Monthly Archives: January 2013

Quotation of the Day

I am currently reading 2 books.  The first is ‘The Stranger’s Child’ by Alan Hollinghurst, which has been hailed as a masterpiece, but hasn’t wowed me so far (I’m on page 191).  The other is ‘The Importance of being Seven’ from the author of today’s quote, Alexander McCall Smith.  I have turned up rather late to the McCall Smith party, having only read my first of his books during the summer of 2012 when I picked up a copy of ‘Friends, Lovers, Chocolate’, the second in the Isabel Dalhousie series, from a homestay in Ubud, Bali.  Since then I have read more from that series, and also become rather addicted to the 44 Scotland Street series, of which ‘The Importance of Being Seven’ is the 6th novel.  The wonderful thing about not having discovered his greatness earlier is that there are so many of his books left that I have not yet read, so I don’t have the agonising wait for any new material and can still raid the library of his back catalogue.  I will talk more about his work when I write my review of ‘The Importance of Being Seven’, but for now here’s a quote:

Tea

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Book Review: The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

The Debutante Kathleen Tessaro

Escaping from heartache in New York, artist Katie returns to London to stay with her Aunt Rachel, owner of a niche valuation and auctioneer house.  Rachel hopes to help Katie deal with her despondency by asking her to assist employee Paul with the cataloguing of the contents of an old house by the sea.  Paul has his own torment to deal with and is reluctant to share time with a stranger, but despite his protests, he is obliged to do so anyway.

Endsleigh, the house they are sent to, was home during the 1930s to the Blythe sisters, society’s most celebrated debutantes of the time.  One of the sisters, Diana went missing, and it is this mystery that Katie is determined to solve.  The story follows Katie’s efforts to find out more about the sisters and the events that unfolded at Endsleigh all those years ago.  Interspersed with this are letters that were sent by Diana during the 1920s and 30s, which give a glimpse into her life and loves.

I have read one of Kathleen Tessaro’s previous novels, her debut Elegance, and found The Debutante to be just as sumptuous and engaging.  I love a good mystery, and especially one set during one of my favourite eras.  All of the characters, modern and past, were well developed by the author , so I empathised with them and understood the motivations for their actions.  The use of the letters was a brilliant tool, enabling readers to see actions from the point of view of the key players in the past actions, rather than just through the eyes of those looking back.  I read the book in one sitting, because it was a well flowing, easy read, though that is not to suggest that it is in the realms of ‘chick lit’ fluff, because it is certainly classier than that.  The writing was divine, and the conversations in the book were believable.  I also loved the Author’s note at the end of the book where she describes her influences for the story, and how she overcame problems during the writing of it, which gave a great insight into the life of a writer.

Kathleen Tessaro has a new book out in April 2013, which I have added to my ‘to read’ list – The Perfume Collector – and hope it is as enjoyable to read as The Debutante was.

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The Literary Owl rating: 8/10

Read with: a glass of champagne and some jazz playing on the stereo.

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Quotation of the Day

Today’s quote is dedicated to my 6-year-old nephew, who has already caught the reading bug and absolutely loves books.  When I saw him recently and asked him what he was currently reading, he spent a good 5 minutes describing the full story to me – something about a tree and some goblins – and I am just delighted that he already has such a passion and I hope it continues long into adulthood.

Dr Seuss

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Book Review: Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster

Keeping the World away Margaret Forster

Published in 2006, Keeping the World Away is a fictionalised account of a real painting and the women whose lives it touches.  The novel opens with the story of the painter herself, early 20th century artist, Gwen John.  The painting, of a corner of her attic room in Paris, then passes from creative woman to creative woman through the 20th century up to the present day.  The lives of these women are very different, but they all share a desire to find a place of their own that reflects the tranquility of the space they see in the painting.

Before reading this book I confess that I hadn’t heard of Gwen John, but I think this lack of prior knowledge probably enhanced my reading experience because I had no pre-conceived ideas about what her life would be like, and I enjoyed learning about the artist and her painting as the book progressed.

I think the reason that this book caught my eye in the library was the title: as a self-confessed introvert I feel the need at regular intervals to keep the world away and retreat into my own head and my own physical space.  For this reason the book, and some of the characters in particular, really resonated with me.  My husband and I currently live with his parents, and they kindly let me commandeer the rarely used attic space to use as my creative space.  I spend part of most days up here, surrounded by art and craft supplies; books; photos and quotations on the walls.  Up here I can focus, and be creative purely for creativity’s sake.  If anyone wished to know the ‘real me’, I would just show them this room and say “This.  This is me”  One of the quotes that stood out in the book:

“Quickly, she finished the floor and closed the door on the newly clean and tidy hut.  Leaving it, she always felt reluctant, whether she had been working well or not.  It was her place…..Strange, she thought, how a room, and in this case just a makeshift room, could take on an atmosphere.  There was little in it that was purely personal except for her paintings, no belongings or furnishings that reflected her own personality, and yet the hut felt like hers.  It was her.”

This was the first Margaret Forster novel I have read, and I certainly enjoyed reading it enough to want to seek out her other books.  Being partly based on historical fact gave the book an extra interest, and the fictional lives of the characters were believable and moving and will stay with me for some time.  I am also keen to find out more about Gwen John and her art, and think a print of ‘A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris’ would fit well in my own creative attic space.

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The Literary Owl rating: 7.5/10

Read with: a glass of French red wine, in a space of your own.

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Meet my blogging assistant

I am currently typing with one hand due to my assistant sitting on my lap and demanding to be stroked.  I am of course referring to an assistant of the feline variety; meet my beautiful rescue cat, (and fellow book lover), Sebastian:

Sebastian

My husband and I adopted Sebastian in the autumn of 2012 and he is now just over 6 months old.  His last family decided that they didn’t want him anymore after he had to have an eye removed.  We couldn’t believe that people could be so heartless but we are so happy to have him in our lives, and we spoil him with lots of love and cuddles every day.

He is qualified to assist me with this blog because he loves chewing books, playing with bookmarks, rolling pens around on the floor, and typing on my laptop by walking across the keys or sitting on it while I am in the middle of doing anything important.  He may not post anything that makes sense to us humans, but I am sure he has a really important message for his cat brothers and sisters around the world.

iiiiiiiiiiiiihsj from him, and Happy Friday from me.

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Quotation of the Day

Here in central England, winter is currently treating us to snow, ice and below-freezing temperatures, which makes for pretty scenery and cold noses.  I sit here at my desk in the loft wearing 3 layers of clothing, and leeching any available warmth from my snuggie (blanket with sleeves), steaming cup of green tea, and a hot water bottle in my lap.  So I thought a cold themed quote was in order for today.  The picture is one I took a few years ago when in a similarly cold winter even the canal froze.

Emily Dickinson

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Back to blogging

My current 'To read' shelf

After rather a poor effort last year, 2013 will be the year that I give this blog the attention that it deserves.  In my defence, 2012 was not the best time for me to set up this blog, given that halfway through the year I left New Zealand to live a rather nomadic life travelling through Asia before returning to the UK in September to start the unenviable task of looking for a new job.  I did of course read lots of books during this time (just as I of course drank water and breathed oxygen), but didn’t really have the inclination, or the regular internet access required to keep posting.  I am also the worst procrastinator, but I have come to realise that the source of my procrastination is my long-held perfectionism, which keeps me mired in the thinking and analysing stage of projects and away from the just-bloody-do-it part. Without turning this into a self-improvement/new year resolution type of post, lets just say that I am planning to succeed in my endeavors this year, whatever that ‘success’ looks like.  For me initially, success will be actually having something to show for my efforts, rather than a big headache full of ‘why didn’t I just….’ and ‘what a waste of….’

So, expect regular posts, quotes, book reviews and news.  The picture above is my current shelf of books from the library waiting to be read, well from the libraries actually.  For anyone who hasn’t read my about or book reviews sections (and if not, why not?!) I love going to the library, and the vast majority of the books I read come from the library.  I very rarely buy books because I rarely re-read them, I am very thrifty, and because I have moved around the country (and world) so much since my late teens that any possessions just get in the way.  The library I have used for many years in the UK is the Birmingham Central Library.  However, due to a new Library of Birmingham opening later this year (yay!) the current one has closed most of its floors, and has very few books available to borrow compared to usual.  Luckily for me, there is a tiny (living room sized) library just a few doors down from where I live, which for some reason I had never been in until last week.  I have now joined it and have fallen in love because it has a perfect number and range of books that will keep me occupied, and I can order books to go there from other libraries in the county.  I will do a post, or posts, dedicated to libraries at some point, but for now let’s just say that libraries have always been a big part of my life, and long may they continue to be so.

Not shown in the picture, is the book I am currently tackling, which is resting on my bedside table until later.  It is Margaret Forster’s ‘Keeping the World Away’, which I am enjoying so far, and looking forward to snuggling up with it tonight.  My review will be coming up some time in the not so distant future.

Bye for now, and happy reading!

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