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November 2019




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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

100 Book Reviews

Nov. 17th, 2019


Garden madness

I suppose all gardeners are slightly mad but it seems that when you’re over seventy, you get madder than ever. The temperature first thing this morning was below freezing, but I was determined to plant up some violas I’d bought yesterday. After all, it might pour with rain tomorrow. So, first I got dressed up: hat, hand knitted cowl, enormous fisherman’s socks (had them for years), which will go over my thick hand knitted socks and my jeans. As a result of these sensible precautions, the only parts of me to get cold were my knees.
This trough had geraniums in for the summer. First, I had to pick out a lot of hawthorn berries because I don’t want a little hawthorn forest there. Then top up the compost. Then I jammed in the violas. I expect you’d rather see a photo of me guyed up in my winter gardening outfit but bad luck, here’s the trough.

Now I have something pretty to look at from the window until the daffodils flower (they’re shooting already). I also have a Skimmia and a Sarcocca in pots for winter interest in the same area. If the slugs eat my violas, I’ll be rather cross but they seem to prefer pansies. After I’d put everything away, I noticed another little job to do …

Nov. 16th, 2019


Nature’s unexpected gifts

This cheerful little plant is Bidens. I’d heard Carol Klein say that although most people think it’s an annual, used in pots and baskets, it is actually perennial. The surprise is that this one seeded itself into a pot outside the kitchen door, has been flowering for a while and is still going, in spite of the frosts we’ve had.
Another surprise is an antirrhinum covered in buds. I pulled up the rest ages ago but left that one because it looked so healthily green. Will it flower?

Nov. 12th, 2019


At last! My view is back.

You may recall that a month ago the pruning job in the garden was left unfinished and that I lived with a terrible mess and a frightening amount of bamboo thrashing about in the strong winds. Yesterday was bright and sunny, although with a bitterly cold wind. My gardener turned up with a trailer and ‘Adam who helps me with big jobs’. They set to and have performed wonders. I’m especially pleased with the way the berberis has been pruned into exactly the shape I wanted. Now, when I look out of the windows, I see pretty much what I saw when I moved in; what estate agents are pleased to call ‘an open aspect’.
The photo above was taken at sunrise.
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Nov. 9th, 2019


‘Implacable November weather.’

I’m reading Bleak House for the millionth time and that quote from the wonderful opening paragraph just about sums up today. Early frost, followed by the deluge. I’ve been out and I got very cold and *very* wet. Thank goodness that, unlike in Dickens’ time, we don't have streets full of mud.

Nov. 8th, 2019


A lovely Christmas present for someone

All five of Pamela Brown’s Blue Door books for £7.99 from The Book People. See here. The set includes Maddy Again, which is super-rare and expensive in hardback.
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Oct. 31st, 2019


Some October reading

Yet again, I find myself re-reading books I know I’ll enjoy. In October it was a couple of delightful books by Eva Ibbotson. I’m getting so disillusioned with ‘the modern novel’ that I’m reading more non-fiction. Ben Macintyre never lets me down and I picked Operation Mincemeat when it was a Kindle 99p deal. This is the story of the wartime deception operation better known as The Man Who Never Was, due to the famous book and film of that name. I followed this by re-reading Duff Cooper’s novella Operation Heartbreak, published in 1950. I learned from Macintyre that Cooper’s book was the first public revelation that a dead body, carrying fake documents intended to fool the Germans as to where the invasion of southern Europe would take place, was dropped off the Spanish coast to be discovered. There was a possibility of Cooper being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act but he said that if charged, he would say that he got the information direct from Churchill. His book is nothing like the truth. Most of the story is about an invented dim but honourable professional soldier, whose body was eventually used. The Man Who Never Was was the work of Ewen Montagu, one of the originators of the plan and was more accurate. Plenty of people objected to this, too but the book became a bestseller.

When I found myself (horrors!) with no book waiting to be read. I browsed books I could get free with my Prime membership and borrowed
A Quiet Life in the Country, the Lady Hardcastle Mystery 1 by T E Kinsey. I’m absolutely loving it and now want to read the whole series. If you like what the Americans call ‘cozy mysteries’, this series is for you.

Oct. 30th, 2019


A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier

I wanted to read this book because it was recommended by someone whose judgement I usually trust. I was very disappointed. I read elsewhere that Tracy Chevalier spends six months researching a novel before she starts writing. To my mind, research for a novel (as opposed to non-fiction), should be done and then put away; the information is there to draw on and to prevent errors. In this novel, the research *is* the story. We get a complete guided tour of Winchester cathedral, instructions on how to make a tapestry kneeler for a church and lessons in bell ringing. When Dorothy L Sayers wrote The Nine Tailors (listed here as a source), she did a huge amount of research into bell ringing, really mastered it, yet this erudition never intrudes; it’s just necessary background. A Single Thread is, frankly, dull and at one point I nearly gave up on it.

The biggest problem with the book is the main character, Violet. She’s thirty-eight, her brother and her fiancé have been killed in the First World War and she lives at home with her ghastly mother. At last, she breaks away, taking her typing skills from Southampton to Winchester, where she has a go at making a new life for herself, a life for one of the ‘surplus women’ of the time. I found her not only uninteresting but unbelievable; I just couldn’t see things working out as they did at that period of time. This is a great shame but no matter what I think, the book will probably be a bestseller anyway, on the strength of the author’s name.

A Single Thread was published in September and I read it thanks to NetGalley.

Oct. 28th, 2019


Bizarre statistics

Promoting Indistractable, a new book by Nir Eyal, Bloomsbury Books send me an email containing the following unlikely-sounding ‘facts’.

67% of men and 25% of women would rather electrocute themselves than be alone with their thoughts
(Who did they ask, for goodness sake?)
Every time you get distracted, it takes over 23 minutes on average to regain your focus
(How was this counted?)
Digital detoxes don’t work! Learn how to use technology to keep you focused on your goals
(What exactly is a digital detox? Does it mean keeping off your phone and social media? Easy for me, ha ha.)

I’ve really had enough of self-help books. Sometimes I want to ask these self-appointed gurus: why not give God a try?

Oct. 24th, 2019


Something to look forward to: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

I once swore never to read another novel that I saw as part of the Jane Austen industry. This was because most of them are so bad. I made an exception for Miss Austen and I was glad I did. It’s 1840 and Cassandra Austen, now in her sixties and without her beloved Jane, visits Kintbury, home of the Fowle family, whom she has known for years. The house is being cleared after the death of ‘father’; the work falls on unmarried daughter Isabella. Cassandra feels that she is unwelcome, a useless, interfering old woman and is shocked by Isabella’s inefficiency and her unfortunate lot as a single woman soon to lose her home. Gill Hornby cleverly manages to get in a lot of social comment of this kind without making it too obvious.

Cassandra’s real purpose in travelling to Kintbury is to seek out any letters which Jane may have written to the family and if necessary, to destroy them. It’s well known that Cassandra did destroy many of Jane’s letters but here we are given a reason for her decision: she doesn’t want Jane’s ‘melancholy’ (what we would call depression), to be revealed to future readers. The novel details her search for the letters and her attempts to hide what she is doing from the family and Isabella’s devoted and very nosy maid, Dinah, a wonderful character. These present activities are alternated with flashbacks to the happier days of the Austen family when Jane and the senior Austens were still alive.

I found all this very well written and believable. Cassandra is shown to be both intelligent and occasionally foolish but always brave in the face of the adversity she faced and able to find contentment living alone at Chawton in her last years.

I read this thanks to the publishers and NetGalley; it will be published in January 2020. My favourite Jane Austen spin-off remains My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt. Better still, back to the texts!

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