Sunday Bulletin – June 23

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On my second day in Manchester we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, another place that had been on my “want to see” list since my last trip to England. It is in a busy residential area of Manchester with houses and apartments and a big park with basketball courts surrounding the pretty Victorian dwelling. Despite the encroachment of the modern world, once you step into the house, you step back in time into a comfortable, high ceilinged-friendly space that is a good representation of what the house would have been like when Gaskell, her husband and four daughters lived there in the nineteenth century.

I really enjoyed my visit to this house where Mrs. Gaskell wrote most of her novels and stories and where she entertained many friends including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and John Ruskin. It is a very “go at your own pace” type of museum where no one hassles you or bombards you with information. I felt more like one of Gaskell’s welcomed friends than a tourist. And there is a lovely tearoom and second-hand bookshop in the basement. I had a cup of tea and a delicious slice of pear tart while deciding which gifts and books to buy. If you are a fan of Gaskell or of Victorian fiction this is a great place to visit if you are in Manchester.

Here are a few more photos:

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Books finished this week: 

Only one! I finished the very short Let Us Now Praise Famous Gardens by Vita-Sackville West which is a monthly compilation of some of the gardening articles she wrote for The Observer newspaper in the forties and fifties. As I am now obsessed with gardens after my visit to England I devoured her advice and tips though I can’t grow any of the plants she mentions or even really go outside right now without getting heatstroke!

Have a great week!

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Sunday Bulletin – June 9

IMG_0941.JPGHello! How was your week? It was a busy one for me as I spent it preparing for my Sizzlin’ Summer Reads program at the library, which took place yesterday. We got 40 people – our biggest crowd yet! We had planned for 15 so I had to re-print my handout several times and we ran out of refreshments. It was heartening to have so many library patrons eager to hear about our summer recommendations (which I will share with you later) and to chat about books to each other. It was worth the hard work.

The above photo is of one of the places I visited in England, Biddulph Grange Garden in Stoke. When I was in London in 2014 I stayed up late one night not able to sleep and watched a program called “British Gardens in Time” on TV. Biddulph Grange was the garden featured on the program that evening and I knew that I needed to go someday as it looked so beautiful and peaceful. It wasn’t realistic on that trip, but since Stoke is only about an hour from Manchester I was able to realize my dream when I was there in May.  And it exceeded expectations! It is such a varied, rambling, yet well-planned Victorian garden. There are different areas of the garden: the Italian garden, the Chinese garden, the Pinetum, Lime Walk, Woodland Walk, etc. It is really like seeing several gardens in one. The weather the day we went was cool and refreshing and there weren’t many visitors. It was so calming and restorative. It was the height of tulip season when I was there so I saw lots of different varieties and was also able to see bluebells and wisteria. Absolute heaven!

Here are a few more photos of Biddulph Grange:

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Books finished this week:

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield – I read this really quickly over the first part of the week as I had to lead a discussion on it in one of the library’s book clubs. At first, I wasn’t enjoying it because it seemed too slow, too whimsical. But as I continued on I really grew to love it. Setterfield keeps the story moving and flowing like the river that is central to the novel and all of the secondary stories end up making sense as a whole. The characters were good-hearted (for the most part) and I loved the contrast of the modern concepts such as photography and evolution against the superstitions surrounding the river. All in all, this is a beautifully told and well-written old-fashioned story.

What did you read this week?

 

Sunday Bulletin – June 2

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Hello all! How have you been? It’s been three months since I posted here and I have no good excuse for my absence. Life just got in the way.

I did go to the UK for two weeks the first part of May and it was heavenly. Everything was so green and shining and the tulips, wisteria and bluebells were blooming in every garden I went to. I stayed in Manchester this trip and adventured around Northwest England, which I absolutely loved. It is gloriously beautiful and the people are so friendly and genuine. I visited some literary locations (Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the Bronte Parsonage) –  I’d love to share my impressions with you so I will plan some travelogue posts in the coming weeks.

This week I’ll be furiously preparing for the Sizzlin’ Summer Reads program I do at my library every year where I recommend my summer picks to library patrons. I’m really behind in making my PowerPoint, creating my handout and writing my blurbs so wish me luck getting it all done before Saturday!

Books finished this week:

Circe by Madeline Miller – I flew through this lyrical retelling of the story of Circe, a witch in Greek legend, who was apparently a “minor” goddess. Miller takes her scant story and turns it into a fierce tale of a woman living life on her own terms. I really enjoyed this take on a character from mythology who I didn’t know much about (not that I know much about mythology in general) just as much as I enjoyed The Song of Achilles, her debut novel.

This is the second book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize Shortlist – have you read any from the list? Any predictions on which book will win the prize this Wednesday?

Have a fantastic week!

Sunday Bulletin – March 3

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Hello! It’s been a beautifully sunny week here, with warm, bright sunshine, joyous birdsong and a gentle breeze. As much as I love the fall, March in Phoenix is the most beautiful time of the year. By April it will be blazing hot and uncomfortable so I am going to enjoy the loveliness while I can.

As I was typing this the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced. I always love seeing which books make this list and one day I will have time to read them all before it is whittled down to a short list. Not this year, though… I’ve got to start my reading for the summer book buzz program I’m presenting in June for work. I have already read three books from the list, though: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, Normal People by Sally Rooney and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (see my less than favorable thoughts below).

Books finished this week:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – I struggled to finish this love story/fantasy/social justice novel, but I ultimately really liked it. Hamid’s writing style is odd – completely unembellished with sentence structures that sometimes reminded me of the Old Testament. But once I got the hang of his writing style, I thought the story was very beautiful. We’re discussing this tomorrow at the first of the two book clubs I facilitate at the library.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This is the second book club book I read this month. I’m sad to say that this novel was a disappointment to me. I thought it was slow, boring and the characters were utterly unsympathetic. I love reading novels where nothing really happens as much as the next reader does, but this was too steeped in misery and enjoyed wallowing in it that I had a hard time caring after a while. I’m sorry, Oprah – this was a miss for me. It will be interesting to see if it is chosen for the Women’s Prize short list.

Do you plan to read any books from the Women’s Prize longlist? Have a great week!

Sunday Bulletin – February 24

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Hello, how have you been? I’m sorry I missed posting last Sunday, but I was feeling under the weather. I’m sure you really missed me, haha.

This week has been full of dramatic weather here in the desert. It rained all day Thursday and Friday and was unusually cold. Some parts of the Phoenix area even had snow! It was so nice to have real February temperatures, but we are on track to have warm days going into March.

Books finished in the past two weeks:

A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam – I absolutely adored this book! I listened to an episode of the Backlisted Pod (which I love – do you listen?) where this title was discussed and pulled it off my shelves immediately after. It’s about a young girl, Jessica Vye, and her artistic development during WWII. It’s quirky and funny and has great characters. Jessica is a true heroine. The writing reminded me a bit of Barbara Comyns and that is a good thing!

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold – This is a galley I downloaded to my iPad which will be released in the US in April. It tells the life stories of each of the five women who were victims of Jack the Ripper and is a fascinating social history of working class women’s lives in Victorian London. I love that Rubenhold does not discuss the murders or the identity of Jack the Ripper at all – she purely focuses on the women and how they ended up living on the streets of Whitechapel and makes a point about how we’ve glorified the serial killer and ignored his victims. It made me fairly angry at the lack of choice and power these women had. If you like social histories or books about the Victorian era, you should give this one a go.

This next week I need to finish the two books we’re discussing at the library book clubs on March 4 and I also hope to read my first Persephone of the year. Have a lovely week!

Sunday Bulletin – February 10

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Hello! Have you all had a great week? Mine was so-so. I found myself in a bit of a reading slump after finishing 7 books in January (which is a lot for me). Nothing is holding my interest at the moment so I decided to go short. Short, powerful books usually do help me break out of funks.

This bulletin is going out later than usual because I am working this weekend (I’m writing this on my lunch break) and didn’t have time last night to work on a post. We open in about 40 minutes and I’m hoping things are mellow after a very busy Saturday. But we shall see.

Books finished this week:

Sleepless Night by Margriet de Moor – This a very short book, a novella really, that I started one day at lunch and finished at dinner. It was recommended by the author Claire Fuller who reviews the most interesting books on her Instagram feed. The book hasn’t been released in the US yet, but I was able to download a review copy. It is told in the first person by a woman who gets up in the middle of the night and bakes the most delicious sounding cakes while she ruminates on her marriage. Her husband died many years ago, but she is still obsessed with finding the truth about him and about their relationship as there is a quiet mystery that surrounds it all. I found the language to be so lovely, the imagery is beautiful and it is a story you will find yourself wanting to hear. I had never heard of Margriet de Moor, but she is one of the most prominent novelists in the Netherlands. I’d love to read more of her work.

Have a good week!

Sunday Bulletin – February 3

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I had a bit of a frustrating week, mostly due to work issues. When you work with the public there just comes a time when you feel burned out, disappointed in humanity, impatient with complainers and tired of power trips. Every few months I suffer from all of the above and struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, feel deep ennui when I walk into the library and have to give myself pep talks about how I do believe I am doing a job that is valuable in my community and makes a difference in people’s lives. Still. I am so happy when the weekend comes!

Books finished this week:

Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor – Alan Taylor was friends with Spark for the last 17 years of her life. He visited her many times at her home in Italy, exchanged correspondence with her and even traveled with her and her friend Penny. This book is part bio of Spark’s very interesting life and partly Taylor’s own observations of the great writer and her choices and influences. Other than being a bit repetitive, it was really delightful. Spark was such a fascinating person and I enjoyed reading about her life and opinions.

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami – I’m not sure what drew me to this title, but I am glad I picked it up. It is set near Palm Desert in California and the story centers around the death of a Moroccan immigrant who is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Each chapter is told in the voice of a person who is affected by the crime: various members of his family, police officers, a man who witnessed the crime, etc. What I loved about it is that the characters are so well-drawn, so real and truthful. And I admired Lalami’s ability to have compassion for each of the characters and that she showed that fear and grief drive a lot of our hatred, bad choices and dysfunction. There are many “other Americans” in this book and their stories are beautifully told.

And now I am having trouble finding another book to read. I have started a few, most notably Normal People by Sally Rooney, but I am just not in the mood for anything. I’m hoping that something will catch fire today. Have a lovely week!