Monthly Archives: December 2009

Heading South…


It’s vacation time again and I’m heading south to Savannah, GA to ring in the New Year. Maybe it will be a bit warmer there, this 30 degree business is for the birds. I’ve brought along The Group by Mary McCarthy and Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I have no idea how much reading I will be able to do while exploring this charming Southern town so just in case I’ve also taken along my very first audio book, Her Fearful Symmertry by Audrey Niffenegger for the long drive. I love historical sightseeing, museums, old houses, squares, and the like and it seems that Savannah is filled with those things. Of course I wlll do my best to raid the bookshops.

**photos from Hyatt Regency Savannah**

Container garden update: The balcony plants have been inside nesting for some time now. I’ve dumped all of my flowering annuals and cleaned and stored the pots for next year. I’m already dreaming of the colors and wonders of spring.

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Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

Saplings is the story of a family living in England just before or at the start of World War II. From all outward appearances the family is successful and generally happy. The children are lively and the parents love each other. There is a nanny and a governess to look after the children. When we meet the four children they are enjoying a vacation on the beach. Saplings focuses primarily on the effects of war on children and domestic middle-class life.

The story is billed as a look at the psychological effects that war time can have on a family, particularly on children. I was surprised though that the story didn’t particularly seem to be about the war, sure there were some inconveniences which I suppose that during this time were devastating such as managing rations, nervously anticipating air raids, families being separated from their fathers, and parents choosing to send their children out of London. But what I found to have the most profound effect on the children was their home life separate of the war. Early in the book it is obvious that the children are a bit distanced from their mother, causing some anxiety especially among the youngest girl. At the threat of war the children are sent to live with grandparents in the country or with various relatives. They are often away from each other and from their mother. I could never figure out the exact reason they should not always be with her. Their mother did not fit into the expected social role of a mother. She preferred to enjoy nights out and to lavish her husband with affection. At times it seemed that she viewed the children as little dolls that she could use to entertain herself and then put back after she tired. So, it did not seem that the war was so much to blame for the children’s experiences, the war and accompanying effects just seemed to irritate the unstable mother. I suppose I will never know but I sometimes thought that the children would not have had to suffer as much had their mother chosen to compromise her desires some so that her children could spend time with her and with each other. I also felt that the tone of the book when describing the mother’s decisions was a bit judgmental. This could also be why I struggled with my thoughts on her lackadaisical parenting. I’m still pondering.

I read this a few weeks ago and it has been tumbling around in my thoughts. I enjoyed it, but I found it a bit difficult to write about. It makes me want to read more about domestic life during war. We always study dates, important military men, and battle outcomes but we seldom look at the everyday minutia that occurred at home.

    He wanted to be a family man, bless him. The children were darlings, but she was not a family woman, she was utterly wife, and, if it came to that, a mistress too, and she meant to go on being just those things. It didn’t matter giving in to him occasionally, letting him be all father. When they were alone she would brush that away and have him where she wanted him.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is a Christmas classic that I can’t say I’ve read before. Of course I know the story, I’ve seen cartoons, movies, and stage adaptations, even spoofs on televisions shows. I figured this Christmas would be a good time to read A Christmas Carol. This is also my first Dickens (*gasp*). I’m sure most everyone is familiar with the story: Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich and mean old man who lost his business partner, Jacob Marley, seven years ago. He is bitter about the Christmas season and is rude to everyone who tries to get him to celebrate. On Christmas eve the ghost of Marley appears to Scrooge in an effort to show him what could happen if he continues in his bitter ways. Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits. The spirits take Scrooge through his past, the present, and even let him have a peek at the future. Sometimes seeing things from a different perspective allows us to make changes in our lives.

    ‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew: ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’

A Persephone Christmas Eve Surprise

Just in time for Christmas, I received a package in the mail from the UK. I didn’t even know we got mail on Christmas Eve. Yay! The wonderful package came from Sophie over at An Embarrassment of Frivolities. She is my wonderful Persephone Secret Santa. I saved the package to open on Christmas Day and I’m certainly glad I did. Wrapped in the most lovely bookish Christmas paper was Tea With Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this collection of stories and have had my eye on it so I was very excited to receive it. The wrapping displays a variety of classic Christmas books and is just lovely. I hope you can see it clearly from the pictures. Also in the package were a thoughtful card, bookmark, pen, and pencil from the gorgeous Bodleian Library in Oxford. I have gladly added these all to my bookmark, pen, and pencil collections. And what a good idea to send something local and representative of the city in which your Secret Santa lives.

Thank you Sophie for a most thoughtful gift!

Persephone Secret Santa was organized and hosted by Book Psmith. Check here to see all of the gift giving festivities. I enjoyed it much and hope we can all do it again next year!

My Persephone Secret Santee was Ana at things mean a lot


I must have been good this year

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! As you can see, I have lots of bookish Christmas loot this year and I couldn’t be happier.

  • Alas Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
  • The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
  • Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer
  • The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff
  • A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman
  • The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler
  • The Princess and the Frog, a novelization of Disney’s most recent animated film
  • Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Days of Reading by Marcel Proust

  • Merry Christmas!


    My Virago Secret Santa is…

    Over in the Virago Modern Classics group on LT we are having a very lovely time playing Secret Santa to each other. It’s been fun to watch as folks mail off their packages and well wishes and even more exciting when people receive their gifts and, like me, squeal with joy. I received a package with familiar handwriting on the front and a small cutout of an apple (Virago’s logo) in the return address spot. Inside were two packages wrapped in Santa and Frosty paper with instructions on the front. My wonderful and lovely Secret Santa is Belva (nannybebette). She is such a dear and also included a very thoughtful card. I recognized her handwriting because earlier in the year Belva was kind of enough to send me a copy of The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West which shamefully I have not made time to read. I was very excited to receive The Virago Book of Christmas which includes Christmas and holiday themed stories, poems, and snippets from novels written by women authors. This looks like a great book to cuddle up with during the holidays, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. And, lucky me, I also received a green copy of That Lady by Kate O’Brien. A Kate O’Brien is very fitting as I’ve just finished and enjoyed The Ante-Room.

      Thank you so much dearest Belva, and Merry Christmas!

    My Virago Secret Santee is Astrid (tuppy_glossop) over at The Literary Stew. Thank you Christina and Laura for organizing the exchange!


    Matchless: A Christmas Story by Gregory Maguire

    Matchless: A Christmas Story was originally broadcast on (National Public Radio) NPR and was performed by Maguire, he also illustrates the book.

    According to the inside flap NPR asks a writer to compose a Christmas themed story each year and in 2008 Maguire decided to re-tell Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. I had to refresh my memory on this story. It is a quick tale about a poor girl who is out selling matches to make money for her family. She is unable to sale matches and feels that she can’t return home without money. She sits down and attempts to keep warm by lighting the matches. At each strike of the match she sees wonderful visions including her grandmother who has passed away.

    Maguire takes this story and adds the story of a little boy named Frederik who deeply wants a better life for his mother, a seamtress for the queen, and himself. They are without matches but have at least a bit of supper. Frederick has his own little secret tucked away in the attic. Their lives intertwine with that of the little match girl in a way that provides an uplifting message about hope and spirit. Perfect for Christmas time.

    I am not sure if the Christmas story for this year has aired yet, I’ll have to keep my eye out for it.


    The Ante-Room by Kate O’Brien

    Set in Ireland in 1880 The Ante-Room is an interesting story about a woman torn between her duty as a devout Christian and her love for an inaccessible man. Agnes Mulqueen is a beautiful, bright, unmarried woman who lives with her mother, father, and brother. Her mother is dying of cancer and her brother has syphilis and is thus doomed to a life under his mother’s watchful and protective eye without the hope of marriage. These situations set the dark and weighty tone of the novel.

    Agnes gets news that her sister Rose-Marie is coming for a visit. Agnes misses her sister deeply and is resentful that she has married and moved away. She is immediately excited about the visit but her inner thoughts are just as quickly trampled by the thought that her brother-in-law Vincent may accompany Rose-Marie. Agnes is in love with Vincent though she knows that her love can never go anywhere. In an attempt to refresh her soul, prepare for the visit, and prepare to pray for her mother’s recovery Agnes attends confession. She is immediately relieved but is worried that it may not last.

      She must prepare herself to give that help-for what it might be worth. But for honesty and safety in attempting it she knew that, even at this short notice, she must face and overcome that which against all her will had in the last three months begun again to luxuriate and flower in her spirit. For some reason of fatigue and recklessness, she had allowed her rigorous conscience a little sleep of late, and her forbidden love a space, though small, to move and turn and hurt her.

    The story centers on Agnes of course but also on other couples in the novel, particularly how their outward appearances are shockingly different from their inward feelings and hidden actions. Agnes seems to be the only one that can see those around her from the inside out. Other extreme contrasts are the fine furnishings and adornments throughout the house and on the players as draped against such a gloomy and dark situation. The cover of my copy evokes this gloom and even the photo seems a bit blurred.

    Agnes is an interesting character, she is extremely selfless and is desperate to do what is expected of her, but it seems that expectations in her home and her life are suffocating her. I think the fight between what is morally right by society’s concerns versus intense desire is a common conflict but I don’t think I have ever read a story where the character was so torn and fought so hard to remain true to her beliefs, or rather society’s beliefs. Agnes is resolute and is determined to fight her desires. At confession she urges herself to remain cold and unfeeling.

      Her heart contracted in pain, and simultaneously she thought that this calm which she was enforcing upon agitation was probably very like the calm a murderer would assume. She was going to murder the only thing which could be said to live in her heart.

    I wondered throughout the novel if Agnes’ actions were influenced more by her religion or by her role as a woman in society. If she were to act on her emotions she would be disgraced and her reputation and purity ruined. I don’t think a man would have to worry so heavily about these same issues.


    From the Library

    I always swear I’m going to stop taking out books from the library because I have a ton of my own books to read. But it’s so hard (insert pout) and there I go requesting again 🙂 Here is what has arrived this week and last. I hope I can read them all before they have to go back!

    1. Matchless: A Christmas Story by Gregory Maguire
    2. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
    3. Stand The Storm by Breena Clark
    4. The Group by Mary McCarthy

    Matchless: A Christmas StoryThe Little StrangerStand the Storm: A NovelThe Group