29 June 2016

Puppies versus Reading Time

Margaret Kennedy Day has come and gone but like a runner determined to finish the crossing line of their first marathon...I will finish The Ladies of Lyndon!

Kip's favourite new toy is our metal measuring spoons - the clatter is ideal because I know where he is.  The smart approach to puppy training is not to let them play with things you don't want them making off with as they grow older.  It all goes out the window when you're desperate for your puppy to fixate on something other than your nose or glasses.  This morning Kip was offered a pot holder from the stove drawer when his other toys became old news.  It bought me twenty blissful minutes to savour a cup of tea before two hours of 'catch me if you can' and cuddling.  We need new pot holders anyway....

Off to read a few more pages before Kip rattles his crate to announce nap time is over.  Busy but very happy!

24 June 2016


We brought Kip home last Saturday and what a week it's been!  He's a lovely puppy and so good about all the changes.  The farm he came from had stunning views of rolling hills without the sounds of cars and trucks whizzing by but he's taking it all in with a wonderful sense of adventure.

Like most puppies Kip plays hard and then drops when he's tired.  It made me smile to see that he flips onto his back when he's spark out - just like Deacon did.

8 June 2016

Bassett by Stella Gibbons

Published in 1934, this novel contains all the hallmarks of a quintessential 'cosy' read.  The stereotypical ingredients are all there...a country house, spinsters, privileged adult children, a village, hired help, and the dreaded neuralgia.  Class distinction is also present as an inappropriate coupling drives one of the storylines.  While reading about Stella Gibbons after finishing this book, it turns out that Bassett is a veiled telling of two painful episodes in Gibbons' personal life.  Finding this out after the fact has made the tearful episodes of one character all the more poignant.  

Miss Hilda Baker has worked in London as a pattern-cutter for twenty-one years and is pondering how to shape her future.  She has inherited a bit of money from a deceased relative - coupled with her ability to save she has accrued £380 and is looking for an investment.  Conveniently, a letter catches her eye in a copy of Town and Country by a woman who is looking for someone interested in sharing the expense of running a boarding house.  

Miss Eleanor Padsoe lives in her ancestral home near Reading University.  It's a modest house, named The Tower, but dwindling finances have led to its looking a bit worse for wear.  Circumstance leads Miss Baker to the decision that she should merge interests with Miss Padsoe, who turns out to be as meek as they come.  Her two servants, a mother and daughter, have been fleecing their employer out of money and food to such an extent that they eventually try to turf Miss Padsoe from her own home..  Being a Londoner, Miss Baker plots the exit of these two conniving swindlers in a farcical scene that made me cheer.  From this day forward the two women decide to wade into a world they are totally unprepared for...

'For Miss Baker could not cook, nor could Miss Padsoe.  They could, it is true, each boil an egg and fry chops (although Miss Padsoe's usually got burnt) but they did not know how to turn out a dish of creamy, well-seasoned mashed potatoes or a fruit tart, or even a nourishing stew.  Miss Baker had lived for nearly thirty years on meals in restaurants or meals cooked at home on two gas rings, and Miss Padsoe being an Edwardian achievement, rather than a late Victorian one, did not think it necessary for a lady to know how to cook.'

Another storyline features the wealthy Shelling family.  The 'c' has been removed from their surname's German spelling.  Most of the time spent at Baines House involves Bell (short for Isabella) and her 'moodily beautiful' brother, George, in their daily flouncing about as they ponder a world outside the bubble of lawn tennis, food, and parties.  George works in a managerial capacity at the family-owned factory but you would barely notice.  Add a very pretty servant with strong political views from a free-thinking family (and a pinch of hormones) and voilà...tears.

On the surface this is a 'gentle' read, but the emotions are so genuine and sincere that I doubt many readers would be left unmoved by several of the characters.  The young women are frustrated by the expectations of their family and tradition.  The burden of responsibility and duty also weighs heavily on the young men.  Someone is bound to be disappointed, while others find peace in situations they never thought possible.  

Something for consideration...this book does contain a few spots of racism that readers may find offensive.  Other than those moments that made me snort with incredulity, this book exceeded my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A while ago, this title came up in discussion on a couple of blogs; some thought that it started off as a very good read but lost some of its shine towards the end.  I disagree!

   'Tot' (Sister of painter Arthur Roy Mitchell) by Harvey Dunn

30 May 2016

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

This post should have been done and dusted before now but a couple of outings made me forget about the laptop for a bit.  A group of us from work went to one of those escape room strategy events on Friday night.  Five of us were chosen for 'Prison Break' and the remaining four went off to try their detective skills with 'Jewel Thief'.  My group was locked in a prison cell to begin deliberating and searching for clues to unlock the cell door and then work on other clues that would unlock the main door.  The temperature on Friday was hovering around 30C so we were all a sweaty mess by the time we finally made it out of the room.  There was one clue right at the end that was so frustrating, and yet should have been so obvious - if only we could rewind that moment.  The downside is that there's so much about the experience you would like to share with friends but that would ruin things for anyone planning to give it a try themselves.  All I can say is that if you get the chance...go!

On Saturday, my husband and I went to see Love and Friendship; the latest Austen adaptation.  It's a guessing game as to how far away from Toronto some of these films will appear so we took the train in and made a day of it.  I've never read Lady Susan so the experience was all the better for the sheer enjoyment of wondering who would end up where and with whom.  The film is shot quite tightly so it's lacking those cinematic English landscapes that made Merchant Ivory films so achingly beautiful.  The trade off with Love and Friendship is that you'll spend more time laughing.  Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin is wonderful at playing the witless aristocrat.  Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan is gorgeous in her sweeping silks but I was thrown every time she flashed her Hollywood veneers.  No one in everyday life has teeth like that now, nevermind the eighteenth century.  At any rate, the film is a terrific respite from the superhero genre crowding the marquee these days and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Moving right along with my thoughts on Good Morning, Midnight...

'Back in Paris for a 'quiet, sane fortnight', Sasha Jensen has just been rescued by a friend from drinking herself to death in a Bloomsbury bed-sitter'.

I find it impossible to resist Bloomsbury as a setting so it was just the hook to reel me in.  And I'm glad, as the atmosphere of 'bare light bulb despair' isn't one I'm normally drawn to.  Told in a first person narrative, the reader is a voyeur into the life of a good woman who has made a series of bad choices.  Obviously Sasha's situation is more complex than that...men who were less than caring, marriage to a selfish and unstable partner and the death of their infant son have almost destroyed her and stripped away any confidence she may have once had.  In fact, Sasha isn't even her real name; she also wishes a drug existed which would make her invisible to people.

When a long-time friend gives Sasha a bit of money to lift her from her state of depression, she returns to Paris, a place where she lived for many years.  The daily routine of looking for cheap food and accommodation, and a place to drink continue, so we can only wonder if there is any hope for this middle-aged woman who thinks of drinking yourself to death as a 'bloodless killing'.

At one point, Sasha is wandering around Paris dressed in one of her last garments carrying any note of prestige.  It's a fur coat but any lustre has long since faded.  A gigolo named René notices Sasha in his sites and begins his pursuit.  Every bad choice, event, circumstance that has come before should have made Sasha run in the opposite direction but René is someone to pretend with.  René is in turns frustrated by the slow pace of his procurement of Sasha's money and intrigued by the complexity of her personality.  Eventually, even he is conflicted about what his next step should be.

It's a testament to sublime writing on the part of Jean Rhys that I kept reading.  And I should say, not just reading but riveted!  This woman drove me crazy at times and yet with every page I continued to root for a happy ending.  I felt sorry for Sasha and her spiraling condition.  The ending made me close the book and just let it lay in my lap for awhile as I mulled it over.  Then I reread the last couple of pages.

A colleague of mine wants to borrow my copy so I'll pass it on but I want it back.  There's so much more to glean from Sasha's story and several ways to interpret her thoughts and actions.  At only 159 pages Good Morning, Midnight would make an excellent book group read and Sasha Jensen is likely to stay with me for a very long time.

Jean Rhys
1890 - 1979