31 December 2017

Best of 2017

This is my favourite time of year in the blogsphere.  I love discovering the hits and misses with other readers and how they've measured up against their bookish goals.

Over the years I've discovered that I'm completely useless when it comes to any sort of restrictions on book buying.  A previous pledge to join a guilt-ridden group of people promising to read from their own shelves for one year lasted a mere four days.  My envy of readers who manage to complete a novel every three days...well, it's defeatist, isn't it.  And I've learned to quell my excitement for group read-alongs as they often begin just as I'm thoroughly engrossed in something else.  But at the heart of it all is our shared love of books and the joy of reading, regardless of output or goals. 

So without further ado, the following are my top five reads of 2017 (in no particular order).  Can I cheat and count the whole Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard as outstanding?  Also, a special mention goes to Pure Juliet by Stella Gibbons.

Happy New Year to everyone visiting here!  It was - 24C in my part of Ontario this morning so there will be no celebrating in a little black dress but a bit of port should do quite nicely.

Edit - The Persephone title isn't legible, my apologies....it's Long Live Great Bardfield: the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood.

11 December 2017

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

And so life with the Cazalets continues at Home Place and in various boroughs of London in this second book of the Cazalet Chronicles.  The list of characters has expanded to include a few more extended family members, mercifully introduced in slow drips making it easy to keep everyone connected to the correct family tree.  Marking Time begins during the phoney war, when the build up to the declaration of war seemingly amounts to nothing at all, making citizens question the need for gas masks, evacuation, and sandbagging.  Infrequent sightings of planes flying high over the countryside barely register a thought and so the Cazalets go about their business as usual.

The title perfectly describes the sentiment expressed by some of the characters as common sense dictates that no large scale plans should be made, travel is limited, spending should be kept to a minimum, and making-do is simply matter-of-fact.  Although, as the young girls are sprouting into adolescence they'll require a few new articles of clothing from London.  As the days and weeks roll into months, the boys wonder (and worry) about the possibility of being called upon to enlist.  When bombing raids begin in earnest, the Cazalet men sign up for assignments while Hugh, disabled in the last war, struggles to run the family's lumber business.

My affection for Miss Milliment continues to grow as she plants the seed of higher education with the younger girls.

'I had been meaning to suggest this little plan to Clary's father and your parents but circumstances have made that difficult or impossible in dear Clary's case.  But a university education could do so much to widen the possibilities of a useful and interesting career'.  She peered at Polly through her tiny, thick steel-rimmed spectacles.  'I do not sense very much enthusiasm,' she said, 'but I should so much like you to think about it'.

Having lived a fairly meagre existence, it would be easy for Miss Milliment to view the young girls' privilege with resentment.  But her subtle suggestions regarding further education show the depth of caring she has for her charges.  I absolutely adore her and, in my mind, she's become a bit like Nurse Phyllis Crane from Call the Midwife with her words of comfort and advice.   Although, frustration may lie ahead for Miss Milliment as at least one parent is not at all interested in having a Bluestocking for a daughter.

Without giving away too much, one of the characters is diagnosed with a serious illness.  Elizabeth Jane Howard's skill at writing dialogue for inquisitive children as they question what they observe, but don't understand, is touching and very well done.  Whether intentional or not, I was struck by just how much the children spoke about the mysteries of life, while the adults remained silent and secretive about certain situations. 

Being very much a novel of time and place, my education surrounding life in 1940s England has delightfully increased.  The mention of such things as senna pods sent me straight to google (for regularity) as did Marie biscuits (very like a Rich Tea biscuit) and Volpar Gel (a spermicide).  Tangee lipstick in cyclamen was extremely popular, and you were very lucky if your jumper survived more than a few years due to moths in the cupboard.  It's details such as these, dotted throughout, that make such novels so much more than kitchen dramas; this is social history at its most entertaining.

Under the category of First World Problems I've wondered about turning to Christmas reading for the rest of December, but I just can't tear myself away from the Cazalets.  So it's on to book three....

Woman Knitting by Mavis Blackburn (1923 - 2005)