A Few Quick Reviews

I make continual resolves to actually write more book reviews.  I talk about books a lot and mean to write a lot of reviews but frequently I move on to the next book and the review never gets written.  Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts about what I have been reading lately.

The Birthday Boys* was my first book by Beryl Bainbridge. I have heard of her books before but have never come across one. This book about Scott's trip to the south pole is divided into five sections.  Each section is told from a different viewpoint.  It is left up to the reader to mesh the differing perspectives into a complete story. At first, I did not feel particularly involved in the story or in the characters.  It felt a bit as if you had been dumped into the middle of a story and had to feel your way to the beginning.  As the book went on I did become invested in the characters even though I knew how the book would end since it was based on real-life events.

This is not a piece of history that has particularly caught my interest before but since I read this I find myself thinking about the men and what they went through.  I have looked up a bit more information on them.  The circumstances and conditions they put up with in order to take this journey were equal parts horrifying and impressive.  An author who can write a book that sticks with you in this way and causes you to still think about the story long after you finished the book is a good author.  I think I will be reading more of her books.

I was very excited to read Crosstalk* by Connie Willis.  I love her book To Say Nothing of the Dog and also thought The Doomsday Book was very well done.  I enjoyed Blackout and All Clear even though I thought they could use a bit more editing.  I felt the same way about Crosstalk.  It contained Willis' trademark frenetic pace and charming characters but the story could have been told in half the pages.

Briddey has surgery that will allow her to sense her boyfriend, Trent's, emotions. However, something goes wrong and she is actually able to hear other people's thoughts.  She is overwhelmed by the experience and rescued by C.B., the obligatory nerd potential love interest.  They spend a lot of time running around avoiding Trent for various reasons and trying to figure out what caused the telepathy.  Obviously, someone is trying to benefit from it and I am pretty sure you can guess that someone is Trent.

The book sucked me in and I found it charming, but charming on a surface level.  Willis can and has done much better.  My favorite part was when Briddey and C.B. take refuge in a library because books absorb people so much that their inner voices quiet down and are not so overwhelming.  A library as a refuge is lovely on so many levels.  The book did have many references to modern technology and communication, Iphones, tablets, Twitter, etc, which may possibly prevent the book from aging well.

My end feeling was that this would have made a fantastic short story or novella but that there just was not enough there for a full-length novel.

  I found this book in my attic when I was looking for something else.  I have no recollection of buying it or ever reading it.  Do you think my attic is magically spawning books now?  What a wonderful thought.  I probably bought it for the cover.  It is so of its time.

Jennifer Morton is suffering through the post-war years in London.  She feels like life isn't offering her much and that everything is grey and depressing.  Then she inherits some money, takes a trip to Australia, and, of course, falls in love. There are obstacles and life changes and uncertainties but all ends well.  I enjoyed the portrayal of post-war London.  It was not an easy world to live in.  I also have read very few books set in Australia and actually know little about the country and it's settlement beyond the obvious.  It looks like many of Shute's books are set in Australia.  I read a review of A Town Like Alice recently but my library doesn't have a copy.  It did have a few of his other books and I grabbed one.  I can't remember the title right now and since it is upstairs and I am downstairs I think you will just have to live with that uncertainty for now.

Not too long ago I read the Persephone book A London Child of the 1870s.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and have now moved on to the sequel, A London Girl of the 1880s.  It is just as charming and just as enjoyable.  Since she is obviously older in this book her observations are more insightful.  At one point she is talking about the school she is attending and she says;

Not quite so easy to understand was the objection to the teachers having any interests outside their work.  Now it is obvious that no teacher, and no parent, can inspire children if he thinks too much about them; he must have some wider outside interest about which they must be left guessing.

 I love this quote and completely agree with it.  In fact, I could, and probably will, write an entire post based around it.  You have been warned.  I also liked her description of what she says the French call "staircase wit" or what you wish you had said as you go downstairs afterward.  That sums up me and my life right there.

So there you have it, a few of the many books I have been reading lately.  What have you read?  I am always looking for new books in case my magical attic fails me.

*I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration. This in no way affected my opinion of the book or the way in which my review was written.  If I hate it I will tell you.

Growing Up and Letting Go

kids on a gravel road

My son turned sixteen earlier this month.

My son, who not that long ago was sitting on the floor playing with Thomas the Tank Engine, is now old enough to drive.

That is a scary thought.  The kid who frequently doesn't seem completely sure who his body belongs to and where those huge feet came from is old enough to be put in charge of a huge hunk of moving metal and allowed on the road.

Excuse me while I go lie down for a minute.

My son tells us that he thinks getting his license is practical because then he can get a job during shop cycle at school and that will be good work experience.  I listen to my son being practical and reasonable and I nod in agreement, ignore my inner weeping for the loss of my baby, and research learner's permit requirements.  Because that is what parents do.  They help their kids to the edge of the nest and shove them over.  Then they sit on the edge of the nest and hope madly that their kid will find his wings.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes it takes a few shoves off the edge before they get the hang of it.  However, if you don't shove they may never fly.

I have had to learn to back off and let him try his wings.  When he was younger I had to constantly fight the urge to check that he was getting things done, to make sure he was handling situations appropriately.  We live in a world that tells us that the more involved we are in our children's lives the better parents we are.  Of course we want to be close to our kids.  Of course we want to spend time with them but there is such a thing as too much.  We cannot and should not live for and through our children.  They need to live for themselves, make decisions for themselves, even make mistakes for themselves.

I notice this view of constant parent involvement with my daughter's homework.  She is in sixth grade.  I certainly hope that by now she can keep track of her assignments and remember to do them and hand them in on time.  Those are basic skills that should have been learned in the very early grades. This year's teachers seem to have no faith in the kids' ability to do any of that.  They are given an assignment and they have to write it down in their planners, then the assignment is emailed to all parents, then the child comes home and does the homework and has the parent sign the planner confirming it was done.  Then the child returns the homework and planner to school and the planner is signed by the teacher. The teachers still complain that parents are not actively involved in their child's homework.  Honestly?  I don't want to be actively involved in her homework.  I have been there, done that, and have no desire to do it again.  I'll help if she is stuck on a math problem or something but other than that her homework should be her responsibility.

If we don't teach our children to be responsible for the little things and take responsibility when they mess up then how are they going to cope as life goes on and bigger issues face them?  We cannot and should not always be there to maintain a hedge between them and the rest of the world.

It is hard.  I want to go outside and encase our car in a huge roll of bubble wrap just so my son can't be injured.  Do you think that would work?  It might look a bit funny...

It is hard to let go.  It is hard to sit back and watch our children live their lives their way.  It is hard to determine when to provide direction, when to swoop in and help, and when to sit on the edge of the nest and watch.

It is hard, but when they find their wings, when they soar, you feel like you can soar yourself.

Autumn in New England

The roadside stands were piled with golden pumpkins and russet squashes and baskets of red apples so crisp and sweet that they seemed to explode with juice when I bit into them.  I bought apples and a gallon jug of fresh-pressed cider.... The villages are the prettiest, I guess, in the whole nation, neat -and white-painted, and-not counting the motels and tourist courts-unchanged for a hundred years except for traffic and paved streets.  The climate changed quickly to cold and the trees burst into color, the reds and yellows you can't believe. It isn't only color but a glowing, as though the leaves gobbled the light of the autumn sun and then released it slowly.  There's a quality of fire in these colors.

I have been reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck and I came across this quote.  It so perfectly encapsulates autumn in New England.

 My daughter had a half-day of school and we went for a walk through some woods and down by a stream.  It was a new walk for us but one we will probably do again.  It isn't very long but it provides boundless opportunities for clambering down inclines, investigating waterfalls, sitting on boulders, and scuffing through leaves.  In other words, all the perfect autumn woodland activities.

We spent quite a while collecting brightly colored leaves and deciding which ones look best together.  Does anyone else remember ironing leaves between sheets of waxed paper when you were a child?  The paper would stick together with your leaves positioned inside.  You could make all kinds of scenes and color combinations.

I love the sound of running water.  There is something so soothing and peaceful about sitting on a giant boulder and listening to the water cascading over the tiny waterfall just around the bend.  I think my dream house would have a river or a stream nearby.

It is nice to give one of my children a bit of undivided attention.  My daughter had a fun afternoon and so did I.  She also insisted that I include a few photos of her in this post and she is demanding the right to proofread it before I post it.  So here is my daughter.  Her enthusiasm can brighten any day.

Have you ever been to New England?

Book Mail

books stack

I haven't bought very many books lately.  I just looked back and I haven't done one of these posts in two months and today I only have six books to show you.  Six books in two months is a pathetic showing for someone who claims to love books as much as I do.  I really need to up my book buying game for the sake of my blog.

The problem is that my kids keep outgrowing their clothes so all my possible spare cash goes on replacing the barely worn clothes they can no longer fit into.  Please tell me that a 6'1" sixteen-year-old with size thirteen feet will eventually stop growing.  Please.  And my 11-year-old just passed a practically unworn pair of Converse down to me.  To me.  Think about that.  I just got hand-me-down shoes from my own daughter.

I bought a few books anyway.  Just think, I saved myself money because my daughter gave me her outgrown Converse.  Don't examine the logic of that statement too closely just nod approvingly and move on.

First of all, I bought Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers.  I have read it five million times but for some reason I don't own it which is a crime because Pete Wimsey and Harriet Vane make me happy.  It showed up in the mail last week.  I promptly read it and am now in the process of binge reading all the books that involve both of them.  At one point Harriet tells Peter that "If anyone ever marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle."  I do enjoy listening to him talk piffle as well.

I bought a Persephone book, used I must admit, and the sight of its pretty grey cover makes me happy.  I bought Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton.  I recently read The Half-Crown House by the same author and thoroughly enjoyed it so when I saw this on Abebooks for next to nothing I snapped it up.

The View From the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey is the diary of a Yorkshire shop assistant during WWII.  My love of wartime diaries is well documented on this blog and when I read a review of this on From My Mental Library I knew I had to buy it.  My shelves are groaning under the weight of books about life in Britain during the war but I just keep buying more.  I am not sure why I find it so fascinating but I do.  I also have a sneaking wish that I could dress like it was the 1940s.

The next book I also purchased because of a review I read on a blog.  Blog reading has a lot to answer for in my book buying addiction.  Lyn at I Prefer Reading reviewed The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg.  This is also about WWII but it is a totally different perspective.  Christabel Bielenberg married a German lawyer and lived through the war in Germany.  It sounds fascinating and I thought I probably needed a more well-rounded picture of the war.

The last two books are both by A. N. Wilson.  I read and reviewed Victoria:  A Life by the same author and was very interested in รค woman and a time period I had never read that much about previously.  I ended up wanting to know more about what life was like during that time so I bought The Victorians and After the Victorians.  I have a real interest in the minutiae of life during different times.  I am hoping these books will provide that kind of detail.

As a side note, if anyone can tell me how to get those stickers off that Thriftbooks puts on their books I will be eternally grateful.  They either leave a sticky residue behind or they won't come off at all.  It is very annoying.

Have you bought any books recently?

Book Review--My Dear Bessie- A Love Story in Letters

I bought my copy of My Dear Bessie at Daunt Books when I was in London.  Isn't it the prettiest bookshop?  I wish I could go back right now and spend the day browsing and buying too many books.  Then I would go find a cafe and sit drinking tea, eating cake, and dipping in and out of all my new books.  Doesn't that sound like the most perfect day?

My Dear Bessie--A Love Story in Letters is a compilation of the letters Chris Barker and Bessie Moore wrote to each other during World War II.  It is edited by Simon Garfield.  I originally heard about it because excerpts were read from it during Letters Live with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Chris Barker and Louise Brealey playing Bessie Moore.  I am sure you can still find the clips on Youtube.  They are no longer available to play on the BBC.

Reading letters and diaries always feels a bit voyeuristic.  You are reading something that was not originally meant for your eyes.  However, Chris and Bessie's children donated their letters to the Mass Observation Organization so I gave in to my inner nosiness and enjoyed seeing their relationship and personalities develop.

Chris and Bessie were acquainted before he went overseas during the war but they were not involved in a relationship.  He was filling his days by writing letters and one day he wrote to Bessie.  That was the beginning of a love affair that progressed rapidly.  The book is mainly composed of letters from Chris. Many of Bessie's letters got destroyed since Chris had only limited amounts of baggage space.  Several times he expressed the sorrow he felt at having to destroy some of her letters.

I was amazed at just how prolific their letter writing was.  Of course, they did not have the means of communication we do but still, they must have devoted huge amounts of their spare time to letter writing.  The book comprises only a small selection of the letters that survive.  On the 18th of July 1945, Chris mentions just how many letters he has written recently.

I have written 298 letters in all since April 10th; 98 to you, 59 to Mum, 141 to others.  98, the number of this, was the last you got from me last year, I believe.  So we are well up on the numbers this year, though the sooner we can talk to each other rather than write, the better for us both.  Oh, my darling Bessie.

Chris and Bessie's relationship progressed very quickly.  They went from being simply friends to discussing marriage within a few months.  It was enthralling and touching to see how much they came to care about each other with only the letters to tie them together.  When Chris finally got leave they were able to spend some time together.  They found it awkward and a bit difficult but it just brought them closer.

The letters frequently made me chuckle.  Chris could quickly go from talking to Bessie about how much he desired her to how he felt about the socks she was knitting him.  The letters are very much a conversation between two people with all the fits and starts and digressions an actual verbal conversation would have.  Both of them had a way with words and their emotions and personalities come through loud and clear.

If I say or write a thousand times before we meet again,  'I love you,' I want it always to come to you as a fresh, vigorous affirmation of faith, of deep feeling of my need of you, my desire for you.  We are so much strengthened now by our meeting:  I have seen you, your eyes when you looked at me-and I hope you've seen, and will remember, my eyes.  I think I shall have to write to you rather differently from my 1944 items.  I am now too much aware of you, too moved within me by the knowledge of you and the fact that now we are one.  We now do know what we mean to each other.  I think correspondence is going to be more difficult in the light of this and I know (it is wonderful to be so sure) you will forgive me for my faults where they occur. 

 Letter writing is a bit of a lost art these days and I think the world has lost something as a result.  We are all about quick communication and short messages.  These definitely are convenient and do remove some of the stresses of everyday life; Bessie would no longer have to worry for days and weeks at a time about the safety of Chris during war. However, I am a bit enthralled with the thought and care that went into the letters.  The idea of sitting down, putting pen to paper, and really communicating is enticing.  The idea of a love affair that grew from friendship solely by the means of letters is charming.

The book finishes with afterwards by the Barker's son and granddaughter. The letters end when Chris returns home but we want to know more. Were they happy?  What happened next?  The afterwards round out the story and leave the reader with a sense of a satisfying conclusion.

Read My Dear Bessie.  It is a love story in letters and I defy you to read it without falling a bit in love with the writers and a bit in love with the art of letter writing.

Golden Moments


Life just stinks sometimes, doesn't it?  It is full of stress and illness and a bit of exhaustion.  We complain of bad bosses, mounds of laundry, and kids that never pick up their shoes.  We focus on the things we haven't gotten done and the things done too quickly.

We need to focus a bit more on the golden moments.

I sound like a motivational poster, don't I?

Oh well, I stand by it.  As corny as it sounds we need to look for the good to outweigh the bad.  Because the bad just intrudes and takes over sometimes.  So here is my list of golden moments from the last few days starting with the one from last night that made me think of writing this post.  Because everything is fodder for a blog post.  You have been warned.

When you wake up before your alarm and lie there dreading the sound of it going off and then you roll over and realize it is only one in the morning and you still have 5 hours of sleep in front of you.  Is there anything more wonderful in that moment?  I don't think so.

That first sip of a perfectly made cup of tea, ideally taken just after your kids walk out the door for the bus when you know you will have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The hug you get from your teenage son when he forgets he is too old for such things.

Book mail. Self-explanatory, really.  Coming home to new books will brighten any day.  I ordered some books.  They haven't come yet but anticipating book mail is almost as good as receiving it.

Sunsets.  Autumn sunsets are gorgeous.  My daughter and I get very excited about them.

Phone calls from friends you haven't heard from in a while.

Chinese food eaten in a park in the midst of running errands.  Shrimp and chicken with vegetables.  Delicious.

Watching my husband and son watch baseball together.  I don't know why but it melts my heart every time.

Cocoa almonds.  Not quite as good as a chocolate bar but much healthier.

Switching out my summer clothes for my winter ones and finding a shirt I forgot I bought at the end of last season.  Never worn, still with tags on.  New clothes without spending any money recently. That is a happy moment right there.

Getting out my huge afghan that I use all winter. It is kind of ugly but so comfy and cosy.  Now if I can just keep the kids and the cat away from it.  They steal it when I am not looking.

Honestly, I thought the last week was pretty miserable but when I started listing things there were quite a few golden moments.  I am sure there is a life lesson in there if you care to pursue it.

What golden moments have you had lately?

Autumn Days

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  That seems like a bit of a cliche.  I feel like I should be professing my love for pumpkin spice lattes, warm knits, and nights spent curled up by the fire.  I hate to break it to you but  I have never had a pumpkin spice latte in my life and have no intention of starting now.  The warm knits and the fires sound lovely.

The summers suck the life right out of me.  I don't cope well with heat and humidity and all I want to do is stay at home in the air-conditioning.  It isn't a practical solution but it is the one I campaign for every year.  Then September arrives and I come alive.  Everyone around me is complaining about the cold and I am extolling the wonders of cool, crisp mornings.  I love the feel in the air when the world is dry and the skies are a deep blue and the leaves are just starting to turn.  I love the smell of the air once the leaves are on the ground and you can shuffle through them and that musty tang rises up around you.  I love the smell of chrysanthemums and I love the deep colors they come in, orange and burgundy and yellow.  I love the gorgeous sunsets we get at this time of year.  Here is one from the other night.

Autumn is the time to bake; loaves of bread, molasses cookies, apple pie with apples you have picked yourself.  It is the time of hearty soups, mounds of mashed potatoes, and lots of pasta.  Maybe, based on that list, it should be the time of a new exercise routine as well.  Actually, that is fine with me because in the autumn it is possible to exercise without melting into a puddle so you can hike that trail, climb that mountain, or play that sport.  Well, you can play that sport.  I think organized sports are one of life's greatest horrors but that is just me.

This autumn I want to:  sit around the campfire, pick apples, make an apple pie, make a pumpkin pie, use the long evenings to force my kids to play Scrabble again, go to Sturbridge Village, go hiking at the state park nearby, go to the shore on a sunny, brisk day, and sit by the fireplace with a cup of tea and a good book.

I was trying to think of autumn quotes in books and I could only come up with two.  One is the quote that is all over the place this time of year.  Anne Shirley said, "I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."  I agree with her.  The other one is from Persuasion by Jane Austen.  Really, I think there is an appropriate Austen quote for any time or occasion.

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.  

What is your favorite time of year?  Can you think of any more quotes about autumn?