Cheltenham Literary festival , about bloggers and their characteristics was a piece of such sweeping generalisation that one can't help wonder what influence he was under when he made it. But then I don't generally read political bloggers nor the comments people make on blogs - life's too short. Most of the blogs I read seem to be written by women of a certain age, who also have a life outside of the virtual, i.e. in the real world, and are mostly literary blogs. I read blogs to follow my interests, not to read the rants of the ill-informed.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Recent reads

Phyllida Law's book of Notes to My Mother-in-law is a very light read, funny and sad in parts as well. It's a one-sided conversation with an elderly woman who we sort-of get to know a bit about, but not the whole picture; a bit like hearing a part-conversation on a bus, or overhearing a phone conversation. It manages however to give a picture of life in the Law household; funny and endearing it seems to have been at that time.

Our Book Club recently read and discussed J G Farrell's Troubles, a story of the start of Ireland's fight for independance. The first part slowly sets the scene. Brendan Archer, a Major recently and barely recovered from shell shock acquired in the trenches of the First World War, arrives at the Majestic Hotel to visit his fiancee Angela, daughter of the owner of the hotel, an Anglo=Irishman called Edward Spencer. Gradually the Major settles into the hotel, which despite its name is far from Majestic in reality. The loss and decay gradually build up to a final conflagration. There are several very fuuny episodes and anecdotes before the devastating ending, so despite the theme of loss, this is not an entirely tragic story. We all enjoyed the novel and our discussion certainly concentrated on the more humourous elements of the story.

Another book I'm finding very engrossing at the moment is Stitching for Victory, by Suzanne Griffiths. Although a scholarly work, part of the authors degree in Textiles, this is a tale of how big a part stich played in the Second World War. From barrage balloons, blackout curtains, and blankets via clothing coupons, to parachutes, sandbags and uniforms, everything that involved the use of textiles in any way is described in this book. Not a book to read through at a sitting, it is fascinating to dip into chapter by chapter and find out how our antecedents coped with life in the Blitz sewing in air-raid shelters or as members of teams repairing barrage balloons, or making fabric coverings for aeroplanes and gliders.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Since coming back from France just over what now seems like a fortnight, but was only a week ago, I seem to have been to lots of bookish events, the first being a meeting of one of the reading groups I belong to. We discussed Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a novel set in Barcelona in the years just following the Spanish Civil War. This was a re-read for me, I first read it when it was a Richard and Judy choice about 5 years ago. Most if not all of us enjoyed it, although there were many different reasons for that enjoyment. I certainly found that a re-read made the cast of characters clearer, the layout of Barcelona more evident and the plot and sub-plots more obvious and I was generally more sympathetic to the themes of loss, betrayal, love and the importance of books.

The following evening I attended an author event at Shirley Library, Southampton with Patrick Hennessy whose book , The Junior Officers' Reading Club was in the bestseller lists. The evening had been won in a competition by Penguin Books by a local reading group nad was a great success. Patrick Hennessy was a good speaker and although I haven't yet read his book, it is on my To Be Read pile. Patrick writes about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving as an officer in the Army.

The week was finished off by a talk by Sandra Cain of Southampton Solent University on Reading the Novel held by Southampton City Libraries and aimed at reading groups in the city. It is quite a while since I've attended a lecture like this so I found her talk refreshing; it contained ideas I'm reasonably familiar with, and also some newer ones about the construction of the novel. Her passion for novels, as a reader and a writer was very heartening.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Nicole Galland's The Revenge of the Rose is an unusual historical novel, which I chanced on while browsing in my local branch library, looking for a good holiday read. Although set in medieval times, it is definitely on the light side, with romance well to the fore rather than reality. The author says in her notes that she was more concerned with telling a story than historical accuracy, and the story she tells is a good page-turner. The main characters are Willem of Dole, a landless knight, his sister Lienor, their friend Jouglet, a minstrel, and Konrad, Holy Roman Emperor. The events take Willem and Jouglet to Konrad's summer camp, to various tournaments in which Willem excels, thus catching the eye of Konrad and becoming drawn into his company. Konrad is looking for a bride, but one who also has to meet the approval of his council, and Willem's sister Lienor is a prospective Empress. Meanwhile in a side plot, Konrad's steward Marcus has fallen in love with Imogen, Konrad's cousin. Willem's rise in fame brings the prospect that he may be affianced to Imogen, thereby shattering Marcus and Imogen's plans to marry. How all eventually ends happily is quite cleverly told, in a cheerful pacy style. Just right for a not too serious holiday read.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


This last week here in the Auvergne has been beautiful, warm and sunny. I've managed a few swims in the Aqua Centre at Mauriac ( a fairly simple outdoor pool, heated) where if I go fairly early and join the other femmes d'un certain age, I have plenty of room to swim for an hour . Yesterday I had the pool almost to myself, partly because the weather had clouded over, although it was still fairly warm. however, the weather now is cool and very wet; it has poured with rain on and off the last couple of days. Our son has been staying here for a week, before heading off to cycle up Mont Ventoux in Provence next weekend with some cycling friends, and has done several cycle rides round the area, including up to the Pas du Peyrol, which is 1588 metres high., three times. He managed one ride last Saturday of 170 kilometres, about 100 miles and saw as much of the surrounding area in several hours as we have manged in the 3 years we've been coming here. However after a rather rainy day yesterday the sun came out in the evening briefly, rewarding us with a beautiful double rainbow.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

More Summer Reading

Writing this on the last day of August, the wind outside was definitely cooler, despite the sunshine and cloudless blue sky. Summer is beginning to slip away. The moon last night was a harvest moon, low and huge and golden on rising. Reading on the sunny balcony not so pleasurable in today's cool and gustybreeze.

I enjoyed Katie Fforde's Love Letters, the story of Laura, a shy but intelligent bookshop assistant who gets inveigled into helping organsie a literary festival. Laura also has to encourage a writer, Dermot , who has been suffering from writer's block since his success some years earlier, to attend the festival as the star of the show. The plot centres on Laura's feelings and emotions while trying to accomplish this task. I love Katie Fforde's books and this one had for me the added delight of revealing, sort of, how a literary festival might be organised.

Ive also read a couple of mystery/thrillers, one set in modern Sicily, the other set in medieval Glastonbury. Andrea Camilleri's August Heat has Inspector Montalbano as both the discoverer of the body of a murdered girl and the man who has to solve the crime. The heat of aSicilian August is well described and the plot, which starts with disappearance of a young child and the discovery of a hidden building, is different. Montalbano's habit of going for a swim in the sea to clear his mind and cool off as well i found endearing. This is one of a fairly long series of books, so I will look out for others, as this was a good read.

Arian Franklin's Relics of the Dead takes the reader back to medival Glastonbury and the discovery of a collection of bones in a churchyard. Are these the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere? King Henry the Second urgently wants to knowand sends Adelia Aguilar, a Sicilian-trained female doctor and anatomist, and her Muslim companion to investigate. I love medival mysteries, combining historical fiction and crime as they do, so found this one hugely enjoyable, despite some of the nastier sides of medieval life being revealed. I'll look out for others in this series, which is called Mistress of the art of Death.

I first heard Esther Woolfson's Corvus being read on BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week some time ago, so was delighted to find a copy and read the whole story of Chicken, the baby rook she rescued and kept for many years. Her writing is beautiful, with wonderful descriptions of the life of wild birds as well as Chicken's life in captivity. Bird behaviour is described in detail, as well as some of the reasons for it. I read and re-read the description of the author's visit to see a raven's nest in the Highlands of Scotland with fascination, having seen and heard ravens in Wales earlier this year. Her collection of birds and how they were acquired is fascinating in its variety. I began to appreciate her fascination with corvids, as she described their personalities and relationships, each one a complete and interesting individual.
Another work of non-fiction read recently was R A Scotti's The Lost Mona Lisa, the story of the theft of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting from the Louvre in 1911. The tale reads like a mystery, which indeed it was at the time, as the police completely failed to track down the thief. This book also covers more than the actual theft, as we learn how it was painted, who the sitter might have been, how acquired by Francis the First of France, as well as the life of the painting and its movements through French Royal palaces. Now it is difficult to see, even though it has its own room in the Louvre, such is the number of people who crowd in there to catch a glimpse of this legendary picture.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A little light sewing

Being in need of a book for my needles, I found a very old 1 inch patchwork template that I've had for years, dug out some fabric pieces, some also having been around since the 70'sbut some are new, and after a little bit of sewing, I have a pretty little new needlebook for my sewing kit. Much better than the small piece of woolen fabric I was using before. I also included a tiny pocket for the needlethreaders which I now find essential from time to time.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Summer reading

While in France I read R C Sherriff's The Hopkins Manuscript, first published in 1939 and re-published by Persephone Books in 2005. I really enjoyed this somewhat melancholy tale of the moon hitting the earth and the consequences thereof. The build -up to the event is slow but inexorable and the catastrophe itself almost an anticlimax compared to the disasters which follow. The main characters and how they survive and deal with this momentous event, both physically and psychologically are the core of the book as well as the main interest. The whole tale, given that it was first published in 1939, could be an awful warning as to what might happen in the event of the coming war in Europe. Not as to actual events, but as to how human beings might actually behave and think in a crisis. I liked R C Sherriff's style of writing and his descriptions of the variety of human emotions is sensitive and tender. An intriguing read.

Margaret Willes Reading Matters was an absolute must-read for me. A history of book collecting, reading,(mainly private) libraries with book selling and buying thrown in proved an irresistible reading experience. This book is not without flaws, though as the subject is so vast ,how to write a coherent history of such a time span is almost impossible. The author has been around books all her life, as reader, author, publisher, and has obviously done a huge amount of research on the subject. Although arranged chronlogically and mainly covering the private libraries of such people as Bess of Hardwick through to Dennis and Edna Healey, there are various sidetracks followed, such as the booksellers centred around St Paul's churchyard, book clubs through the ages, which are not quite the modern phenomenen we like to think they are. For most people, this would not be the lightest of summer reads, but for a retired librarian it was almost an essential one.

On a slightly lighter note, I read Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies and found it touching and subtle. Beautiful observations of human behaviour at certain points in time or at particular events, carefully and quietly described, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions as to why the behaviour described happened.

An even lighter read was Rachel Johnson's Notting Hell, a wickedly tongue-in-cheek description of life in the exclusive private gardens of Notting Hill, home to milllionaires, super yummy-mummies and celebrity figures. Quite funny, but I thought the name-dropping of shops, restaurents and so-on got a bit tedious. The plot was delicate, how Clare wanted a baby but seemed unable to conceive and Mimi had had three infants soon after her marriage to Ralph, who had inherited his house in the exclusive area from his parents, but not the wherewithal to sustain the lifestyle. The story is told in the first person, alternating between Mimi's and Clare's point of view of events.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Home again

Driving back across France, we arrived in Normandy and when starting to look for a hotel for the night, found one in the small town of Gace. As we has passed through several small towns who were celebrating the 14th July with fetes and were therefore jammed with visitors, finding a hotel which was open , clean and comfortable, and with a good menu was a relief. The bonus came in the form of a live concert in the square, followed by a superb firework display in front of the chateau (now a museum) A splendid, delicious way to spend our last evening in France for a little while. The weather was superb too, being warm and sunny with a clear sky.

The following day we headed along the coast, visiting Trouville with its enormous beach,Casino and a huge outdoorswimming pool, then on past Honfleur and over the Pont de Normandie to Le Havre and the ferry.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Still hot but green in the Cantal, although there is a cooler breeze today. We're packing up for a brief return to home and garden in England,and according to French meteo, there is a good chance of rain on the way back to the ferry. The picture shows the fountain, put up in1894 by public subscription, which at the moment has no water in it, because there is a water shortage here - we have been asked not to water gardens, not to wash cars, or refill swimming pools. The same happened last year, which was also a fairly dry year. Luckily for us, we don't have a pool, are not great car washers (a couple of times a year is more than often enough) and the garden here is very small, with nothing in it which needs watering.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Back in the green but only marginally cooler Cantal. We have found the current heatwave tiring, so tended to have sat around reading, although we have managed a few swims at the local Centre Aquatique in Mauriac.

I haven't yet read Angela Huth's novel Landgirls, but have just finished reading the sequel, Once a Landgirl, which was an enjoyable read, not too demanding, but engaging, so a good holiday read. The story of Prue, a landgirl on a Dorset farm during World War 2, this sequel continues Prue's search for meaning and contentment in post war England. The atmosphere of the period is subtly presented, along with the emotional dilemmas of those settling back into ordinary life.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The beach at Valras-Plage.

The Viaduc de Millau

We have just spent the last few days at the beach. We made a quick booking via the internet for a hotel at Valras-Plage, near Beziers and headed down the autoroute, over the viaduct de Millau and on to the sea. We've been promising ourselves a swim or two in the Mediterranean for over a year and now at last we've made it. The sea was beautiful and warm, 21 degrees C when we there, and seemed very clean.

The beach at Valras is huge, about 3km in length and once the sun is up the sand is burning hot, so flip-flops or sandals are a must. It does make drying off after a swim quick, though. Ater only a very few days of sun, sand and restaurent meals, we are now back in the only slightly cooler greenery of the Cantal. We drove back across country,following the valley of the Lot for part of the way, which was deliciously cool and inviting.
While we were there, the small blue roofed hut opened up for business - it was a library. Details of it can be found here. I wonder if any British libraries do the same sort of thing?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Summer at last

This last week has been spent settling into our house in the Auvergne, meeting the neighbours at the mobile bakery which calls twice a week and is a great place to catch up with some of the local gossip. We met M le Maire on Tuesday, when the weather had begun to improve: he had his fingers crosssed that the sunny day would last, as its been cold and damp since we arrived here. We heard that twin daughters ha.d been born to one of our neighbours. Apparently the mayor held a reception to celebrate. It is quite an occasion, as most of the residents are elderly, and many houses are only occupied for a month or so in the summer. We've also been catching up with some of the jobs that still need doing. In the meantime now that its warmer, for a bit of relaxation we can sit on the balcony, reading or just admiring the view.
I recently finished Amanda Craig's Hearts and Minds, and loved it, despite its tragic moments. A cleverly written story of life in London as lived by a number of immigrants, both legal and illegal. One of the central characters is Polly, a Londoner and human rights lawyer, whose au pair Iryna suddenly disappears. Polly's eventual search for her leads her to meet and help other illegal inmmigrants, such as Job, a Zimbabwean taxi driver. There are many complex intertwining s of lives in the plot, but on the whole a satisfying read.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Our reading group discussion of Gillian Slovo's The Ice Road was mixed. It was a worthwhile read, though not a perfect book. The first few pages were rather confusing, as the story seemed to hop about between a bewildering variety of characters, but as these became fixed, the story became clearer.However, we felt that most of the characters were not quite fully rounded, and some were simply stereotypes. The political intrigues of pre-war Russia, in her soviet days, were interesting .and well covered. The significance of the title to the whole story didn't really become apparent until almost the end, which we felt a pity. We compared this title to Helen Dunmore's The Siege, a previous group read, also set in the wartime siege of Leningrad, although the period covered is a much shorter time,However we felt the detail describing the ice road and its significance to the people of Leningard is that much greater in Dunmore's novel.

A different book club and a different read. Still Alice by Lisa Genova is the story of Alice Howland a fiftty year old professor of neurolinguistics at Harvard University, who begins to realise that she is having memory problems and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers disease. Alice is very successful in her field, has three grown-up children and a husband who is also a successful academic. The story is told from Alice's point of view, as her condition gradually deteriorates, and makes for an emotionally compelling read. Several book club members said they read it a one sitting. I found this slightly dificult to get into, but once I devoted enough time to get into it, found it a fascinating but harrowing read. Alice seemed such a real person and her changing relationship with her husband and children as her disease progresses is sympathetically drawn.
I've recently read a couple of Henning Mankell's Wallender books, The faceless Killers and The Dgs of Riga. Having watched both the English and Swedish TV programmes, and preferring the Swedish, I found the books interesting. My husband also read them, unusual for him as he prefers reading history or technical books to much fiction, but we both been gripped by the TV series, which has been well-filmed, whichever version you watch.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A library rant

Last weekend I heard Shaun Ley on The World this Weekend at 1pm on Sunday13th June, highlighting the KPMG report on public services. The only part he mentioned was libraries, by which he implied public libraries.
Both the presenter and his interviewee referred several times to dusty libraries, Victorian institutions, and at one point managed to link libraries to workhouses, saying the latter had been done away with, implying why not libraries? I'm not sure what relevance this has to public libraries today, as they are a statutory service and have been since 1964 and as far as I am aware the current administration has not expressed any desire to cahnge this situation as yet.
We still have several Victorian institutions in this country, our whole state education system for one. Although there are many cries for it to change, no one has suggested doing away with it in its entirety, so why do it to libraries. The cry is libraries are expensive to run, well many services are, but would doing away with them save the money suggested, or would it be re-directed to other public services which may be needed to replace some of the things libraries already do. Who for instance would run the People's Network, which libraries took on, set up and still run for the benefit of those who do not have their own PCs?
This item really irritated me, as it seemed to be under researched, despite visiting one of Tower Hamlets Idea Stores, which were heralded as the way libraries would be in the 21st century, and many library authorities have spent much time, effort and money on improving their public libraries. I also felt the item didn't really cover the technological advances libraries have made, making their catalogues available on the web, being able to renew books, reserve items over the web abd so on. Although still a fairly regular visitor to my local library, its not as frequent as it may have been in the past, because of those technological changes. I rarely visit the reference library to look for information, but using my library card, can access a number of important and useful reference tools via the library catalogue, such as the Dictionary of National Biography, The Times digital archive, Encyclopaedia Britannica, News UK ( a news archive of a large collection of newspapers) and many more. No wonder personal visits to libraries are falling.
If public libraries were to disappear, who would provide the storytimes for pre-school children which libraries hold regularly, the rhymetimes for babies and toddlers, and the summer reading challenge, with its encouragement for school age children to read for fun in the summer holidays. Who would provide the range of large-print books and unabridged audio books available to those who need these formats, often the older reader. Most bookshops only provide abridged audio books, and many readers who need this format cannot afford to buy all that they might want to read. The very young and the old, the more vulnerable members of society would be the ones who would suffer most from a lack of publicly accessible reading materiel, and we all would the poorer by depriving ourselves of the resources availble in any public library.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Getting ready

This week has been spent in preparing for a return to the Auvergne. That means a certain amount of time has been spent on tidying up the garden, reading a Reading group read for the meeting on Monday evening, finishing off recovering a chair to match one done last year, so we don't have to fight over who sits on a padded chair, and getting various things sorted out.
This chair was last year's effort, although the picture shows it without its finishing braid covering the raw edges.

One of my recent reads was Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant. The story is set in late eighteenth century Portsmouth and Australia, the main character Daniel Rooke born into a working class family, nevertheless receives a good education, thanks to his mathematical ability being recognised. He joins the Marines, gets sent to Antigua, where he witnesses the results of disobedience to the Navy's orders and eventually, because of his mathematical and navigational skills, is sent to Botany Bay, Australia with a convict ship. Here Daniel meets a very young native girl and manages to begin to learn their language. Their relatonship is described very tenderly. Kate Grenville's use of language is very poweful. Her writing seems to me to be spare, but with emotions very carefully described. I was so caught up in the growing relationship between Daniel and Tagaran that I almost didn't want that part of the story to end. Having read Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which I also found a riveting read, I wqas glad to pounce on this in my local library when I spotted it.

Friday, 4 June 2010

A cultured week

This last week has been very cultured, as I have been busy visiting exhibitions here and there before returning to France for a month. I went to the Quilts exhibition at the Vand A - how could I not, as years ago I attempted a little patchwork, and also made a simple quilted bedcover for my bed. I'm also currently remaking a piece of patchwork my mother made for one of my sons. It's being "quilted" by button quilting, so not too complicated to do, and will go to France for the guest bedroom. The bits and pieces shown have been produced over a period of time, and for me the time taken to produce the wonderful examples seen at the Vand A was an important theme.

I went to visit my sister on Tuesday, and we went out to lunch in Cookham, afterwards wandering round the Stanley Spencer gallery, which I drive past on the way to my sister's house but had not yet visited. It's only small, but has some interesting paintings. We are both fans of his paintings, partly because I think they represent a part of our past. When the lady at the reception desk asked us how we had heard about the gallery, we could only reply that we had known about it for a long time.
For a bit more local culture, I visited the Sea Fever exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery, which has an interesting collection of art works on the theme of the sea. Some are by local artists, such as Eric Meadus, others by well-known names like Turner, Lowry, Maggie Hambling. It's only a temporary exhibition, ending at the beginning of September.
My final cultural visit was to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which my husband had also been wanting to visit, especially as they have added a beautiful modern extension. There is so much to see at the Ashmolean, that I think you have to be a bit choosy. We visited a very interesting temporary exhibition on the lost world of Old Europe, which had numerous artefacts from Europe, the Danube valley mainly, dating from 5000 to 3500 BC. Very enlightening, except as to why it all came to an abrupt end. The numerous copper mines stopped being worked, the type of farming changed and life apparently reverted to nomadic, instead of settled. The time we spent there was very enlightening, and as we used the Park and Ride facility, with free bus passes the cost was very little.

Blooming wisteria

When we arrived home in England, our wisteria was out, almost in full bloom. The scent is quite strong, too. The plant is well over 30 years old, a it was in its spot when we moved in, and it was fairly well established then. It does have all its trailing bits cut off in spring and summer and a bit of winter pruning as well, otherwise it would take over our garden as well as next doors. It annoys my sister no end, as she has a wisteria about thirteen years old, which although it climbs exhuberantly up her wall, has never flowered.
Before coming back from France, I finished Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. I read this fairly slowly for me ( so my husband said) and took a few days over it. It is quite long and although I'm not usually keen on books written in the present tense, this read so well it was an exception. It was an amazing reading experience. Because of the present tense and the almost single-minded viewpoint - that of Thomas Cromwell himself, I almost felt that I was there at Henry VIII's court, perhaps as some sort of onlooker hiding at the back of the crowd of courtiers. The tale of Thomas Cromwell's life does not seem like history, but more like reportage of current events, making for an immediacy in the storyline. I loved it.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Window painting and The Gourmet

In the rush to get some things finished before returning to England, we ordered some glass to replace that broken in some windows. It took us about half a dozen trips to the local Bricomarche to actually obtain it, which meant spending our final afternoon before packing up, in putting in, puttying and painting the window. Still all done eventually, only another 15 windows to paint and fortunately not all require replacement glass, only about half of them. But we won't be painting or replacing the glass this visit.

Meanwhile I have been reading Muriel Barbery's The Gourmet, which I have to say I found less engaging than The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The main character, on his deathbed, reminisces about his life as a food critic, which to me seemed pretentious. A variety of other characters from his life, his wife, children, cat and dog all have their say, giving their opinions as to his character as husband, father, and pet-owner, most of which are very unflattering. Some of the descriptions of food are delicious, though. The character of Renee the concierge is introduced in this story, and further developed in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Snow in May

This was the view from our bedroom window this morning, complete whiteout here in Le Vaulmier. No view, just white stuff everywhere. Its thawing as we watch so hopefully it won't be here too long. Although it looks pretty, it's a bit unexpected at this time of year. I wonder where the cuckoo we heard the other day is hiding from this, or has he/she fled back to warmer places?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Today we have had gales, heavy rain, sleet and on the hills above Le Vaulmier, a light snowfall- and yesterday we had heard the cuckoo calling! The neighbours, met at the mobile bakers van this morning, all commented that the weather was English weather (although its pretty standard for this region at this time of year.) The above picture was taken at the end of April a couple of years ago, but the scene is the same today, and so is the temperature, I expect.
Because of the recent bad weather, time has been spent reading alternating with house painting (indoors). The reading included Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, which I loved. Tenderly written, the story of Eilis and her relocation to Brooklyn, having been unable to find suitable work in her hometown in Ireland, was captivating. The tension towards the end - will she ,won't she return to America is fairly gripping, although the question of who Eilis really loves remains unanswered.
Lucy Wadham's The Secret Life of France was a must-read for me. Itis a bit of a mix of personal recollection and experience as well as quite a lot of French history, including an overview of Nikolas Sarkozy's presidency, and comments on current life in France. Lucy Wadham has lived in France for over twenty years, firstly in Paris now in the Cevennes, a bit further south from the Cantal departement. I found it very imformative about French life, although I only spend part of the year here in France, but I felt there were one or rather sweeping generalisations about British life.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The moon yesterday evening was absolutely beautiful as it appeared behind the mountains at the top of the Vallee du Mars, here in the Auvergne. The weather since we arrived last Saturday has been warm, sunny and dry, so helping us open up our house after what was a cold winter. Still lots of work to do, but the small garden only needed the grass cutting to look presentable.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

I've been reading Caroline Moorhead's biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Dancing to the Precipice. Beautifully written and based on Lucie's own diaries, this book gave me much more detail about life in France among the aristocracy during the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte than I had expected. I did study the period as part of my Open University degree, but that was rather a long time ago now and I've doubtless forgotten much, so this biography was a useful reminder of a period of great change in the history of France. It is also the tale of a formidably resourceful woman who dedicated herself to making sure her family survived the Revolution, escaping to America from hiding in Bordeaux after obtaining the help of Therese Tallien, wife of Jean Tallien, who had brought the terror of the Revolution from Paris.
The details of Lucie's life are recounted precisely, although sometimes the detail of the larger events Lucie lived through are less clear. I found the sadness of Lucie losing four of the five children that survived infancy, only one son outliving her, almost unbearable; yet Lucie herself seemed almost stoical in her attitude to these deaths.
This not a perfect book, as it seems to be a mix of biography and history, but is still an interesting read.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Now that spring has well and truly sprung, my garden is filled with tiny violets, some purple and some white, and primroses, all of which are self-seeded, and which were carefully avoided when the lawn was cut the other day.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The trouble with a book that everyone in a book group likes is that it doesn't generate much discussion. That was the situation that we found ourselves in last Friday when we met to talk about Geraldine Brooks "The People of the Book". The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish book of prayer, The People of the Book tells the story of the books existence through glimpses of the lives of those who may have produced it and others who may have rescued it from destruction on a variety of occasions, although these are obviously fictionalised. We don't really know the origins of the people who have handled the book through the ages. The story begins with Hanna Heath conserving the book, an illustrated manuscript dating from the 1480s, under the eyes of UN security, in Sarajevo, after its rescue under shellfire during the Bosnian war by the Muslim librarian. The way the story of the book works backwards through history, by means of the various tiny fragments that Hanna finds aroused our curiosity, and we also found Hanna's own story, set in the present, took the impetus of the novel forward. I found the story fascinating, and it made me consider the "lives" of some of the old books in my possession (none as old as the Haggadah, although some date from the end of the 17th century) but some have signatures ut of previous owners, bits of paper stuck in or just inserted, pencilled comments and the like.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The view from my hotel room overlooking Lake Bala

Just before Easter, I went to Wales to spend a few days near Bala, actually at an hotel which overlooks Lake Bala and has views to the mountains beyond, weather permitting. We were very fortunate, as out of the three full days we were there, the two days we spent walking were both dry for most of the day, especially when we were eating our lunch halfway up a welsh mountain. In my experience, there's nothing more uncomfortable than having to eat a picnic lunch in the wilds in the pouring rain - no shelter, nowhere to sit, and even the sandwiches get wet. The second walk we took gave us a wonderful views towards Snowdonia and perfect weather for walking up a welsh mountain, not too hot, sunny enough to be able to see a good distance and NO RAIN. The food at the place we stayed at was extremely good, better than quite a few French places I've eaten in, so all in all, a very pleasant few days break. We did have one day when the rain was a bit more troublesome, so we did a drive towards Portmadoc, visiting Portmeirion on the way and passing through Harlech with its wonderfully sited castle, ending up at Barmoth and fish and chips for lunch - delicious. We really didn't need the beautifully braised ox-cheek on offer for dinner at the hotel that evening, although that was tasty as well.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Recently read

As I don't seem to have been doing much blogging about what I've read recently, here's a little catch-up. Most of my recent readings were chosen from quick visits to one of my local libraries (surveys have shown that the average time for a reader to visit a public library and choose one or more books is just under ten minutes) I picked up Sandra Howard's Ursula's Story, a follow-on to Glass Houses, which was her first novel. This later book tells the aftermath of Ursula's marriage break-up and divorce from her newspaper-editor husband, and also how Ursula gradually copes with life on her own, and sets about building a new and different life for herself and her two daughters. Ursula has begun a relationship with Julian an antiquarian bookseller and writer, and Ursula's younger daughter works in his bookshop on Saturday mornings. Later, both daughter and lover go missing at the same time, causing a family crisis. There is a lot of emetion in this book and I felt everything was seen through Ursula's eyes, but with little reagard for her daughters or others feelings. A bit tedious in places, although the plot does make you keep turning the pages.
Helen Dunmore always provides a thought provoking read, and I found House of Orphans no exception. Set in Finland in the very early years of the twentieth century, this is the story of Eeva and how her life develops from early years with her politically active parents in Helsinki, a period in an orphange outside the city after her father's death; Thomas, a doctor who regulalrly visits the orphanage takes her into his house as a servant. He is recently widowed after an unhappy marriage and his servants left on the death of his wife. Eventually Thomas realizes that Eeva needs to return to the city and helps her to do that. Eeva finds a flat to share and meets Laurie again, a friend of her childhood. Laurie is sharing a flat with Sacha, who is involved in a plot to assassinate the Russian governor, Finland being a Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire. The plot is exciting, and there are also some beautiful lyrical passages, for instance Thomas in his sauna and Thomas watching Eeva after her sauna; Laurie and Eeva's growing adult relationship and the flat that Eeva shares with Magda, a journalist.
Another couple of recent reads were two of Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club series, featuring Isobel Dalhousie who gently solves a problem or two while often thinking deeply about other matters, such as her young son Charlie and her relationship with Jamie his father and Isobel's lover. I enjoy these stories for their gentle pace, their philosophising and their attitude that life is on the whole good, despite the fact that bad things can and do happen sometimes. The Careful Use of Compliments and The Lost Art of Gratitude are the two most recent books in this series, which I think I prefer to the Mma Ramotswe stories.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

I'd been looking forward to reading Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News since fininshing the previous title, One Good Turn., which I really enjoyed. This latest title about Jackson Brodie and the characters he gets involved with is rather different from the usual crime/mystery/thriller type of read, much more engrossing for me than those, with lots of interesting characters, strange happenings and coincidences. I was fascinated with the young Reggie, a very bright girl from a somewhat deprived background, whose tenacity in following up on events proves extremely helpful, if at times a tad dangerous. I do hope Jackson brodie gets his life sorted out a bit in the next story ( if there is one)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Running around the world

Have recently read Rosie Swale Pope's latest book, Just A Little Run Around The World. Rosie has lived an adventurous life, having sailed round the world with her (first) husband and two children, one of whom was born on the boat, and also sailed single-handed across the Atlantic. She has written books about all her adventures, hence this latest one.
The story begins with death from prostate cancer of her second husband, whom she met when setting out for her solo Atlantic voyage. Rosie decided to run for charities, one for prostate cancer, the other for a Russian orphanage. Her journey started in her home town of Tenby, across to Europe, through Russia and Siberia, then by way of a quick trip to greenland on to Alaska, Canada, the united States and finally home via Iceland, the Faroes, and Scotland. The descriptions of the seemingly unending cold wintry weather she runs through are excellent, and there are a few details of some of the characters she meets on her journey. However, her feelings and emotions are given little attention, not even the terror she must have felt when meeting a very strange man with an axe. Most of the people she does meet are friendly and helpful, perhaps bearing out a comment from Archibishop Desmond Tutu, that there are far more good people in the world than bad. Many helped her when she was in need, others were just friendly, perhaps glad to meet someone from elsewhere in the world, different from their usual neighbours. This is in many ways an inspiring read, although I found the lack of any sort of map a bit irritating.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Spring cleaning

As February is often the start of spring cleaning, I've been reading a couple of lovely books on home- making. The Way We Live: with the things we love, by Stafford Cliff and Giles de Chabaneix ia wonderfully illustrated book on collecting all sorts of artefacts, and shows how to display and use them to best effect. The items chosen have come from all over the world, although they are shown in European settings. An inspirational book.
Thrifty Chic byLiz Bauwens and Alexandra Campbell is probably more in my line, as it shows how to use fabric, paint and so on to create a chic, comfortable home on a limited budget, which I've been doing most of my life, following my mother's example. There are several projects which show how to achieve various items for yourself. Full of inspiring pictures and helful advice.
However, most of the actual cleaning I've been doing is of the very basic, necessary daily sort so far, in house and garden, when I can get out to it in between the bouts of rain.

Romantic reading

I was intrigued by Rafaella Barker's Poppyland, as I haven't read anything by her for some years, and I remember enjoying some of her earlier novels, such as Hens Dancing and Come and Tell Me Some Lies. This story is sub-titled a love story. It develops slowly, but I think is the better for that. The relationship between Grace, a painter and Ryder a marine engineer is first suggested in their brief meeting in Copenhagen at Grace's first exhibition of her work. Five years later, Grace returns to Norfolk to the christening of her sister Lucy's two children, after separating from her lover Jerome, an older, controlling oil executive. Meanwhile Ryder decides to meet up with his long dead sister Bonnie's boyfriend, now a happily married family man. The writing seems to me to be a bit less breathless than some of her earlier writings, and although the coincidence near the end of the story somewhat contrived, still a very pleasant read and not too sentimental for a love story.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Have recently finished Jill Dawson's The Great Lover, a fictionalised story about Rupert Brook's life. Written from the point of view of Nell Golightly and Rupert Brookes , it tells the story of his time at Cambridge and his visit to Tahiti. The story begins with the aged Nell receiving a letter from Tahiti, and remembering her early life as a bee-keeper and maid at the Orchard in Grantchester when Rupert comes to stay, and goes on to describe her relationship with him as it slowly develops. We also learn of Rupert's life and emotional turmoil as he struggles to become a poet and writer. A well-crafted story, it drew me in to its life and the lives of the main characters. Nell's family background in the fens is well-described, and the hardships undergone by the younger sister and brothers she leaves behind but still supports are contrasted with the well-ordered life of the inn in which she works in Grantchester.Although Nell has to work hard, nevertheless she has more in the way of comfort than at her old home.Rupert's background as the son of a public school's housemaster's son is also well delineated, and beautifully compared with the life he discovers in Tahiti.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thank goodness January is over, it seems to have been too long and miserable. Not helped by a fall on the icy pavements which left me with an aching wrist and knee, although nothing broken, swiftly followed by a nasty cold which has only just about gone. Anyway, today I noticed a small clump of snowdrops in the front garden and some daffodils poking up through the grass in the front lawn, so spring is quietly springing underneath the chilly earth.

Reading a variety of books has helped pass the gloomy days. Kate Morton has published two novels (so far) and as it happened each was chosen for the two reading groups to which I belong. Last Friday's group discussed The Forgotten Garden, a story set in Australia and England, the main themes being identity and discovering the past.The discussion found that some of the events in the book were a bit too convenient, but most enjoyed it in a good holiday read sort of way. I found it fairly absorbing, a good page-turner in that I cared enough about the main characters enough to want to know what happened to them, although some of the more minor characters were a bit two-dimensional. The theme of finding secret after secret within one family was also quite intriguing, even if at times the plot creaked a bit.
The House at Riverton, Kate Morton's earlier work was also quite a good read, in a similar vein to The Forgotten Garden. This story is set in England, starting just before the First World War and is told by Grace who has just started work as a housemaid in Riverton, an Edwardian country house. Grace's story is told in a series of flasbacks, as she reminiscenses from her extreme old age, helped in her recall by a filmmaker who is making a film about the family who lived at Riverton. Again there are some very convenient plot twists and turns, and although Grace and one or two other major characters are well rounded, some others are merely sketches. However I feel that had I not chosen to read these for reading group discussions, I may not have picked them up at all.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

January doings

Our back gardens were transformed on Wednesday by a further snowfall, which made the trees look really pretty, despite the gloomy day. It didn't last long; by early afternoon the thaw had started and the trees and shrubs were dripping. At least the local roads and footpaths will be a bit safer to walk on, as last week they were covered in sheets of ice and very slippery. Lots of my neighbours were also taking photos ,as we don't usually get this much snow here in the south.
As it's now well into January, the first of the Seville oranges are in my local greengrocer, £1.52 a kilo, so I must make marmalade. I found a recipe years ago in my old Kenwood Chef handbook which uses a liquidiser to chop the oranges, so nice and quick to do. I haven't yet found a commercial marmalade that tastes quite as sharp and orangey as my own home-made, though I do buy some from time to time. Tomorrow it will be a cake making day, to help supply the tea after our new parish priest-in-charge is installed.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

December reads

Despite the need to prepare for Christmas, I managed my usual book a week read; December's included Mitch Albom's The Five People you meet in Heaven,Bethan Roberts The Good Plain Cook, Katie Fforde's The Wedding Season and a crime story by M C Beaton, Death of a Macho Man, and one cook book by Norman Tebbit, The Game Cook. All of them borrowed from a local branch library, as I'm a fairly constant user. The Game Cook is a book of recipes for cooking a wide variety of game and came about from a conversation the author had with his butcher, as to why people bought tasteless chicken in supermarkets when they could buy a tasty, completely free-range pheasant for less from the butcher. The recipes look straightforward and hints as what to serve with them are given. There are also delightful mezzotint illustrations of the animals, birds and fish. Certainly a useful book for anyone who has ready access to a variety of game and an encouragement to others to try and be a bit more varied in our diet.

The M C Beaton, Death of a Macho Man is one of a series of crime stories featuring Scots policeman Hamish McBeth. There was a TV series based on these stories some time ago, starring Robert Carlyle as the laid-back police constable. I enjoyed the series, but hadn't read any of the books until now and liked this one as a good page-turner, but a fairly undemanding read.

Katie Fforde's The Wedding Season is a similar type of read, as comforting as a warm bath or cup of hot chocolate. You know deep down that the main female characters will end up happily with the dashing men they spend so much time and energy avoiding throughout the twists and turns of the plot; this one is based on the life of a wedding planner and gives a behind the scenes look at the organisation of weddings large and small.

Bethan Roberts Good Plain Cook was a different read. The story is set in a rural Sussex village, where a wealthy American, her English lover and her daughter have rented a small cottage and hired a local girl as cook. The story presents both points of view, that of Kitty the local girl and also that of Ellen Steinberg, her lover Mr Crane as well as her daughter Geenie's. The story reveals the behaviour of the eccentric and bohemian Ellen, who likes to sunbathe in the nudeand encourages her daughter to do the same, while contrasting it with Kitty's efforts to become thegood plain cook which she claimed to be when she answered the advertisement for the job. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, as it revealed a world of which I was unaware, but interested in. There was sympathy for the predicaments each of the characters found themselves in, even though many were of their own making.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom was a different read. The story of Eddie a maintenance man at a seaside funfair, it tells you about his life, how he arrived in Heaven, the people he meets there and the part each has played in his life. The idea is simple but effective, but I found some parts a bit repetetive and the general use of quite short sentences a bit jarring. There was also for me a feeling that the idea was a bit sentimental. Discussing this with my reading group, was interesting, as most enjoyed the book a bit more than I apparently did, although Idid enjoy it enough to finish it.

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