Hello Spring!

It’s the first day of spring and I was hoping to celebrate with blue skies and plenty of sunshine!  But we had to settle for gray and stormy here… at least the birds seem happy.  But luckily I have a few books on hand that will help me feel like spring has sprung:

Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Gardens
“You could have a bench in a quiet corner and perhaps a sundial to count the sunny, happy hours or a birdbath to invite its useful visitors.” (page 12)
My efforts in the garden are usually limited to a few flowers, but last year I planted some vegetables… with mixed results.  I’m still debating if I’ll give it another shot this year, but in the meantime I do enjoy looking through books like this one.  The introduction says that “It is a book for the beginner who has never turned a spade or watched a seedling sprout.  It is a book for the experienced gardener whose ‘green thumb’ is itching to try an exciting new project.  It is for the lover of herbs who has no more space than a sunny windowsill… or a salad lover with only a small patch of ground beside the kitchen door.  It is for everyone, caught up in this fast-paced world, who will take pleasure in growing something fresh and fragrant and flavorful to enjoy, just moments from picking, at the family table.  Or, by preserving, to stretch out the golden summer throughout the year.”
There is an extra-special touch to this book as well… some beautiful illustrations by Tasha Tudor!

Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Gardens
Published by Universal Publishing and Distributing (1971)

Village Diary by Miss Read
“The return of the flowers and young greenery is a perennial miracle and wonder.  The children have brought treasures from hedge, garden and spinney; and coltsfoot and crocus, violet and viburnum, primrose and pansy deck our classroom, all breathing out a faint but heady perfume of spring-time.” (page 76)
Really any book by Miss Read would have been good for this list, but Village Diary is my favorite so far.  She brings out the joy and beauty of nature in her writing in a way that makes me want to learn more about the flowers and plants in my own surroundings.
“The enchanting follow-up to Village School, Miss Read’s beloved first novel, Village Diary once again transports us to the picturesque English village of Fairacre. Each chapter describes a month in the life of the village school’s headmistress, Miss Read. As the villagers prepare for their country pageant, Fairacre welcomes many newcomers, such as the headstrong Amy, Mr. Mawne (whom the villagers would like to see the reluctant Miss Read marry), and the earnest new infants’ teacher, Miss Jackson.”

Village Diary by Miss Read
Published by Houghton Mifflin (2007)

Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
“It was their color that bowled him over.  There never was such a blue and there never would be.” (page 16)
I seem to be gravitating more to slow, gentle reads lately and this is certainly one of them.  There are quite a few wonderful moments (the part about the wild strawberries is one of my favorites) but I found it a bit sad in parts too.  Time marches steadily through this book and the changes left in its wake are a little hard for Bert  Pinnegar to adjust to.
“Old Herbaceous is a classic British novel of the garden, with a title character as outsized and unforgettable as P. G. Wodehouse’s immortal butler, Jeeves. Born at the dusk of the Victorian era, Bert Pinnegar, an awkward orphan child with one leg a tad longer than the other, rises from inauspicious schoolboy days spent picking wildflowers and dodging angry farmers to become the legendary head gardener “Old Herbaceous,” the most esteemed flower-show judge in the county and a famed horticultural wizard capable of producing dazzling April strawberries from the greenhouse and the exact morning glories his Lady spies on the French Riviera, “so blue, so blue it positively hurts.” Sprinkled with nuggets of gardening wisdom, Old Herbaceous is a witty comic portrait of the most archetypal—and crotchety—head gardener ever to plant a row of bulbs at a British country house.”

Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
Published by Modern Library (2003)

Between The Woods And The Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
“Spring had begun as at a starter’s pistol.  Bird song had broken out in a frenzy, a fever of building had set in, and, overnight, swallows and swifts were skimming everywhere.” (page 20)
This second book in his trilogy opens in Hungary at the beginning of spring.  He can get a bit descriptive at times, going on for a few pages about whatever subject has captured his attention, but it’s one of things I love about his writing.  And like Miss Read, he has a unique way about describing nature.
“When readers begin Patrick Leigh Fermor’s enthralling account of what has been called ‘the longest gap year in history’, they have little idea that even a third of his odyssey will prove so satisfying a read.  But the delights of Between the Woods and the Water, the next third – picking up from the very spot on a bridge crossing the Danube between Slovakia and Hungary where the reader left him – prove more glorious still.  It is a literary masterpiece and satisfying journey in its own right.”

Between The Woods And The Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Published by John Murray (2004)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“Oh! the things which happened in that garden! If you have never had a garden you cannot understand, and if you have had a garden you will know that it would take a whole book to describe all that came to pass there.” (pages 234-235)
Of course, The Secret Garden had to have a place in this list.  My copy, falling apart from years of use, features some more of Tasha Tudor’s illustrations.
“There are few books that have touched so deeply the generations of readers as has Frances Hodgson Burnett’s immortal classic.  Its special magic is best explained by the book itself: ‘It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place anyone could imagine.  The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of roses which were so thick that they matted together… No wonder it’s still, Mary whispered, I am the first person who has spoken in here for ten years.”

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published by Yearling 

Trouble At The Little Village School

trouble-little-village-school-01

I was browsing through the book section of Amazon and I stumbled across The Little Village School by Gervase Phinn. Like so often is the case, it was the cover that caught my eye and from the description it sounded like something I would enjoy.  But what really sealed the deal for me was several of the reviewers were comparing it to Miss Read’s books.  I knew I had to give it a try!  And I am certainly glad I did… I loved it and couldn’t wait to read the next book in the series, Trouble at the Little Village School:

“Elisabeth Devine certainly rocked the boat when she arrived in Barton-in-the-Dale to take over as head teacher of the little primary school. Now it’s a new term, and after winning over the wary locals, she can finally settle in to her role. Or so she thinks . . .
For the school is hit by a brand-new bombshell: it’s to be merged with its arch rival, and Elisabeth has to fight for the headship with Urebank’s ruthless and calculating headmaster. She has her work cut out for her.
But add in some gossip and a helping of scandal, not to mention various newcomers bringing good things and bad to Barton, and that’s not the only trouble that’s brewing in the village.”

I enjoyed this one every bit as much as the first and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Trouble at the Little Village School by Gervase Phinn
Published by Hodder (2013)

The Fairacre Festival

fairacre-festival

We had quite the stormy start to the weekend and the wind howling outside provided the perfect backdrop to Miss Read’s The Fairacre Festival.

“The first day of October brings an unheralded and violent storm, which whips through Fairacre, blowing down trees and telephone poles — and, worst of all, damaging the roof of St. Patrick’s Church. The inhabitants of tiny Fairacre can’t imagine how they will be able to afford the repairs, until Mr. Willett suggests a fundraising festival. Preparations for a food sale, a concert, a school play, and a gigantic Christmas bazaar are soon made — but will they be enough? With her customary humor and grace, Miss Read recounts a story of catastrophe and courage.” 

This is the 6th book, and shortest so far, in her Fairacre series.  It didn’t take long to finish (the storm lasted longer than it did) but I really enjoyed it!  Her writing style is so beautiful and descriptive that it is easy to picture the little village of Fairacre.  I only discovered this series a couple of years ago and it didn’t take long for Miss Read to become my favorite author!

The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read
Published by Houghton Mifflin (2007), 103 pages

January Reading Wrap-Up

Books I’m Currently Reading

egg and spoonEgg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
I’ve just started this one, but so far I am liking it!  It’s full of Russian folklore and history and involves a case of mistaken identity between two girls… one who’s rich and one who’s poor.

 

 

 

Far From The Madding CrowdFar From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s fourth book was originally published in 1874 and tells the story of a shepherd named Gabriel Oak who falls in love with Bathsheba Everdene.

 

 

 

Fading Into The LimelightFading Into The Limelight by Peter Sallis
This is the actor’s autobiography.  He has appeared in a lot of shows over the years but my favorite of his characters is Norman Clegg from Last Of The Summer Wine.

 

 

 

the greatest knight

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
Originally published in 2005, this historical fiction follows the life of William Marshal.

 

 

 

Books Finished In January

listening valleyListening Valley by D.E. Stevenson
Another great book from D.E. Stevenson!  The story starts in the Scottish countryside when Tonia is a child and very much dependent on her older sister.  As the years pass though, and Tonia’s sister gets married and moves away, a friend of the family helps Tonia gain confidence in herself.  A majority of the story takes place during WWII and the events of the war shape the story both in London and back in Scotland.

 

 
summer halfSummer Half  by Angela Thirkell
This is the fifth book in the Barsetshire series. Despite his family’s desire for him to study for the Bar, Colin Keith decides to take a teaching job at Southridge School.  There are a lot of great new characters in this one and some from previous books as well.  The Birketts have a large role in the story and Tony Morland is back!

 

 

quick curtainQuick Curtain by Alan Melville
This detective story from the 1930’s has been republished by the British Library Crime Classics.  While there is a mystery that needs to be solved (the leading man gets shot onstage during the opening night of his show) this is more of satire on the detective genre of the time.  I loved the ending!  It reminds me of a longer, slightly more detailed version of Murder By Death.

 

 
murder undergroundMurder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay
This is another story that’s been republished by British Library Crime Classics.  The wealthy Miss Pongleton is murdered on the stairs leading to an underground station.  There are plenty of suspects… no one seemed to like her very much. The other occupants of the boarding house where she lived start an investigation of their own and a lot of details are thrown around as the suspects try to keep their story straight.

 

 
letter for the kingThe Letter For The King by Tonke Dragt
This was originally published in Amsterdam in 1962 but has since been translated into English.  Tiuri and some other boys are secluded in a chapel the night before they are to become knights.  Tiuri’s vigil is interrupted though when an old man knocks on the door looking for help.  Tiuri agrees to help him and leaves the chapel. An action that puts his chances of becoming a knight in jeopardy but sets him on a journey that could save a kingdom.

 

 
man of some reputeA Man Of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson
This is the first book in the Very English Mystery series.  When a new job takes Hugo Hawksworth to Selchester, it’s arranged that he and his young sister will move into the castle.  They’re not there very long when a skeleton is discovered in an old chapel at the castle.  It’s the body of the Earl who has been missing seven years.  Hugo, with help from his sister and others in Selchester, work to solve the murder.

 

 
village schoolVillage School by Miss Read
This is the first book in the Fairacre series and it’s an absolutely charming story!  Miss Read is a schoolteacher in the English village of Fairacre, a place brimming with intriguing characters.  This story takes you through the school year, and highlights the challenges and joys that each new season can bring.

 

 

Excellent WomenExcellent Women by Barbara Pym
Originally published in 1952, this book is about a spinster in 1950’s England.  Mildred Lathbury has had a quiet, uneventful life until the new neighbors move into her building.  She’s fascinated by them and soon finds herself becoming involved in their lives.