Books · Witterings

Books in 2011

How do you sum up a year of reading? Everyone has their own way of doing it – fiction and non fiction, the best, the worst, the surprising and the disappointing, books of the month, the quarter or in the case of what I think I am going to do basically a bit of everything!

First I need to start back and relook at my list of what I have read and also my monthly round-up posts. I have certainly developed my round-up posts looking back! Everything sort of fits into categories, some in more than one but I am hoping that I have summed my year of reading up in my own way.

Lucinda Riley

New Authors Lucinda Riley & Linda Gillard

2011 I was introduced to two new authors by two very differing means. Lucinda Riley’s first book read in January Hothouse Flower was part of the Richard and Judy Book Club and whilst I do miss seeing any of it on television I do like to see what there choices are as they have introduced me to some great books and authors over the year. In this case it was no exception and Hothouse Flower was a wonderful book, my sort of book. This was followed up by The Girl on the Cliff in October which I can say was even better and I have been very fortunate enough to have had some correspondence with the author and cherish my signed copy of The Girl greatly.

Linda Gillard

Linda Gillard came by electronic means in the first instance. I saw her book House of Silence in April advertised on amazon not long after getting my kindle and when the front cover of a book features a big house I am immediately drawn to finding out some more. So I thought in for a penny as they say and downloaded it and had completed it in 2 days. I was pushed to write to the author and Linda kindly sent me two of her other novels, Emotional Geology which is fantastic and for which anyone who has suffered or knows some suffering with any form of mental illness, then this is a book which must be read. The second Star Gazing is sat on my shelf to read but only because she then brought another ebook out in the form of Untying the Knot and I just had to read it! A wonderful author and one where I hope the publishing industry try to stop fitting people into categories and publish books based on the fact that they are good and not because they fit a particular genre pigeonhole

Cosy Crime

Most months of 2011 have featured some sort of ‘Cosy Crime’ and I have read a many varied of these types of novels. The most well-known to many readers and bloggers no doubt is M.C. Beaton and Agatha Raisin – with a bargain offer for her first ten books and then her second ten I set up and ready to go and slowly making my way through them. A similar offer introduced me to Daisy Dalrymple by Carola Dunn. I have also discovered more in the versions of Joanne Fluke and Maggie Sefton, cosy crime but with a theme, cooking and cookies with the former author, knitting with the latter. Apparently whatever your hobby you can do doubt find a cosy crime to fit the bill. Do check out the website dedicated to cosy (I go with the English spelling) mysteries.

Challenges

I have read many blogs this year who have participated and continue to participate in many reading challenges. It is something that I have been tempted into but not thrown myself into as I know I would get stressed out in what I should be reading and when and getting reviews in. Reading is a obsession pleasure and not a chore. The only sort of challenge I suppose is the Amazon Vine books I receive and the only challenge there is if I want to choose more from following newsletters then I need to have read and reviewed the previous books to be allowed to pick again.

However I did want to participate in some challenges and readalongs in the blog world. The first was the Persephone Weekend and I was introduced to these lovely grey books and some wonderful authors are now on my wish list. Then there was reading Persuasion, which after I have read it wondered why I had not read it and other ‘classics’ a long time ago. I am remarkably unread when it comes to these types of novels.

From this I set myself two little challenges – to read another classic and also to read another Daphne du Maurier having only read Rebecca. I completed Jamaica Inn and know I need to find some more du Maurier off my mum’s shelf. The other classic was brought on by watching the new Jane Eyre film and I am into reading this, and again wondering why I have left these books for so long. My theory – I think you have to be at a certain point in your life when reading some of these books makes perfect sense to you. Being force-fed them at school sometimes puts you off them for a lifetime. If this sounds like you, I say take a dip in the water again and see how you get on.

Through blogging I also got to participate in two Transworld Challenges – The Crime Caper one which introduced me to new crime authors in particular the eccentric Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler. I have now passed this recommendation onto my mum. I hope Transworld carry on this in 2012.

Crime

Cosy or otherwise, crime I realise is a big read of mine at any time I think but certainly in 2011. I ventured into the world of translated fiction with Jo Nesbo reading the first in his Harry Hole series, The Redbreast I hope to read more next year. Allan Bradley and the wonderful Flavia de Luce is a cross between Enid Blyton and Miss Marple I do hope anyone I have introduced her (Flavia) to likes the books as much as me. Agatha Christie came in a different form with Parker Pyne Investigates – a lovely set of short stories that I could read again and again.

Short Stories

With the above mention of Parker Pyne, it leads me into short stories of which I have read in 2011 more than I would have ever thought. Defining a short story is perhaps difficult. Does it have to be a certain page length? Only have certain characters? Whatever the definition I enjoyed and completed all the Miss Marple short stories and have ventured into the odd Poriot one. The best of the year for me was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett – the Queen discovers a mobile library at the back of Buckingham Palace and finds she suddenly likes reading books. Pure genius and the first Bennett I have read, I am going to look out for some more when browsing the bookshop or library.

Children’s Books

As an adult in the past I have somewhat looked on at the children’s books I used to read and wish I could read them again. Well why not? No reason and so I went back to my childhood with Enid Blyton and experienced the correct Famous Five not the sanitised version which took some hunting down and some Roald Dahl with Matilda and George’s Marvellous Medicine and witches galore with The Worst Witch.  I am ending December reading Just Henry by Michelle Magorian, the author of Goodnight Mister Tom it is just delightful reading and I am hooked.

Series

The year has been full of books which are parts of series of books. A lot of them are cosy crime books but there are also the Debbie Macomber books which I read as pure comfort reading and feel like sinking into a comfy sofa to pass a few hours. Series books especially when you know you have many more to read, and that you will probably not catch up with the rate of them being published means you have some guaranteed reading for a long while to come. I wonder if 2012 will introduce me to any new series?

Chick-Lit, Comfort and Chocolate

Having already mentioned comfort reading with Debbie Macomber, there is also the comfort of Chick-Lit that which does not tax the brain so much but touches your heart and soul. Many books did that and Trisha Ashley is one which are always full of tasting sound food, not good when you are trying to avoid such temptations. As for her Chocolate Wishes book, mmm ganache, need I say anymore. I seem to have an affinity with Irish authors and have read and up to date with Sharon Owens novels and I think once Santa has arrived Sinead Moriarty. These books give comfort, just like my favourite chocolates.

History

I comment on many of my round up posts about how many of books have a historical theme within them. A greater part of them is actually the Second World War. I saw some different angles this year with The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet about America and the treatment of Japanese. The Report about a civilian tragedy which happened during the war. Focus sometimes is on what war does but not what happens back home. I did also venture into China, Hong Kong in the nineteenth century with The Secret Mandarin. India at partition in 1947 and 100 years previous at the mutiny with the lovely Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark. I wonder why the Second World War features so much?

Should I have bothered?

I have not given up on any books this year and I am trying to work out which ones I nearly did give up on? The one that stands out immediately is How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. I really felt I had fallen in the trap of reading it because everyone else had – I could have lived quite happily without having read it. I did bother with Kate Morton’s new book The Distant Hours and actually had the hardback version from last year and only just got round to reading it this year. Again, it was rather disappointing and far too long. I hope that her next novel has more punch than that one did. From Notting Hill with Love…Actually was another book which did not live up to its popularity which I had read about but I hear her second novel is much better. Maureen Lee with Martha’s Journey was really disappointing, normally her books are excellent escapism and I have read all of them.

Kindle

2011 was the year I got my kindle thanks to my mum. I have used it to read 31 books this year. Is that good or bad. I think it means that the ebook has not taken over my life and I have abandoned real actual books. It means that I can exist with both quite happily. I have bought books on there that have cost me very little but I have enjoyed immensely and also some that I would not have read if it was not for the kindle. There is plenty lined up on my kindle and also the fabulous way of sampling books means that I can still try them out and if they are cheaper in a bookshop/online/charity shop then so be it.

There is my year of reading, many books have gone unmentioned, some I could wax quite lyrical about. And as of this post being published I am still reading, so will be doing a December round-up post as normal. The links take you to my review of the book, where I have just mentioned the author I have not linked to any particular review but please feel free to search the blog for the author.

How have you summed up the year in reading? Can you actually pick a top five, ten or twenty? Or like me do you just want to mention them all in some way or another!

I am not sure what sort of reading I want for 2012 and will perhaps reflect that in the early days of the new year.

Books

Recently Procured

A small use of my thesaurus and Recent Acquisitions becomes Recently Procured!

A day off from work brought about a chance to go and poke about in some charity shops which are in the vicinity of the butchers who supply me with my fat-free burgers and sausages! And you cannot go poking about without buying one or two.

Debbie Macomber – Old Boyfriends Part of The Blossom Street Series previously released as Susannah’s Garden

Lucy Cavendish – Samantha Symthe’s Modern Family Journal The first book in the trilogy. I have already read the final book and was suitably impressed.

Debbie Macomber – A Good Yarn Again part of The Blossom Street Series, just need to make sure I read them in the correct order.

M.C. Beaton – Death of a Maid A Hamish Macbeth Mystery from the creator of Agatha Raisin. Book 22 in the series, but I just wanted to see what they were like having watched the television series back in 1995!

Carola Dunn – Requiem for a Mezzo The third book in the Daisy Dalyrmple series. Cosy Mysteries! I have not read the second but I am sure either that will not be a problem or by the time I get to reading this one, I may have located and read the second!

Griff Rhys Jones – Semi-Detached Autobiographical book and one for some reason I have missed and I do enjoy listening to Griff.

Very top of the pile is a Persephone Classic Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski book I won recently whilst taking part in Persephone Weekend.

Standing up on the side is Michael Caine – The Elephant to Hollywood A Christmas present for my dad which he has now read and enjoyed (always a bonus) and has passed onto me to read!

Behind this pile of books, you can see my book shelf with books spilling off to the side and also some of my cross stitch made into cushions which ‘pose’ all round my flat.

Now to get on with some reading!

Books · Witterings

February Roundup

Not that we should be wishing our lives away, but I am here again looking back at what I read in February. 8 books in total, not bad all things considered.

February has definitely been about going back to childhood books and that is why I waxed fairly lyrical about Enid Blyton’s Five on Treasure Island and the changes that have been made to it, to make it more appealing to a younger audience now and also so no one was offended by words such as queer and bathing suits and jerseys or if anything not understand them. February discovered a previously unknown and unpublished book by Enid Blyton, Mr Tumpy’s Caravan. I will be interested to see if it gets published and in what format – its original or a sanitised Blyton version.

I also picked up Roald Dahl again in the shape of Matilda – the girl who devoured books. I know how she feels, though sadly I did not and do not have the capacity in my brain to make glasses tip over and write words with chalk on blackboards (hang on did I just offend someone then?) My brain capacity is filled with dealing with some rather arrogant and unctuous human beings at work who have no respect for me but expect because of their position, for me to automatically have it for them. Enough said!

Lou Mayer c.1920 Postcard Satirising the Life of Single Women

I sought comfort in February from reading in the shape of Alexander McCall Smith and the lovely Precious Ramotswe the No 1 Ladies Detective; finishing book 9. Book 10 is on my self waiting to be read. Trisha Ashley’s Chocolate Wishes was pure indulgence and led me to make chocolate ganache which also led me to eat it all and when I got on the scales the following Tuesday, well I had stayed the same. Phew! I will not be repeating that particular cooking delight for a little while. But I know they would go so well with Nigel Slater’s Cookies that I made before Christmas.

I managed to fit in some crime in the shape of Carola Dunn and her first Daisy Dalrymple story; a cosy mystery and plenty of them to catch up with. Then onto Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler as part of the The Great Transworld Crime Caper. The next book in the three I chose arrived Friday and should be one of the first for March. I rounded February off with another cosy M.C.Beaton, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. (Review to follow).

February saw me taking part for the first time in the Persephone Reading Weekend hosted by Claire and Verity. I had ordered my first Persephone book a few weeks previous The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher so I was ready for this weekend. I did start reading it some days previous so I was fully prepared especially as I was unsure how I was going to get on with it. A book where I disliked the characters but enjoyed the book. I will be seeking out some more of these in the future.

February has been about childhood, crime, comfort and chocolate! I wonder what March will be about?

Books

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

I read The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, my first Persephone book for the Persephone Reading Weekend hosted by Verity and Claire.  But what of the author I chose to read?

Dorothy Canfield Fisher was born on 17 February 1879 and died 9 November 1958. She was an educational reformer, social activist, and best-selling American author in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book I read The Home-Maker was published in 1924. Her best known work is Understood Betsy a children’s book about a little orphaned girl this is probably why there is a children’s book award named after her.

Despite being fluent in 5 languages, writing novels and short stories, educational works and criticism of literature. She followed her husband to France in 1916 and helped blinded soldiers and established a convalescent homes for refugee children.  Her son was one of the two fatalities from the raid to free POWs imprisoned in Philippines. She never wrote anything else after her son died.

She brought the Montessori Method of child rearing to America. Now this is an area which I have no knowledge what so ever, that of child rearing although that makes it sound like something that is done on a farm. Searching to find what the best way to explain this method, I eventually found this explanation

The Montessori Method is a way about thinking about who children are. It is a philosophy that respects the unique individuality of each child. Dr. Montessori believed in the worthiness, value and importance of children. Her method does not compare a child  to norms or standards that are measured by traditional educational systems. It is founded on the belief that children should be free to succeed and learn without restriction or criticism.

A lady who achieved very much in her lifetime and has left us a legacy with her books which to me in having just read only the one is relevant today as it was published in 1924.

I am going to finish this post with a quote by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

If we would only give, just once, the same amount of reflection to what we want to get out of life that we give to the question of what to do with a two weeks’ vacation, we would be startled at our false standards and the aimless procession of our busy days.

How true?

Books

The Home-Maker – Dorothy Canfield Fisher

End paper of The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

This is the story of Lester and Eva Knapp, married with 3 children, Helen, Henry and Stephen who are trying to live a life by the correct domestic conformity and live in a perfect world. However everything is not perfect in this domestic setting and Dorothy Canfield Fisher constructs a story where everything that is held to be the correct way is challenged.

Eva is the perfect housewife (home -maker) she works from the moment she gets up to the moment she closes her eyes ensuring that everything is clean beyond perfection. That her children are clean, polite, controlled and her husband has a meal every day when he comes home from work after having a breakfast to send him on his way in the morning. To outsiders Eva is conforming, to Eva she is fighting a battle with all things domestic and motherly and this strive for perfection is affecting her children and her husband. To me it came across as Eva was sanitising life for everyone including herself.


Lester is a small cog in a machine and an insignificant one at that. In a job which he despises, this brings in little money and where he is not liked. His days are spent dreaming of the literature he loves and misses from giving up university to marry young. His nights are dreary and he wishes in simple terms that he was not on this earth.

Then everything an accident changes and roles are reversed. Eva now becomes a cog in a machine working at the local Emporium where Lester had previously been made redundant from. Eva suddenly finds her niche and that small cog becomes a much larger one and suddenly she feels she has a purpose and a belonging and achieving something. Lester on the other hand has to face up to his lengthy disability, with that becomes an epiphany moment when he becomes the home-maker. All of sudden, everything is not so clean, the children are allowed to run free uncontrolled and share in the love that their father obviously has the capacity to give. All of a sudden the stage where Eva worked before becomes a home.

They all learn together to adjust to their new circumstances and also those around her from her days when she was an important part of the Ladies Guild have to learn to adjust. They have to see Lester darning socks, making cookies and nurturing the children.

I actually did not like the characters of Eva and Lester, slightly oxymoronic perhaps considering I feel the book is excellent. Eva frustrated me in her seek of perfection and her condescending attitude towards her husband. And although I admit she did change in character slightly in the book, I still felt she had no real warmth for being a mother let along being a home-maker.


Lester is rather insipid. Before and after the accident. His only strength was he recognised something in developing his children and they blossomed into characters and personalities without being forced down a particular route. Canfield Fisher skill of creating these characters is excellent and that is why I enjoyed the book. It made you think about how life can be conducted and that perhaps fitting into stereotypes is not the path to happiness whether you are young or old. It is about finding your own path and creating your own individual stereotype.

This book resonates on many levels for me. Interestingly enough it has no time line, or place in an age gone past. Your only clue, other than the fact that it is set in America is perhaps the language that characters use. Its publication of 1924 would probably be right in its setting. However, this book is as relevant some 87 years later. You could say much has changed and that women are frequently seen in the workplace as well as still being seen as an important role model at home. There are an increasing number of male home-makers (house-husbands)but they are still the minority and considered something of a novelty. We all have ideals on who should fit into what role and how they should behave in it. Would reading this book in another 87 years time show that it is still as relevant then as it is today and all years previous since its publication?

The Home-Maker Dorothy Canfield Fisher Persephone Book No 7

 

This is the first Persephone book I have read. I picked it up with some trepidation and I did enjoy it and I hope my review does it justice. There were some elements of the book which were lost on me and I found it rather difficult to relate to being a parent. I am not. However I can relate to keeping everything clean and tidy and doing all the home-making stuff that this encompasses. The book made me aware of how I sometimes can strive for perfection in keeping everything clean, sometimes too clean and is something which my mum pulls me up on now and again and reminds me that life is too short to worry about a bit of dust.

One thing I have not done, and I am going back to do now I have read the book is read the preface by  Karen Knox and I think this will tie everything in nicely for me experiencing this book and more importantly discovering an author I would not have dared pick up otherwise. Therefore I will be posting about the author tomorrow.

Thank you to Verity and Claire for hosting this weekend. I am enjoying discovering other blogs and more importantly other books!