My Seventeen Books

London--book shopping

London is a book shopping paradise.  I bought seventeen books while I was there and I could have easily doubled or tripled that number.  I had to restrain myself to one or two books per bookshop.  Yes, we went to a lot of bookshops.  My husband is a very patient man.

Persephone Books--London

Let's start with the bookshop I absolutely was not going to miss.  Come hell or high water, I was going to Persephone Books.  I love this shop.  The books are pretty, the staff is friendly, and I have never bought  a book there that I didn't like.  Plus, there is a coffee shop conveniently next door for my husband.  This time I bought:

The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.  I am slowly making my way through her books.  I buy one each time.

 Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd.  I read a review of it somewhere.  It sounded funny and is set during WWII.  Just my type of thing.

The Fortnight In September by RC Sherriff. I was having a hard time picking a third book (it is three books for 30 pounds or 12 pounds each, obviously I was going to buy three) when I overheard one of the staff raving about it on the phone with another indecisive customer.  Then, when I went to pay another member of the staff told me it was one of her absolute favorites.  I can't wait to read it.

London Review Bookshop

Another charming bookshop full of books I didn't even know I wanted.  Though, actually, the book I bought here is one I was looking for.  I bought A Notable Woman--The romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield.  I have read all his diary compilations using sources from the Mass Observation Organization and greatly enjoyed them.  Jean Lucey Pratt was quoted extensively in some of his other volumes.  I am looking forward to getting to know her better.

Daunt Books--London

Daunt Books might possibly be the prettiest bookshop I have ever been in.  It is just gorgeous and full of equally amazing books.  I bought My Dear Bessie-- A Love Story In Letters, also edited by Simon Garfield.  I heard excerpts of it read on the BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey playing the parts of Chris and Bessie.  I have wanted to read it ever since.

Waterstones is a chain like Barnes and Noble is here except it puts Barnes and Noble to shame.  I can wander around Barnes and Noble and not find anything I really want to buy.  I think I want to live in Waterstones.  So many books I want, so hard to choose.  I bought The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman.  It is published by Persephone Books and I just did a little Googling and Nicola Beauman is the founder of Persephone Books.  I didn't realize that when I bought it, I just was happy I found an interesting book on the clearance rack for one pound.

Southbank Book Market--London

The Southbank Book Market is under Waterloo Bridge and I love it. There is something about browsing through row after row of books while being able to glance up and see the river and iconic London sites.  It makes my heart happy and somehow epitomizes London to me.  I also love how the noise and commotion of nearby street performers and crowds dies down under the bridge and you just have fellow book lovers meandering up and down the rows, fingers trailing over titles, barely glancing up to dodge around each other.  We went twice because the first time was late in the day and they were breaking down the tables and putting the books away.  I bought:

A Family and a Fortune by Ivy Compton-Burnett.  I have read one other book by her and enjoyed it. Plus, she was mentioned extensively in the diaries of James Lees-Milne that I just read.

Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood.  I absolutely love the Provincial Lady series.  This is a continuation by her daughter.  It could be charming, it could drive me crazy.  We shall see.

A London Girl of the 1880s  and A London Home in the 1890s, both by M.V. Hughes.  The first in this series is published by Persephone.  It was one of the books I kept dithering over in the shop.  When I found these I really wished I had bought it.  I snapped these up anyway and came home and found a copy of the first one online.


This little shop in Hampstead was a bit insane.  It was packed with books and was so crowded with boxes and stacks of books you literally could not walk down some of the aisles.  I am sure there were lots more treasures in there but I could not see them.  I craned my neck and edged my way down as many aisles as I could but eventually had to give up.  I did buy two books- Don't tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford and A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor.  I found the second one on this lovely shelf of orange Penguins.

Penguin books

This bookshelf was right by the door and I saw it from the street.  It is what pulled me in.


The last few books I found at various charity shops that I popped into as we went about our activities for the day.  I like the Oxfam bookshops.  They seem to have such a good selection.  I bought:

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.  I have only read one book by him.  Everyone else on earth seems to have read this.  I thought it was about time I did too.

The Day We Went To War by Terry Charman.  My fascination with the home front during WWII is well documented on this blog.  I was pleased to find this.

The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor.  I automatically buy her books whenever I find one I haven't read.

The House by the Thames and the People Who Lived There by Gillian Tindall.  It tells the history of London through the story of one house that has existed for 450 years.

We That Were Young by Irene Rathbone.  I hadn't heard of this before but it sounded interesting.  It is the semi-autobiographical account of the work of women during the first world war.

There you have the seventeen books I bought in London.  I wish I lived there, not just because I love England but also because I love the book culture there.  I have said before that I am viewed as a bit of an oddity by many because of my love of books. There are not many bookshops near me unless you count Barnes and Noble.  Now, admittedly, I live in a small town in Connecticut and London is a big city but I have lived outside of Chicago as well and I still feel that maybe England has more of a literature-based culture.  I could be wrong but two different conversations I eavesdropped on made this point to me. (Tell me I am not the only one who is entertained by people watching and a bit of eavesdropping.)  The first conversation was when we were coming back from Greenwich on the train.  There was a group of businessmen sitting across from me and they were discussing Shakespeare's tragedies.   In detail.  Not just a passing reference to Hamlet or Macbeth but a detailed discussion of some of his lesser-known, to me, tragedies.  I have never had that happen in the US.  The second conversation was in Daunt Books.  A woman came in looking for a book recommendation.  The bookseller asked what she had enjoyed recently.  She mentioned a Barbara Pym novel.  He immediately recognized it, was able to discuss it with her, and then recommended an Elizabeth Taylor novel.  I am pretty sure that if I go into a bookstore near me neither the customers nor the booksellers are going to know who either of those authors are.  If you mentioned Elizabeth Taylor they would immediately think of the actress.

So, I am curious, wherever you live, do you feel you have people who appreciate and understand books the way you do?  Do you have a lot of exciting bookshops near you?  And have you read any of my seventeen books?

London Calling


I'm home now.


I am back to the real world after a week of book shopping, eating too much cake, and endless walking.  Hopefully, the cake and the walking balanced each other out.  I did buy quite a few books.  Seventeen to be precise.  I will write a blog post about them all if anyone is interested but writing about seventeen books is more than I was up to today.  But oh, the book shopping in London is joyous.


The weather was very nice.  It only rained for one evening though it was cloudy a few days.  It was definitely chilly but that is fine as long as it stays dry.  We spent a lot of time wandering through parks and people watching.  That is some fine entertainment right there.  Does anyone else make up whole scenarios for the people they see?

Fenton House--Hampstead

 I want a walled English garden.  I would take that house too if someone wants to give it to me.


For now I am back to the real world.  It isn't all bad.  I missed my kids and it is great to see them again and have them happy to see us.  Though some of that might be down to the massive amounts of chocolate we brought back with us.  It is the one thing they request.  British chocolate is so much better than American chocolate.  Between my books and the chocolate I am surprised the plane was able to take off.

I'll try to restrain myself from sharing every detail and every photograph from the whole vacation.  It will be hard though.

I'm thinking next time we might need to go to Scotland.  I have always wanted to go to Edinburgh.  Something to dream about.

My Love Affair With England


I am not sure when this love affair began.  As with so many love affairs, I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.  And also as with so many love affairs, I was seduced by words.  It was the words that pulled me in, the words describing a world, lifestyle, and frequently, a time period far removed from my own.  Through those words, I followed along as Lord Peter punted down the river in Oxford with Harriet.  I danced at the assembly in Meryton and watched as Elizabeth was dismissed as negligible by Darcy.  I leaned against a fence beside Lord Emsworth and gloated over his prize pig.  I learned the phrases and manners of Regency England.  I lived through the war years in Barsetshire and reveled in the minutiae of small-town life.  I traveled to a farm in the Yorkshire Dales with James Herriot and watched as a newly delivered lamb clambered to its feet.

And then I started another love affair, a love affair with a man who was almost as obsessed with England as I was.  I think I fell in love with him when I asked him if he liked to read and he said yes and then recommended James Herriot's books.  I might have swooned.  A man who read and who liked some of the same books as me.  Dreams do come true.

When we had been married for a couple of years we went to London on vacation.  It was like having a history book and a novel come to life.  So many things seemed familiar because I had read about them.  It was as if I recognized everything but I just hadn't been there in a while.  It created this strange sense of belonging. I felt like I had gone home to a place I had never been to.  But I had been there before. I had been there in all the books I had read.

Why do some places catch our imagination?  Why do some places feel right when we first arrive?  I don't know the answer, I just know England is that place for me.

I relate to a culture where being private and reserved is acceptable.  I love a culture where drinking innumerable cups of tea a day is normal.  I love a country where 80 degrees is considered a heatwave.  I know England is a country like any other with its problems and problem people.  I know it isn't perfect.  But I also know that in the US I frequently feel slightly out of step with the world around me.   In England I feel like that hesitation in my step, that out of sync rhythm, is gone.

I am sure there is someone reading this and shaking their head and thinking "It is just because she is on vacation.  Life is always better on vacation."  I have been on a lot of vacations and I always play this little game with myself.  Would I live here if I could?  Frequently the answer is no.  It is a fantastic place to vacation but I know I would never want to move there.  With England, the answer is always yes.  I would live there in a heartbeat.

My husband and I are in England right now.  It is our ninth visit together, my husband's tenth.  We go back because it makes us happy, because, at this point, it is familiar.  We will wander through stately homes, admire the gardens, and browse through the book stores.  We will sit in coffee shops, do a little shopping and visit a few museums.  We will enjoy ourselves in our own quiet way.

And then we will come home to our everyday life.  We will come home to kids and bills and work and responsibilities.  We will feel a little homesick for a place we have never lived in.

My love affair will go on.  I was seduced by the words in the beginning and I will still have the words.  I can find the secret garden with Mary Lennox.  I can cope with the vicissitudes of everyday life with the provincial lady.  I can travel down the river with three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog.)

I can do all of this because my love of books and my love of England and my love of a man are inextricably entwined.

A Taste Of A Few Books

I always mean to write book reviews.  I have good intentions.  I read my books with a pad of sticky notes by my side and mark passages with abandon.  Somehow the reviews rarely get written.  If you look back at this blog you can see that I talk about books all the time but I seldom write an actual in-depth review. .

No, that was not leading up to a book review.

What it is leading up to is a collection of some of those passages I have marked with such enthusiasm.  Hopefully, they will give you a taste of the book and satisfy my need to make use of them, all at the same time.  Sometimes I mark things because they resonate with me but sometimes it is just because I like the way they sound.  I have said before that books can be their own kind of music.

I just finished Ancestral Voices by James Lees-Milne.  It is a volume of his diaries and a lot of it was about people and places totally unfamiliar to me but interspersed were some beautiful descriptions and wonderful sentences.  He talks about arriving at the house where

The dove is cooing, the lamps are bright, the toast is thick and the tea steams.

Don't you just want to go there now?  It creates such a picture in my mind. Then there is this observation.

It is sad how many people there are whose natural goodness can only be brought to light by persistent delving beneath an unpromising surface.  so often one has not the time, or energy or circumstance for the operation, and consequently a false impression of a person may remain with one for a lifetime.

Finally, how would you like this to be said of you?

I find after ten minutes talk he is the only person to whom I can say just everything.  His advice on all topics is invariably sound.  His integrity lies deep down, his humour perpetually bubbles on the surface.

Hostages To Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge is a Persephone book and Persephone books always make me happy.  This description of marriage made me laugh.

One was told that love was enough.  Catherine began to suspect that it was a much more secondary business than she had been led to imagine.  You didn't, she decided, start marriage hand in hand, as partners, comrades or any other cheering word which her generation was given to using.  On the contrary, you started at opposite sides of a dense, dark jungle, full of tangled creepers, tree-stumps, dark water-holes, snaky places, tigerish places, and places of sheer bog through which you had to fight your way to a meeting-place.  Or not, as you felt inclined.  

Here is one more.  I really liked this book and am now feeling the urge to pick it up again and read it straight through all over again.

Afterwards they would walk from bookshop to bookshop, and they knew them all, considering the books which, one day, they would buy.  The very look and smell of them was fascinating, their clean wrappers, the exciting reds, the sombre blues and rich browns.  There was a bookshop smell, too--a smell of old settled dust, watered down in layers, printer's ink, and a taint of glue.  They would stand close together, looking in through the window.

England Was An Island Once by Elswyth Thane is her memoirs of England in the years right before the Blitz.  I read it a while ago but just the other day I found a quote I wrote down in the back of my planner.  I must have liked it and written it on the nearest available piece of paper.

There is really nothing so sad as an old happiness.  Sorrow can ease over time, can be overlaid.  But the memory of an old delight, a single sunny hour that will not come the same again, grows sharper with the passing of time.

I started rereading Mansfield Park and then set it aside because I thought it was the perfect book to read on the airplane.  I like something familiar because I find it hard to concentrate on a plane.  Besides, it sounds appropriate to read Jane Austen on my way to England.  Here is one quote I liked though. Fanny is described as being

very happy in observing all that was new, and admiring all that was pretty.  She was not often invited to join in the conversation of others, nor did she desire it. Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions.

 I used to pull all my sticky notes out when I was done with a book but I think I am going to start leaving them.  It will be interesting to compare what makes an impression on me the next time I read the book.

Monday's Bits and Pieces

Woodland walk

When I first sat down to write this I thought that I couldn't come up with too many good things about the last week.  Not that it was bad, just that it was uneventful.  I guess that is true, but there were a few nice things about it in an uneventful kind of way.

The snow from last Monday finally melted.  Did I mention it snowed last Monday?  Probably not.  I was so disgusted I couldn't deal with it.  We got a few inches of wet, sloppy snow.  It was just enough to make the roads treacherous.  Let me remind you that it is April, the time of sunshine, daffodils, and warm breezes.  Snow was just so wrong.  But it is gone now and things are trying to bloom again.  I can see the first haze of yellow on my forsythia bushes.


I went for a walk in the park.  Now, it did start to rain about ten minutes after I got down the path into the woods but it was a walk, I was in the park, and we will focus on the positive. There weren't that many signs of spring.  I was hoping for lots of pretty flowers.  The only ones I saw were a few dandelions.

I ran in to Goodwill the other day just to take a quick look at their books.  I didn't find any books, unfortunately, but I did find a brand new, tags still on, black skirt for $4.99.  It kind of made my day.

Book Mail

Two books I ordered came in the mail.  The Long Weekend is a book I read about on a blog ages ago, meant to order, and never got around to.  I finally did order it and I am looking forward to reading it.  Social history is kind of my thing so I am sure I will like this.  I also got Victoria Four-thirty.  It is another book I read about on a blog and ordered.  To be honest, I don't remember much about it now but I must have thought it was a good idea at the time.  Blog reading is very bad for my book buying budget.  I also ordered a book about Bletchley Park but that hasn't come yet.  I want to visit there when we go on vacation so thought I would read about it first.  I just hope the book comes before I leave. Really, the book about Bletchley Park is the whole reason I ordered any books at all.  Once I order one I have to order a few more.  I seem constitutionally incapable of just ordering a single book.

Finally, the cat was exceptionally cute the other day.  The internet likes pictures of cats so here he is.  His name is Jack.  He doesn't know he is a cat and he doesn't realize the outdoors is real.

Jack the cat

This week is going to be a busy one.  We leave for vacation in a few days.  That means a lot of organizing and packing since not only am I getting ready for us to go to London but I am also getting my kids ready to spend the week at my parents so it is like packing for two separate vacations at once.  Never mind the fact that my kids seem to outgrow their clothes as soon as I mention packing so it ends up being a week of running around trying to find new jeans and that sweatshirt they can't live without. I did get the suitcases out of the attic yesterday so that's progress, right?

I hope your week had some good bits and pieces in it.

What I Am Reading

currently reading

Last week I mentioned that I was stuck in a bit of a rereading rut (which I must admit, I have completely enjoyed.)  This week I am branching out just a little.  I am still doing some rereading but I have added a  few new books into the mix.  That has resulted in me having way too many books going at once but I can live with that.

I am reading Mansfield Park for the millionth time.  I recently read Claire Tomalin's book about Jane Austen and then I read a volume of Jane Austen's letters.  The obvious next step is to reread Jane Austen's books.  I have read them over and over but they never get old.  Every time I feel like I notice some new turn of phrase or detail of the story.  Her books make me happy.  What does not make me happy is the inscription inside this copy.  I picked it up secondhand, like most of my books, and this is the first time I have read this copy.

book inscription

I don't know what the relationship is between Sharon and Greg.  Husband and wife?  Friends?  Boyfriend and Girlfriend?  Who knows.  What I do know is that Sharon should get rid of Greg.  Anyone who puts "B-4"  instead of before and "luv" instead of love deserves to be dumped.  And to write that in the front of a Jane Austen novel just makes me cringe.  I stopped and thought about what I just wrote and no, I don't think I am joking.

children's book

My next reread is Searching for Shona by Margaret J. Anderson. I do like the cover and apparently, my obsession with WWII stories started at a very young age.  I picked this up off the free book rack at the library for my daughter.  I read it when I was about her age.  It is about two girls who are being evacuated from Edinburgh during WWII.  They decide to switch places, each thinking the other's destination is preferable. If I remember correctly they were both going to relatives who had never met them. They think they will easily be able to switch back but it is years before they see each other again.  I found this book quite traumatic when I was young.  At the end of the book, one of the girls denies her true identity and insists on staying with the family of the other girl.  I was very bothered by this.  It offended my sense of the correctness of things for the girl's identities to be confused and for them to be living the "wrong" lives.  It didn't matter that they had good, happy lives.  They were the wrong lives.  I am curious to see how I feel about the ending now as an adult and I am also curious to see how my daughter reacts to it.  I must admit, I debated giving it to my daughter but I thought that any book that made that big an impression on me was a well-done book and I also knew, even at the time, that my reaction to the book was a little extreme.  I am sure a psychologist would have a field day with that.

I just started Ancestral Voices by James Lees-Milne.  The back cover says it "is the first of three volumes of a diary James Lees-Milne kept from 1942 to 1947 when he was employed to inspect historic buildings offered by their eccentric or impecunious owners to the National Trust. Lively, frank, witty sometimes scandalous, it is immensely entertaining reading."  I enjoy reading diaries and that time period is exactly what I like best.  I saw this recommended on a blog somewhere at some point but I can't remember where.

I am also reading Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster.  She is not an author I am familiar with at all but my husband heard an old interview with her on the BBC and told me about it.   He thought she sounded like someone I would like so I am trying one of her books.  This is the fictional diaries of a woman who lived during most of the twentieth century.  She records the "dramas of everyday life in an ordinary family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles in the early decades of the century."  I am about a third of the way through it and am enjoying it.  It is a light and easy read so far even though the events going on in the world at the time are not light and easy.  Maybe that is my complaint.  The diary format, in this case, seems to keep everyone and everything at a distance so I don't feel completely involved in the story.  I'll see what I think as it goes on.

I am also reading a book about photography but that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the books I talk about.  It is very useful though.

So there you have it.  I am going to try to finish up some of these before I pick up anything else.  My old familiar books are still calling me so I don't know how well that will work.  I was just thinking that I hadn't read any Angela Thirkell in a while...

Georgette Heyer and Me

Georgette Heyer

I am still in the midst of a rereading binge. I have (probably temporarily) moved on from Mary Stewart and currently, I am deeply committed to Georgette Heyer.

I remember the first time I read a Georgette Heyer novel.  It was Friday's Child.  I came across it in the library, checked it out, and loved it.  I kind of smuggled into the house, I was about twelve because my mom deeply disapproved of romance novels.  She had no problem with me wandering through the adult section of the library and trying Shakespeare and Dickens and Austen but romance novels were not really acceptable.  My grandmother used to get Good Housekeeping magazine.  Is that even around anymore?  Anyway, in the back, there was always a condensed novel, usually a romance.  My grandmother used to save the magazines for me.  I loved the short stories and condensed novels, my mother didn't.  I can see her point now that I have a ten-year-old.  She probably thought there were better things for me to be reading than sappy romances in a woman's magazine. She was probably right but that didn't stop me from reading them. When I found Georgette Heyer in the library I thought my mom would react to her the same way she reacted to those sappy romance stories.  Hence the sneaking her into the house.  I managed to work my way through quite a few of her novels before my mom came across her at the library, tried her for herself, and loved the books as much as I did.  As a kid, I couldn't really see why she loved these books when she hated the other romances but I can see her point now.  These are witty and charming and well-researched and well-written.  They are not your run-of-the-mill romance novels.  Though I must admit they were a gateway drug to a lot of poorly written Regency romances in my teenage years.  I don't read any and all Regency romances anymore, my taste obviously changed as I grew up, but I still have a deep and abiding love for Georgette Heyer.

Currently, I am reading These Old Shades.  It isn't really one of my favorites but that means I have read it less often and therefore I can't recite the plot point by point.  I think I am going to have to order a copy of Devil's Cub.  It is one of the only Heyers that I don't own and it is connected to this book so obviously, I want to read that too.  Any excuse to buy more books.

You might possibly be wondering which are my favorite Heyers.  Well, so am I. I went over to the bookshelf and started pulling off ones I particularly liked and ended up surrounded by books.  I am just going to pick three that are appealing to me today.

A Civil Contract does not seem to be universally beloved, probably because it is not a typical Heyer love story.  Adam Deveril needs to marry money in order to take care of his family.  He gives up the woman he loves in order to marry plain, prosaic, Jenny.  She brings money to the marriage, he brings social position.  It does end up being a love story, but it is a quiet love instead of a Regency romance type love.  I always enjoy it and Jenny's father makes me laugh out loud.

Cotillion is the story of Kitty Charing.  She will inherit a large fortune if she marries one of her guardian's nephews.  She is beset by willing and unwilling suitors and finally concocts a fake engagement in order to make the object of her affections jealous.  Chaos, drama, and true love ensue.

In The Foundling the Duke of Sale is tired of having every moment of his life and every decision that comes his way overseen by his loving but over-protective uncle.  He finally rebels and decides to vanish from his life and his responsibilities just for a little while with predictably chaotic results.  He runs into blackmailers, kidnappers, a beautiful but silly girl, and yes, of course, true love.  On the way, he discovers just how much he is capable of.

I am having trouble resisting the urge to mention all my favorites.  What about The Unknown Ajax or False Colours or Black Sheep?  I have a sentimental attachment to all of Heyer's novels.  In fact, I went on Goodreads out of curiosity because I wanted to see which of her novels were the most popular.  I ended up getting annoyed with the reviews by people who didn't love any and all of Georgette Heyer's novels.  Slightly unreasonable?  Maybe, but that is just the way it is.

Reading this over I realize that a description of Georgette Heyer's novels does not do them justice.  They have been imitated to such a degree that they sound like clones of themselves. They are not just sappy romance novels.  If you haven't read them, do so now and thank me later.

Meanwhile, I will be sitting on my couch surrounded by piles of Georgette Heyer books, spending a happy evening dipping in and out of my favorite bits.