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 

2015 Favorites

2015 was a pretty good reading year for me.  I ended up reading about 80 books… a big improvement on 2014!  Here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2015:

ivanhoe10.  Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
With the exception of some excerpts in school, this was the first book of Scott’s that I’ve read. I plan on reading more from him next year!

August Folly9.  August Folly by Angela Thirkell
I discovered Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series this year and I love it!  This is the fourth book in the series.

For You Alone8. None But You & For You Alone by Susan Kaye
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel and I enjoyed reading some other books based on it this year.  These two books in the Frederick Wentworth, Captain series retell Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view.

miss buncle married7.  Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
This is the second book in the Miss Buncle series and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first book!

anatomy of evil6.  Anatomy Of Evil by Will Thomas
This is the seventh book in the Barker & Llewelyn series (two private detectives in 19th century London).  In this book they tackle the Jack the Ripper case.

The Demon In The House5. The Demon In The House by Angela Thirkell
This third book in the Barsetshire series is a collection of short stories that focus on Tony Morland.

Miklos Banffy4.  The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy 
They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided follows two cousins, Balint Abady and Laszlo Gyeroffy through the historical events of the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Young Clementina3.  The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson
This is one of the last books I finished this year but it easily became one of my favorites!

Archie In The Crosshairs2. Archie In The Crosshairs by Robert Goldsborough
Rex Stout is my favorite mystery author but Robert Goldsborough has done an excellent job of continuing the Nero Wolfe series.

The Broken Road1. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The long-awaited and much-anticipated final book in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy.  I really looked forward to getting this one but then found I couldn’t read it right away.  I went back and re-read A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water and then I was ready to pick up this one.  It was certainly worth the wait!

What were your favorite books in 2015?

A Time Of Gifts

“I knew it was my last night in Holland and I was astonished how quickly I had crossed it. My heels might have been winged. I was astonished, too, at the impressive, clear beauty of the country and its variety, the amazing light and the sway of its healing and collusive charm. No wonder it had produced so many painters!” (page 29)

I was browsing around Amazon one day a few years ago and I came across a book called A Time Of Gifts. It sounded interesting and it had pretty good reviews so I decided to give it a try.  I am really glad I did because Patrick Leigh Fermor quickly became my favorite author!

a time of gifts

“The scene was beginning to change. My path followed a frozen woodland stream into a region where rushes and waterweed and marsh vegetation and brambles and shrubs were as densely entangled as a primeval forest. Opening on expanses of feathered ice, it was like a mangrove swamp in the Arctic circle. Encased in ice and snow, every twig sparkled. Frost had turned the rushes into palisades of brittle rods and the thickets were loaded with icicles and frozen rainbow-shooting drops.” (page 128)

In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor left London and headed to the Hook of Holland. From there, his goal was to travel to Constantinople… on foot.  A Time Of Gifts covers the first part of his journey and as soon as I started reading it I knew I was going to love it.  The way he describes his experiences – from the people he meets and the places he travels through – is wonderful and he is never short on details. It’s not unusual for several pages to be used to describe an architectural style or the transformation of a certain region’s clothing over the years. “We shall never get to Constantinople like this. I know I ought to be moving on; so does the reader. But I can’t – not for a page or two.” (page 238)

I think my favorite part about Fermor’s writing style is his ability to bring history to life. His knowledge of the history of most of the areas he travels through is outstanding and I find myself jotting down notes about people and places I would like to know more about. “It was an amazing vision. Few stretches of Central Europe have been the theatre for so much history.  Beyond which watershed lay the pass where Hannibal’s elephants had slithered downhill? Only a few miles away, the frontier of the Roman Empire had begun. Deep in those mythical forests that the river reflected for many days’ march, the German tribes, Rome’s Nemesis, had waited for their hour to strike…” (page 80)

About The Book: In 1933 at the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey – to walk to Constantinople. It was to be a momentous experience, and one that would change the course of his life.
A Time Of Gifts is the rich and sparkling account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between The Woods And The Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep, intelligence and observation, the moment in time that it captures is remarkable: he heads through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, the Teutonic and Slav heartlands, the Gothic north, the cockpit of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War and the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, just after Hitler came to power, and down the Danube into the old Balkan and sub-Byzantine realms.
With a ‘lifeline’ allowance of a pound a week, he planned to live ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar’, sleeping in work-houses, monasteries and barns. But a chance introduction in Bavaria led to a counterpointing of this rough existence with leisurely sojourns in castles: one night he would be kept awake by cattle, the next by heavily-embroidered coronets on the linen of a rococo four-poster.
At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, it is also a portrait of a continent already showing signs of the holocaust to come.

Just One More Thing: “There is nothing more absorbing than maps of tribal wanderings. How vaguely and slowly nations float about! Lonely as clouds, overlapping and changing places, they waltz and reverse around each other at a pace so slow as to be almost stationary or work their expanding way across the map as imperceptibly as damp or mildew. What a relief it is when some outside event, with an actual date attached to it, jerks the whole sluggishly creeping osmotic complex into action!” (pages 159-160)

This Edition: Paperback published by John Murray (2004)

Other Books In This Series: Between The Woods And The Water, The Broken Road

You Might Also Like: They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy