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I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet. I want to walk up Berkley Square and down Wimpole Street and stand in St. Paul's where John Donne preached and sit on the step Elizabeth sat on when she refused to enter the Tower, and like that. A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they are looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: "Then it's there." 
Helene Hanff wrote that in 84, Charing Cross Road and it is a quote that sums up my love for London in a way I can't really quite explain. Though, to be honest, I am not sure I have been to the England of my dreams until I cross the Atlantic on a ship and take a boat-train into London, preferably while wearing a full-skirted dress, wearing a hat, and carrying matching luggage.  In actuality, I arrived in leggings and an oversized sweater with a backpack on my back and ended up wheeling my suitcase through the Underground after finding out the Heathrow Express wasn't running on Christmas Eve even though we had been sold tickets for it. And then parts of the Underground weren't running because they were working on the lines. It took us a long time to get to our hotel.

london underground

But it didn't matter because we were in London and that was enough to make me happy. The weather wasn't perfect, it was December, but it was still better than the weather at home. Our kids, who were staying with their grandparents, kept telling us about the single digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures they were having which made the days in the 40s seem downright warm. Anyway, I am not sure London really knew it was winter. We walked through the parks and saw things blooming. Imagine, a winter with bits of color still around. In New England, we won't see any possibility of a bloom for months more.

rain spotted rose


winter blooms

It was a quiet week which is what we wanted. We needed a break and some time to rest instead of a vacation where we ran from place to place. There was a lot of sitting in coffee shops and wandering through bookstores. In other words, it was pretty much perfect. I'll write a separate post about my book purchases.

london park

We came home and picked up the kids. They had a good time despite the weather and the cold Celia came down with. We jumped back into everyday life with a vengeance. But we had memories of quiet and peace and time together. I immediately started planning dream trips to Edinburgh and York and London. Always, London.

london kensington

london pretty door

Because London, the London I dream of, is there. The London of literature and history and gardens. The London of crowded Undergrounds trips and quiet parks. The London of cobbled streets and modern buildings. All of it will be waiting for me when I return.

london embankment winter fair

My Favorite Books of 2017

It was -3 F (-19 C) when my daughter went out to the bus this morning. That is just plain ridiculous. And have I ever mentioned that my husband works outside? He called me at lunchtime and, in his slightly understated way, said that yes, he was a bit chilly. They have been instructed to leave their trucks running all the time. He is going to be frozen solid by the time he gets home.

I, however, have one more day at home before I go back to my regular schedule. So, right now the house is filled with the scent of the gingerbread that just came out of the oven and I am surrounded by stacks of books. In other words, life is pretty good. I have the stack of books I am currently reading, the very large stack of books I bought on my vacation in London, and the stack of favorite books from 2017. The living room is being taken over by books which is just the way I like it.

I have mixed feelings about my reading over the last year. It was a rough year in many ways and I have issues with wasting a good book on a bad day. I know that theoretically, a good book can improve a bad day but I find that it just means I don't fully appreciate the good book. Since this year was filled with a lot of not-so-great days my book choices for the year are not as spectacular as I would like. That being said, I highly recommend all these books. They stood out from the many slightly mediocre books I read over the last year. As usual, re-reads are not allowed on this list. I will link to blog posts where I talked about these books but, also as usual, I don't do well at posting straight book reviews so many of these books were never mentioned at all even though they probably deserved blog posts of their own.

I started out the year on a high. Chatterton Square by E.H. Young was a wonderful book. I have read a number of her novels and have enjoyed all of them. This book about the interaction between two families who live on the square might possibly be my favorite. The quiet character development and incisive writing is a joy to read. I loved it so much I actually wrote a blog post about it here.

Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton is a Persephone book so I really don't think I need to say much more about it. Many of us know and love them. It follows the lives of one family from the 1890s through the next 40 years or so. A quiet, domestic novel but so much more as well. I want to pull it off the teetering pile and reread it right now. I do mention it in a post of mini-reviews here.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher was a book I could not stop thinking about and for that reason alone it deserves a place on my list. The story of the Knapp family addresses a lot about society's expectations and the role of women in and out of the home. It was a book ahead of its time and one that is definitely worth reading. I had a lot to say about it here.

Letters From Constance by Mary Hocking is a book I did not write about but I kept meaning to if that counts for anything. Constance and her childhood friend Sheila promise to keep in touch after they leave school and they do so through letters for the next forty or more years. The book only has one half of the correspondence which leaves tantalizing gaps in the reader's knowledge of events. I found it enthralling and it made me determined to read more of Hocking's novels.

Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes is another Persephone book. I absolutely adore her One Fine Day so I was very excited to read this volume of her short stories. I don't think it was quite as strong as some of her others but I loved it and will be reading it again.

Samuel Pepys--The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin was recommended by someone on Instagram after I raved about Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen. I didn't know I was interested in Pepys until I read this. What a fascinating man. I stumbled across a multi-volume set of his diaries right after reading this and was only prevented from buying it by the fact that I couldn't carry it around Boston for the rest of the day. Tomalin does a fantastic job of packing this full of fascinating and very readable information. I have her biography of Charles Dickens waiting on the shelves for me.

On Writing by William Zinsser was originally loaned to me by my dad but I enjoyed it so much I went out and bought my own copy. He makes writing seem so accessible, so doable. This book is full of sticky notes to mark passages I particularly loved which is always a sign of a good book. My post about it is here.

Books about books are some of the best kinds of books. If that is your thing then read Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Her love of books is a joy and you will find yourself nodding in agreement, thoroughly pleased to have met someone who loves books as much as you. My review of it is here.

Nella Last in the 1950s edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson is the last volume of Nella Last's diaries. I read the previous two volumes a number of years ago and I don't know why it took me so long to get around to this volume. I love her voice and have nothing but admiration for her writing. I quote a passage from her diaries here.

The Victorian House by Judith Flanders was an impulse purchase and I am so glad I gave in to that impulse. If you have ever wanted to know what it was like to live during Victorian times then this is the book to read. Questions it never occurred to you to wonder about will be answered. I believe she also wrote a book about the Victorian City and I want to read that soon. I wrote a review of The Victorian House here. 

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff was one of the last books I read in 2017 and it ended the year on a high note. It is yet another Persephone book and it entirely lived up to my expectations. It is the very simple story of the fortnight's holiday the Stevens family takes to the seaside at Bognor every year. To be honest, not much really happens but that is the beauty of the book. He takes ordinary, everyday people and makes them and their joys and worries real. Reading this book felt a bit like peeping through a window at a bygone era but, at the same time, the Stevens family was so alive. Read this. I loved it.

The last book on my list is A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell. I read it on my Kindle so it isn't included in the photo. I know a lot of bloggers read this last year but I only recently got around to it which is surprising since accounts of life in Britain during WWII are a bit of an addiction of mine. This was very well done. I recognized some of the passages as having been quoted in other books about the time period. It was heart-wrenching and well worth reading. I might possibly need to buy a physical copy which is something I tend to do for anything I read on my Kindle and think is particularly good.

So there you have it. My top twelve books of 2017. Have you read any of these? Do any sound like books you would like to read?

"Cool Mom Vibes"

It has been freezing cold and snowy lately. My son has developed the cold of doom that I am convinced is going to take over the house right before we go on vacation and the kids go to their grandparent's house. I have spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to get a doctor's office to perform a simple task. Life is a bit chaotic and stressful.

But I don't care. Why is that?

Because, according to my daughter, I give off "cool mom vibes."

I'll just pause here to let that sink in.

And no, if you were hoping I could tell you how to be cool too, I can't. I never have been cool and never will be. But apparently, last Friday evening while trying on relatively utilitarian ankle boots in a shoe store I achieved cool mom status. I am not sure why or how.

I am reveling in this new-found identity because my daughter is twelve and twelve-year-olds are fickle and easily embarrassed. Next time we appear in public together I am sure I will speak too loudly, walk too slowly, look at the wrong thing in the store, or do something else horrendously uncool.

But for now, at this moment, I give off "cool mom vibes."

I hope you are jealous.