Tuesday, 31 December 2013

31 December 2013

It's the last day of 2013 and everyone's either getting ready to go out or rounding up their year in terms of hobbies, resolutions (made or broken) and blogging a fair few personal development plans of sorts for the old and new years. As far as books go, I'm still working my way through the Indy's recommendations for children's books that ran for the whole of advent. You'll always miss at least one book that ends up one someone's recommended list and I appreciate word-of-mouth recommendations from bloggers and friends. Lots of icy journeys, enjoyable scares and modern classics in Rebecca Davies' extensive and balanced list. She's convinced me to try Leigh Bardugo, so that's my first new author for 2014.

I'm still working on my 'I have never read' list and am trying Arthur C. Clarke for the first time. I last read some (very pulp and odd) sci-fi fiction in my teens and wasn't exactly inspired to continue. Before you judge, they were in a rented house while on holiday and I'd run out of books. Dolphin Island is about dolphins, underwater exploration and the aftermath of a hovership crash. I'll let you know if I finish it.

I'm also about to start a Russia and winter sport re-read in preparation for the Winter Olympics in February. Politics aside, I'm really looking forward to it and revisiting old fictional friends. There's plenty of skating, skiing and tobogganing in the Chalet School series and I seem to remember a passage about the right name for a toboggan in the Katy Books. Was it sky scraper or skimmer? Something of that kind. Laura Ingalls Wilder is perfect if you prefer domesticity and raw weather and the Christmases at Green Gables are always enviable. Noel Streatfeild's White Boots is the obvious choice and I'm gazing at my shelves trying to find another novel with some winter sports. Mabel Esther Allen, I think, does some Swiss-set books, although I've only read ones set in summer. Perhaps she might do skating at the Rockerfeller Center in New York? I'm not a Narnia fan, so won't be making my way through the wardrobe. What else? There must be other 1930s to 1960s books of girl skaters or mountain adventure stories.

P.S. If anyone is kind enough to comment with a suggestion, I've left out The Silver Skates as that was my childhood unreadable book.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cazalets and Doctor Blake

I've had an overdose of 1940s and 1950s life this weekend catching up with The Doctor Blake Mysteries (BBC please repeat those on a weekend afternoon) and the Cazalet Quartet and I'm still only on Volume One. I can't quite think of it as the Cazalet Quintet yet as the final volume seems so separate.

While I absolutely loved the first four novels and even wore out a couple of paperbacks, I hadn't read the Cazalet Quartet for quite some time and I did leave it a few weeks after reading All Change, the fifth and much later volume, so that I could compare with a clear mind. I still feel rather let down and I'm not sure if that's the way I'm meant to feel. I'm pleased to say that the voices are as strong as they ever were and the children are seen grappling with the same difficulties facing their parents in the original four novels even though the pre-war certainties have faded away. Without giving spoilers, it's almost justice that the selfish Zoe has such an angst-ridden and self-absorbed teenage daughter to care for. I had hoped to see a little more of Jessica and Raymond, but I've caught up with old friends (Jemima, Polly, Hugh and Simon) and had another welcome glimpse into their lives. It's easy to write tidy endings; much braver, as Elizabeth Jane Howard has done, to leave matters unresolved. 400 pages and Home Place isn't the refuge from life that it once was and post-war life wasn't as easy or comfortable as the Cazalets had hoped. Money is worth less and business cultures are changing to their disadvantage. It's the era when the enterprising can be successful quickly, but most Cazalets lack the business flair and brain to capitalise.

Next up on the re-reading list is the underrated Quantocks Quartet by Ruth Elwin Harris. A series to be read when you have time to finish all four books in order.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Proofing and the Dr Blake Mysteries

I am editing and at the stage where the words are almost dancing on the page. The 'book' is still very much at 'draft' stage to plan length, font size and layout. Progress, however, is steady, though I was in desperate need of a break and wanted moving pictures to give me something else to look at.

I took a television break at lunchtime on Friday and found something that wasn't a cookery programme, property redevelopment or a soap. Or even ancient repeats billed as 'vintage'; I'm not sure I agree that Are you being served? and Allo Allo can be described as vintage. I'd use another word entirely, but someone else might be enjoying them.

However, there is a rather good 1950s-set import from ABC with Australian actors I don't recognise. Dr Blake Mysteries may borrow some locations from the Miss Fisher Mysteries and it's one to watch if you're a fan of costume drama and dresses with stiff petticoats and a nice bit of cynicism in the afternoon. Let me introduce you and give a bit of background....

Dr Blake's returned to Ballarat to take over his father's medical practice and position as police surgeon. Grieving for the recent loss of his father and haunted by his war service in the Far East he's a liberal rather out of step with the conservative town taking a perverse delight in challenging everyone. The house is a sprawling bungalow that's chaotically ugly and comfortable with 'bits' added by generations and absolutely no thought of design. I like rooms like that - well-loved and everything taking on a well-worn look. I'm most keen on the kitchen so far - a bit like I imagine Candy Nevill's to have been - all cheerful blue and yellow with scratches and scuffs to the surfaces and smarter tins above the fireplace for tea, coffee, flour, sugar and salt. Well, keen on the sunny kitchen and Dr Blake's Chinese silk dressing gown with gold dragons and quilted decoration to the collar and cuffs. If I can't catch up on iPlayer next week, I'll add the DVD to my wishlist and hope for Christmas. It has a helpful release of 9 December and everything's looking promising for the second series next year.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

From the pages of old children's books - stuffed dates

Well, I've never seen those used as a bookmark. Thank goodness, as they'd be damagingly sticky. I suppose that my bookmark finds have been the postcard and used book token variety. Stuffed dates seem to be something of a feature of twentieth century children's books - they're included with the pink-iced cakes and chocolate eclairs at parties along with stiff-petticoated skirts and suitable presents. While pink-iced cakes have been replaced by fantastical cakes, chocolate eclairs are still on offer and syrupy boxes of dates were something that my grandparents always had at Christmas. As to the stuffed dates, they just weren't something that I was familiar with tasting and most recipes seem to suggest removing the date stone and replacing it with stone-shaped marzipan to make an 'attractive' sweet. They weren't a feature of any parties I went to as a child, though those included iced ring biscuits, crisps and assorted chopped fruit in the vague hope that we might counteract the dreaded 'E' numbers with something healthy. 

Why on earth am I muttering about dates? And stuffed dates at that? Well, mostly because they're a food that went rather out of fashion and now coming back courtesy of the fabulous (and expensive) medjool dates that turn up for Christmas and Eid. I'm looking forward to those - especially after a fabulous business present of fresh dates on a date palm one year. The Telegraph has an interesting article on how dates are cultivated and picked, so I'll be nibbling my medjool dates with this in mind realising the care involved in this fragile crop . While I do like marzipan, I don't think they need this addition.

One day I'll organise a Candy Nevill-inspired sweet-making party, but my sweets are likely to be chocolate-coated marshmallows and chocolate peanut butter cups. A recent present was The Sweet Book of Candy Making and I just need to add a sugar thermometer to my Christmas list.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Virago - Emily trilogy - Lucy Maud Montgomery

One of the nicest things about reading is someone recommending you a title that becomes a firm favourite and that's how I discovered Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Thanks to my childhood librarians who understood that I liked browsing and was happy to hear suggestions. I read my paperback copies of Anne of Green Gables almost to bits - the glue and spines certainly failed - and never quite managed to find a friend in Emily. I preferred Anne and Jane of Lantern Hill. I suppose I found Emily a bit too dreamy. I've since replaced my Anne and Jane paperbacks with some hardback, but vintage, reprints with dustwrappers. Harrap did a bright set in green boards with orange wrappers for years and there are plenty about.

However, the wonderful Virago have added to their children's list and are tempting me to reconsider owning Emily as she is conspicuously absent from my shelves. They started with Rumer Godden - always a writer I'd recommend - and brought in the Emily trilogy. Three beautiful paperbacks with covers by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. The covers alone have inspired me to try again as I need a break from editing my 2014 titles.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Home Economics

I hadn't realised that there are Universities still offering 'Home Economics' as a degree subject: you can take it at undergraduate and postgraduate level in Ireland. Of course I found this ages after publishing Candy Nevill, when it might have been very useful as a research tool, while searching for something else entirely. Ireland would be an awfully long way for someone like Candy Nevill to travel. Though I think she'd probably find a good course in America and emigrate. Those last sentences probably suggest I'm too close to my characters, but my books can take 18 months to 2 years to put together and they do feel like close friends at the end of that time. I've just spent a happy half hour on their website looking over the curriculum. I'd rather assumed that you had to choose a practical catering course like Cordon Bleu or similar if you wanted some sort of post-school qualification in food. That said, there doesn't seem to be as much practical cookery and I'd certainly appreciate that. I don't think I need another degree though, much as I like the look of it. I'd also need to relocate to Ireland and I'm happy where I am. This blog post skidded in so that I have time to tidy up before watching the Great British Bake Off that I missed earlier in the week. Twitter gave me the result and now I want to see the full episode. Roll on 7pm on BBC2.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Lotus Cup - Jane Louise Curry

I enjoy a good page-turner, particularly if it involves crafting and The Lotus Cup was one of those random 'finds' in a secondhand bookshop that I've been waiting for enough time away from rights puzzles and emails to read - I ended up not wanting to put it down and read it late into the evening. That's always a good sign of an interesting book, but not good when you have an early start the following morning. It's a teenage novel from the 1980s which seems oddly more dated than some of the more vintage (c. 1950s) fiction I've been reading. Especially when a teacher taking students on a trip out uses two student cars plus her own car to transport the class and advises two students to share a seat-belt as they're slim.

Yes, there are lots of Hawaiian shirts, clashing colours and jangly plastic earrings, but this is a charming book about a very shy girl finding her talent for ceramics in a declining pottery town and negotiating the teenage difficulties of boyfriends and parental expectations. East Liverpool (Ohio) was once a thriving centre for pottery. Now, it's in decline and only a small local pottery museum and the odd supplier remain. The larger potteries have closed leaving unemployment and scars on the cityscape.

Corry is shy and skittish, struggling with maths and desperate to achieve the college entry requirements. The visit to the pottery museum inspires her to work with clay and overcome at least some of her shyness to try (and succeed) in creating and firing a delicate ceramic cup.

As much as I liked the story, I also liked the technical information on kilns, glazes and firing that are woven in. Lovely book that I'll be keeping on my shelves for a reread. The author does have a website and I'll be trying more of her books in the future.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Spineless classics

Somebody else is having fun creating beautiful book-related things and, I suspect, having just as wonderful and frustrating time as I am with publishing and rights just at the moment. I think I've seen Spineless Classics at a trade fair and would love them to be better-known as the finishing and designs are beautiful. I had another look at their range on the website today and am bookmarking for possible present-hunting later this year. My current favourite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though there are also Moomins and some very nice Jane Austens. I'm even more impressed that they've fitted The Count of Monte Cristo on to one page.

I especially like the fact that these are works of art in their own right and the sort of 'book-related' presents you could still buy a child or book collector without being greeted by a puzzled look. That said, a book collector may be wondering where they have room on the wall for a print.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Return of the Great British Bake Off

It's almost time for the return of the Great British Bake Off (20 August, BBC2, I think) and I'm not quite counting down the days as I'm far too busy with deadlines that finish just before the series starts. Sitting down with a mug of tea in front of Bake Off is something of a reward after a hectic few weeks. I'm looking forward to it though - new recipes, new people and Mary Berry being wonderful. I may yet pluck up the courage to try macarons and will see what chaos I can cause with a piping bag. I've been having fun cooking shortcakes and meringues and filling both with cream and berries. The strawberries are mostly over, but later varieties are ripening nicely. For the moment, I'm using up the raspberries and a Japanese wineberry that's more beautiful than any other berry. They're as small as a fingernail and the colour of garnets.

It does make it easier when baking's in fashion to sell books like Candy Nevill that's stuffed full of cakes, family meals and strawberries. Food enthusiasms aren't new - just how many recipe books and food shows are published and commissioned each year? It's good, too, I think to bring out a young adult title with vintage charm where cooking and learning about how to improve as a cook are at the heart of the novel. Yes, you make mistakes in cooking, but you learn from them. Mostly in the struggle to clear up the mess. I don't recommend letting your jam boil over either as it can take days to clean the cooker.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Adventures in Yarn Farming (Roost Books)

Product Details

I've been unsettled, reading-wise, this week. I started a number of books and wasn't drawn in and just put them down again. I'm sure I'll come back to them later. It's like that sometimes. You're either in the right frame of mind for a certain book or you're not. Instead, I settled down to sift through the stack of papers, flyers, notes and business cards that I'd brought home from BEA and recycled a fair bit of it. The freebie sweets I'd eaten while wandering around the conference centre - I was getting plenty of exercise walking round and the queues for the many coffee shops were just huge. Anyway, I did get a lovely flyer from Roost Books and thought that Adventures in Yarn Farming sounds fascinating from a craftsman's perspective. Does it sound overblown if I say that I wanted to be a publisher so that I could create beautiful things? Anyway, the flyer on its own is a four-page work of art and I have the book's release date of November carefully noted in my diary so that I can buy a copy. Well, I'd probably buy more than one as it would be a good Christmas present (sorry, I know it's August) for the knitters in my life.

Barbara Parry's written her story of life on a sheep farm and included knitting patterns, ideas for carding and weaving and a life that I know very little about. I was drawn to the centre picture of complicated cables. I'm too much of a beginner knitter and hope that my cables actually work to even contemplate quite so may turns. I'm also keen to find out more about farm life and how you look after herds of sheep, goats and llamas. For those of us who are interested in non-city life, colour and texture, this book seems ideal and I'll update when I've bought a copy later in the year.   

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Clover Cottage - Frances Cowen

I think it's time for a post about summer holidays and I miss being at the stage when a six-week summer holiday stretched ahead into the distance and it was a an awfully long time until September. I suppose it still is, though summer holidays lose their magic when you're still in the office.

However, a good vintage example of a summer holiday novel is Clover Cottage by Frances Cowen. My copy has plain green boards and no-one's really interested in a photo of those, especially as the corners are bumped. The Amazon listing has a Peal Press DW which doesn't really show itself to advantage. 

The book seems to have been written immediately after the Second World War as mentions of shortages of housing, wood, furniture and a general feeling of 'making do' with very little. The father's a sailor in the Merchant Navy, so away for much of the time. Mother's trying to survive in a tiny flat with a brood of children from responsible eldest daughter, a few scrappy siblings and an attention-absorbing baby. The family can't afford a longed-for summer holiday in the country and are thrilled when they inherit a country cottage from the mother's great-aunt. The country, of course, is a far better place for children to grow up. They can run wild there, just coping with petrol shortages, no car and limited public transport, but they'd get all the fresh air denied to them in a smoggy city. Friendly local farm-folk also provide a puppy and some (non-rationed) good food.    

Cowen's novel runs much in the same vein as Gwendoline Courtney's Sally's Family, though Courtney is much the better writer. Finding and refurbishing a thatched cottage is a very good story: the local craftsmen pitch in to help a village family and, even if the family don't find an attic full of antiques, they do find that doing up the house brings them together.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sunday reading

Peaceful day's reading today - not reading novels or contracts or hunting down family histories - just reading the weekend papers for pleasure. I'm ashamed to say that I don't often finish the weekend papers until midweek the following week in a bit of a rush because the recycling's due. It's still 'summer filler' season so we have the 'where the famous are going on holiday' and what said famous readers (or so they claim) will be reading when they get there. You generally see more popular page turners than worthy tomes by the pool and the beach anyway. That grumbled, I do like the paragraph summaries of books that I've probably missed. I'm still working my way through my BEA haul and will try Sarah Dessen's latest as well as Dirty Wars as soon as I feel strong. The latter is a very heavy hardback and I'll need to find a bookrest of some description.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Corinna Chapman mysteries

I've been delving into my 'will read it one day, I promise' list that's either shelved or scattered about the house propping up the wall while waiting for shelf space. Heavenly Pleasures was a very welcome present last year and I've spent the last fortnight reading every Corinna Chapman mystery that the wonderful Kerry Greenwood has published. Friends from Australia and New Zealand had said all kinds of positive things about her novels and I can only say that I wish I'd discovered them sooner. For those who haven't had the treat of a Corinna novel, these are set in present-day Melbourne. Corinna's a baker and lives in a 1920s block of astonishing elegance. These are non-violent mysteries that allow you to puzzle your way through missing girls, stolen bonds and suspected poisonings while enjoying fannish references to Babylon 5, Georgette Heyer and Star Trek, though they leave you wanting chocolate fondant muffins or some very fresh bread and butter.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Gin Lovers - Jamie Brenner

For me it was just as much fun (OK, in 90 degree heatwave also a bit of an endurance test) to walk around New York (New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue, Rockerfeller Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art) as it was to experience the air-conditioning of the Javits Center and the superlative Book Expo America in late May and early June. You might read about the show in advance, you'll see the programme and you'll see who's exhibiting. None of that will prepare you for the scale or the friendliness as advance reading copies are shoved at you with recommendations to find a ticket to this signing or the other. I'd gone over to learn, to talk to people and hear something at the conference. I wasn't, quite, expecting to see so many authors or collect quite so many books. Some authors I knew and wanted to meet; others were entirely new to me and I'd like to introduce Jamie Brenner. Book signings are scheduled all day at Book Expo America, so you realise very quickly that without a time-turner or a buddy-system you will miss out on some events and you'll need to prioritise and just go with the flow. I happened to be walking past when Jamie Brenner was doing a signing and I'm so pleased I did as I now own a much-admired copy of The Gin Lovers.

I have a weakness for historical novels and was drawn to The Gin Lovers with an enticingly nightclubby red light cover art and suggestions of jazz and cocktails. English politicians do rail against binge-drinking, but England has never, unlike the US, banned the sale of alcohol entirely. It's in this climate of polite society toasting with sparkling water in public with the daring young visiting speakeasies during the night that we see exactly how dangerous and enticing alcohol is. It's the conflict of the traditional and the modern as the unhappily-married Charlotte Delacorte is tempted into a life of jazz, cocktails and seduction while trying to coax her louche sister-in-law to return to the gilded cage of her Fifth Avenue townhouse. Charlotte's married well in search of security and soon realises that she's exchanged poverty for other anxieties.

I happened on Jamie's signing at BEA and she's lovely, as is The Gin Lovers. This seems a change in direction for her as she's written several other contemporary novels also set in New York. I'm, selfishly, hoping we see more of Charlotte Delacorte as she's a beautifully conflicted heroine whose loss of naivete is shown in such a sympathetically believable way.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

June - rain streaming down and I'm still here

I'm still around, but very much stuck in the inbox as rights queries become trans-Atlantic complications and you're always waiting for office hours and time differences to work their way out. That always extends things rather and it isn't something you can book a phone conversation for either as one or other party needs to be close to a library or an archive.

I'd hoped to be able to add a school story to my list, but I've had no reply for a month from my first choice. Given that the author is still alive and writing I think they aren't interested. A 'no' might be more useful. However, move on to the next name and hope that first author has every success in their new genre.

The historical possibilities are more promising and first queries have been welcomed. People need time to consider, so I'm rather more hopeful.

Finally, thanks to everyone at BEA this May and June for making a fantastic event for us all. Your interns were especially good even when they'd been working long hours in unseasonably hot weather. More about BEA to follow - I brought home some very good reads.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Reading and reviewing

Friends who blog usually note 'what they've been reading' this month at month end. Which is a nicer idea than the chaos of a financial month end. I was always put off by reading diaries, ever since the school insisted that I couldn't possibly have read that much in a week. (I could and did). Now, though, I'm buying and borrowing as many books as ever, not that I mention what I couldn't finish, hated or just 'passed the time'.

I love reading through what other readers are reading - a combination of natural curiosity and wonder if I've missed a book I'd love. I find it harder to trust mainstream print reviews as there are too many friends reviewing friends or academics looking for goodwill, but bloggers are happier to critique a free book. Some bloggers do wonderful reviews and I'm pleased to see them and consider. I also find the mixture of vintage and modern offerings that bloggers tend to offer to be far more interesting than the offerings of many broadsheets. I mentioned Waitrose's weekly newsletter a while ago - it's good to see vintage and modern represented in their reviews area together with recipes and ideas for local entertainment each weekend. Books need time and often word-of-mouth to gain a readership and that's what so many books don't receive. Your average high-street bookshop has very limited shelf space and is under tremendous pressure to move stock, so you have to remember to buy what looked interesting now and hope you can balance your finances until payday.

So, rather than use a Goodreads or a LibraryThing model, perhaps publishers could improve their websites and print on demand offerings. Yes, I realise publishers are now huge corporations, but they could show readers their imprints and suggest future novels to read within that imprint. If there are links to sample chapters, then that's even better. I blog, admittedly quietly, to maintain interest in my books and remind people that I'm still here. I can only publish so many each year, so Twitter and the blog have to work to gain attention.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Good Housekeeping Children's Cook Book - Happy World Baking Day

I've been drafting this post for a while and not been able to upload the photographs because of a mysterious technical glitch that just stalled at 90% of uploading each one. I thought I'd have another go to celebrate World Baking Day today. I may even try some baking of my own later, though I'd be quite happy if I could manage light and fluffy scones. Do the simple things first - the ones people enjoy eating. Which is why I've perfected banana bread that people are coming back for a second slice before it's even cooled down.

One occasional advantage of republishing vintage books is that you're given other vintage books as people think you'll appreciate them. I normally do and find them an interesting read. While I wait for the strawberries to grow, though I don't have enough of a gardenful to consider opening my own tearoom, I'll think of trainee cooks like Candy Nevill. She was lucky enough to create her own recipe notebook because she had cookery lessons at school. For those who didn't, the Good Housekeeping Institute could help then and still does today. This Good Housekeeping guide dates from the late 1950s, so around the time in which Candy would have been learning to cook. It's a clashing mixture of black and white and saturated technicolour photography. It would have been the perfect present for the young cook as it covers everything he or she would need to learn. I've omitted the cover picture as it's a frankly scary shade of orange with small boy gnawing on a toffee apple, one neat girl in an apron dipping an apple in the hot toffee and a taller boy looking over their shoulders while doing the drying-up. It's useful in that it's not simply a book of sweets and biscuits - you're taught how to make simple suppers, breakfast and the sort of recipes you might manage if your mother (it's only mother) is unwell.  

We start with a birthday cake. Home-made, be-ribboned and slightly squint candles.

Even the contents page is interesting. Before you're introduced to a circus of iced biscuits, you also learn how to prepare yourself (hand-washing, find an apron) and the kitchen. There are even illustrated instructions on how to light the gas stove. It's generally useful to get your ingredients ready before you start. 

Finally, this red, orange and blue runs over a two-page spread. It shows exactly how colour photography can enhance cookbooks and you see every layer in that jelly. 

It's a world away from layer cakes, cutting-edge patisserie and cupcakes with icing that's taller than the cake that you see in many shop windows now. Enjoy the vintage world of cooking for the family.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Print *and* digital - just read the book

Whatever marketing strategy is planned, the content underpinning it has to be appealing. Much as I like 'books are my bag' as a concept, there have to be books ready to fill said bags. London Book Fair excitement is ebbing away and all sorts of signed deals are being publicised. That's exciting to read as both reader and publisher and it's all very well for the new, but can it compliment the backlist? That critical part of publishing that builds up authors or publishers as brands? It has to be there or else you lose a good deal of your credibility, your past work and an opportunity for readers to see what you've done.

It's all about the story, isn't it? It's the author's job to present a story that transports you and your imagination and it's the publisher's job to present it in an appealing format.

As a reader, you can take the story wherever you like. Now, I've rejected handbags before as being too small for the necessary 'book I'm reading now' and 'second book in case I finish the first'. Now I have to consider the possible addition of an eReader too?! It's the story that appeals to the reader whether they feel in the mood to download, flick across a screen, turn a page or turn on an audiobook.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Veronica Henry and Iain M. Banks

It's a public holiday in England today, so I'd fully expected driving rain. Instead, I've been out in the sunshine watching the world go by. Don't worry, I did the business emails first and walked to the post box with the weekend orders. I took one of Veronica Henry's Honeycote novels as she's does exactly the sort of book for summer weather. Her latest - something to do with the Orient Express (I don't want spoilers) - comes out next month. Returning to Honeycote means that you return to old friends, drink sparkling wine and never worry about hangovers or work the next day.

I'm also working my way through The Crow Road. My copy is an old hardback, so not exactly transportable. It was my introduction to Iain M. Banks and remains a favourite. I can only hope that his treatment makes him more comfortable. I've been told that booksellers often recommend The Crow Road to reluctant readers as the story can draw them in so well. If so, that's the best compliment to an author that I've heard as there's nothing like finding a book that you enjoy, that stays with you and that you return to as an old friend. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton DiSclafani)

I was sent a preview copy at the beginning of this week and was in that wonderful and awful situation of wanting to read on to find out what happened and not wanting this book to end. I didn't quite miss my bus stop and need to walk back, but it was very close.

It's a fantastic story taking in the bubble that America's rich found themselves in even in the Depression. The slow decline in standards of living isn't affecting the many rich Southern families that have sent their daughters to Yonalossee for generations. The author has put together a coming-of-age story in the 'new girl at boarding school' tradition. Given that Thea seems scarcely to have spoken to anyone not a member of her immediate family, the culture shock is incredible. Thea's family lives in Florida and the isolated family estate and orange groves are for hunting wildlife and riding. She, her twin brother Sam and cousin George have a close relationship that's fractured by adolescence and rigid family observances of the proprieties. Finally, a scandal causes Thea to be sent away to school in North Carolina's Blue Mountains. Thea's only consolation is that she'll still be able to ride every day. She encounters a new set of values at school beyond the ladylike behaviour modelled by her mother: family, money and the ability to ride contribute to your ranking. Thea finds herself struggling to make friends, dress and cope with lessons and noise. How she copes with her exile, the changes to her own body and a new set of rules results in a complex sexual awakening that's handled deftly and with incredible realism.

This novel is one to buy and enjoy over a weekend - you'll be irritated at anyone who interrupts you or be reading through the night. Thanks to Headline Publicity for the proof. It's published on 6 June 2013 in hardback and e-Book and I really recommend reading it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Browsing in Foyles

Bookseller updating on the second day of sunshine and a clear Alice-blue sky that promises spring, flowers and even Londoners are smiling on public transport. Actually, it's the weekend of the London Marathon: lots of happy tourists in London.

Have you seen the hoardings outside the former College of Art next to Foyles? It promises a new, expanded and improved Foyles for the next century. I'm delighted that Foyles has bounced back to become the bookshop of first choice for so many in London. It's a spectacular turnaround from 15 years ago when it wasn't quite such a pleasure to browse and buy in - sent from one desk with a chit to another to pay in a dark and dusty labyrinth. The books you wanted would probably be there. It was just a case of finding out where, precisely, they'd been shelved.

Whether or not it's a London bubble with good salaries and tourists still plentiful, Foyles has developed well in the last few years and has an enviable number of repeat customers. I know that it's also expanded to Bristol, not that I know the city or the branch. The St Pancras branch is small, well-stocked with books for the traveller in need of something interesting to read on the train. Most people don't have the Wildean scandal of a diary, so a paperback comes in handy.

I admire their selections in both small and large branches. There are a good number of new bestsellers and other, quirkier items that you might not have heard of and a blurb that'll draw you in. You can also rely on the bookseller knowing the author you're seeking when you just can't remember that Paul Torday wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, though you could remember the 'T' and were hoping not to need to go through the entire section moving your head to one side and the other reading the spines. The shop sparkles from the care that everyone has put into it and the sheer number of red bags in the local area shows trade is going well.

What can other businesses learn from all this? Mostly, it's doing the basics well.

1. Don't leave unshelved stock on the floor. Unless, of course, you really want it to get damaged.

2. Keep replenishing the stock. Empty shelves don't look good or make the shop look cared-for.

3. Train your staff - have an environment where they're supported, happy to be there and ready to answer questions. Even if they are required to fend off 'Is this a bookshop?' politely.

4. Label areas clearly. Floor-plans are brilliant, as are signs to lifts and stairs.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This is a title that won't be published in the UK until a bit later in 2013 (Amazon says 7 November for the paperback which comes up first in the results, though a hardback comes out at the beginning of June), but it's one that I'll certainly be buying. The sound of the title drew me in - it's a wonderful sound - and the short blurb captivated me as I do like a good costume drama and I hope that doesn't sound unflattering as it's intended as a compliment.

I don't know the author, nor have I seen a review copy. This is simply excitement at finding a story that's shot to the top of my wish-list. It has all sorts of promising elements: 1930s America, high society, riding, a boarding-school story in a new setting. I'm looking forward to finding out more about the scandal that caused Thea to be sent away to boarding school (or is it finishing school?) as it seems to be for debutantes.

One to look out for from new-to-me author Anton DiSclafani. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jane Beaton - Rules and Class

I keep hoping that we'll see another instalment of Jane Beaton's Class series, but think that too much time has passed since the first two for that to happen. It may be that there aren't any more or that she's moved publisher. I simply don't know. Having re-read both earlier in the week I do know that Class and Rules are a fun pair to read and promised for an entertaining series. I thought that six were planned.

Jane Beaton's a great fan of vintage and modern school stories and this is clearly reflected in her character names: Prosser (Kingscote scholarship, Antonia Forest), Trebizon-Woods (Anne Digby), Simone (Chalet School, Brent-Dyer) and setting her books in a Cornish school complete with hockey fields and castle-looks (Enid Blyton).

Maggie Adair applies for the job of English mistress at Downey House on a whim and is astonished to find she is offered the job. Her long-term unambitious boyfriend is even more surprised that she accepts. She's from the state sector in Glasgow and Cornwall's private sector is as much of a shock as a pleasure. There's a quick mention of 'lesson-planning' where Maggie realises that she can teach for the full period and doesn't need to set time aside for breaking up fights. She's very much the inspirational teacher and one getting to grips with responsibilities: to her pupils, her colleagues and herself.

Both books do a very good job of showing how isolating teaching can be, how rewarding and how draining. Daft pranks have their place as well as some skillful work at showing the unkindness of a single-sex environment from the pupils' perspective. Perhaps it's exaggerating to say 'bullying', though there's plenty of low-level nastiness from the villain.

(Apologies for any odd spelling above that I may have missed. One English dictionary on one piece of software is fighting the American dictionary on another). 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Other Miss Perkin - Lorna Hill

Rights negotiations take months and I am trying for three titles. The silence worries me a bit, but people do need time to consider offers and former publishers also need time to find rights and answer emails. It's also the run-up to the Book Fair Season (London and New York), so that'll be a priority for them. It's for a pony book and I've never had so much difficulty chasing down permission for anything. It could just be that animal stories aren't for my list, though I hope not. The historical novel is proving far less problematic. 

So, I can't do anything more about rights this afternoon, but I can tell you about a charming novel for adults by Lorna Hill. I knew her as the writer of the Wells series and have a few of her ballet books somewhere, though they may end up for sale at some point as I didn't like them as much on rereading. I'm keeping my copy of The Other Miss Perkin as it's one to read with tea and biscuits in one go over an afternoon.

This is a fantastic escapist read in the vein of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It has the same quiet charm and takes genuine pleasure in small things. Miss Perkin, a middle-aged Englishwoman who doesn't even own a passport, wins a trip to America. This book is set some time in the 1905s when flying was for the rich and every passenger was offered a champagne cocktail with refills. Miss Perkin can be summed up as one of life's copers. She's the housekeeper you'd love to have and a good vicar's daughter. She's dependable and predicable with a marvellous fantasy dream-life that she indulges with the help of magazines - probably gleaned secondhand from her employer. Her trip to America is fascinating as she explores New York on foot and stretches every cent to manage a trip to the Grand Canyon. It's a gentle Cinderella story as a millionaire sees past her dowdy image, faded clothes and careworn appearance to find her a very caring companion. 

Once you've read this and enjoyed all the rail travel across the United States (from New York to the Grand Canyon) can I recommend Susan Coolidge's Clover and In the High Valley for Colorado scenes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg both are free. Then for New York and California travel, try Noel Streatfeild's The Painted Garden. You do need to find a hardback reprint for that as they cut all of that (over a chapter) from the Puffin paperback and I still think that's a shame.

Monday, 1 April 2013

New month - what to read

Friends who blog usually note 'what they've been reading' this month at month end. Which is a nicer idea than the chaos of a financial month end in retail or accounts. I was always put off by reading diaries, ever since the school insisted that I couldn't possibly have read that much in a week. (I could and did). Now, though, I'm buying and borrowing as many books as ever, not that I mention what I couldn't finish, hated or just 'passed the time'.

I love reading through what other readers are reading. I find it harder to trust mainstream print reviews as there are too many friends reviewing friends or academics looking for goodwill, but bloggers are happier to critique a free book. Some bloggers do wonderful reviews and I'm pleased to see them and consider. I also find the mixture of vintage and modern offerings that bloggers tend to offer to be far more interesting. I mentioned Waitrose's newsletter a while ago - it's good to see vintage and modern represented in their book reviews area. Books need time and often word-of-mouth to gain a readership and that's what so many books don't receive. Your average high-street bookshop has very limited shelf space and is under tremendous pressure to move stock, so you have to remember to buy what looked interesting now and hope you can balance your finances until payday.

So, rather than use a Goodreads or a LibraryThing model, perhaps publishers could modify their websites and print on demand offerings to balance backlist titles and the newest of the new. Yes, I realise publishers are now huge corporations, but they could show readers their imprints and suggest future novels to read within that imprint in a slightly different way to promote brand identity. Are people loyal to publishers or is it really to one author? I'd be very interested to know. I blog, admittedly quietly, to maintain interest in my books and remind people that I'm still here. I can only publish so many each year, so Twitter and the blog have to work to gain attention.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Rumer Godden

The Telegraph's Book section can yield some gems on occasion. Rumer Godden is one of those wonderful crossover authors who can take you from the children's library to the larger adult section of the library. Before mine was refurbished and tall shelves of books were replaced by turning freestanding shelves stuffed with DVDs, there were bookshelves that reached from floor to ceiling. I wasn't, at first, sure where to start in the adults library. Library staff were discreet and busy with the queues at the desk, so I had time and freedom to roam. Rumer Godden was an author I already knew well. My favourite among her doll stories was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, so finding her again in the adults section introduced me to Pippa (Pippa Passes) and kind nuns in In this House of Brede to say nothing of The Peacock Spring.

I'm pleased that so many authors of my childhood are being introduced to new readers with the new reprints. While it's lovely for books to be passed down the generations, the reality is that few books last being read to bits by enthusiastic child readers. Older Puffins, in particular, are rather vulnerable once the glue dries and the pages become brittle. The Rumer Godden Literary Trust was set up after Rumer's death and has given us beautiful new editions of her doll stories. Now that Virago is reprinting Kingfishers Catch Fire you'll see a different side to her storytelling and a more reflective author trying so hard to understand Indian culture. Mutual misunderstandings throughout and wonderfully told.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Career books and updates

Hello all. With apologies for not replying to posts on the blog as Firefox is determined to prevent me from achieving basic courtesies with all sorts of 'protections'. I'll try and get round it again in a little while. It seems that you'd like me to add a vintage career book to my list. Well, I haven't read many and I'll try this new tangent for research. I did enjoy Jane: Young Author and a couple of naval stories featuring capable girls whose names I can't remember.

What sort of career novel would I like? I'll avoid ballet and theatre books as those are very well represented by reprint publishers already. So, something 'different', 'entertaining' and 'rare'. If it's not asking too much, I also need charm and a good story. As for careers, floristry seems popular - I was thinking that or dressmaking. I think anything with cooking is likely to be too similar to Candy Nevill and anything with publishing might be too close to Five Farthings, so I'll concentrate on floristry and gardening in the first round of reading. That may leave me with Land Girls and allow me to keep history in mind. The other area that I might need to consider is travel. There was a Chalet School girl who wanted to be a lady courier, so I expect I can find a good tale of a tour guide or travel agent posted abroad.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A quick Mothering Sunday post

I think I must be one of the last remaining daughters to give the semi-traditional and simple daffodils to my mother today. Local supermarkets and florists have some simple daffodils hidden away behind glitter-dipped chrysanthemums and parrot tulips with eucalyptus and the like. I searched for and found a dwarf variety potted up at the florist and they promise double flowers, though tightly-closed buds are all that can be seen now without even a hint of yellow. I expect they'll be planted out in her garden at some stage too. I don't recall much in the way of Mothering Sunday in Girl's Own (vintage) fiction, though Noel Streatfeild does cover the giving of daffodils and extended family visit in Mothering Sunday when all the mother really wants is a day of peace and quiet. Judging by some of the press attention, it seems that many mothers don't want a fuss made for them, but would like a day for themselves.

Flowers, though, well they are covered in vintage fiction. Lucy Maud Montgomery's heroines gather bouquets of lilies, Elsie Jeanette Oxenham's heroines bestow bunches of flowers on their new friends with varying degrees of patronage and some heroines even grow flowers in their own small gardens. I was always disappointed that P.M. Warner in A Friend for Frances never actually showed us the long-promised bulb fields in Holland as I wanted to see how she'd show the excess of colour and texture. In a more moral vein, the good Chalet girls were actively discouraged from picking wild flowers. I suppose they would have wilted on the return ramble, but it would have been interesting if they'd had a jam jar full of flowers in their flower-curtained cubicles. Elinor M. Brent-Dyer must have preferred floral fabric to the real thing. 

I don't recall a career book for girls that dealt with floristry - is there one? Google isn't being of much help this afternoon.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sally and Her Kitchens - May Worthington

Today's post is a short follow-up from Candy Nevill where the book Sally and Her Kitchens is mentioned in passing. Candy and Bets give this book to another girl a birthday present which Bets immediately plots to borrow back from her friend. I sympathised with her plotting as I could never find enough books as a child. The mother produces it from a magical cupboard containing spare presents and the like. I always wish I had one of those when I realise that I may not have been quite a good enough friend to post a birthday card in time. Now, to Sally. This wasn't an easy book to track down. Yes, it might be in a few research libraries, but finding a copy of your own seems rather too much to hope for. I don't think there's a copy for sale at the moment so anyone wanting to sell may do very well. This scarcity surprised me as it went through several printings between 1939 and (at least) 1941 and seems to be well-known by American readers. It's a Dodd Mead Career Book for girls and written in a similar way to the careers books from the 1950s that Bodley Head printed. Sally and Her Kitchens was written by May Worthington and illustrated in very effective line drawings by Marguerite Bryan. Even finding the odd image hasn't been easy and, since I read it in a research library, I can't provide any. Well, not and keep the library card.

So, this is a 256 page novel about home economics set in Hawaii and California and the pace is brisk. Sally Lewis, a girl for whom the term 'pep' applies, takes a job as cook to a boarding school in 1939 Hawaii before moving on to run a tea room in California. She's lucky enough to supervise a team of Chinese cooks and have plenty of time off to find nice young men, tour the pineapple fields and do a fair bit of shopping and recipe gathering. I enjoyed this novel for the vintage recipes and mentions of 'new' foods. We're all so used to year-round tropical fruits, that it's a shock to read about how to prepare alligator pears (avocados) or papaya. It's also nice to read about the menu planning for large parties and teaching pupils how to welcome and serve guests with macarons, lemon bars and date bars. All classics of American entertaining and Martha Stewart's website can provide recipes and pictures.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Corinna Chapman mysteries

I've been delving into my 'I'll read it one day, I promise' list that's either shelved or scattered about the house looking reproachfully new with uncreased spines and a '3 for 2' sticker. Well, some are even older than that long-running and now defunct promotion. However, I've since been speed-reading as I've found an author I really enjoy. Kerry Greenwood, an Australian author, writes mysteries with an emphasis on the muddles of human behavior without the blood lust found in far too much contemporary crime. I also like the geekery with nods to Buffy, Babylon 5 and every sci-fi show in between. I think only Firefly is missing, though someone's bound to comment that 'shiny' has most certainly been used  now.

Heavenly Pleasures was a welcome birthday present last year and I've spent the last fortnight reading every Corinna Chapman mystery that the wonderful Kerry Greenwood has published. Friends from Australia and New Zealand had said all kinds of positive things about her novels and I can only say that I wish I'd discovered them sooner. For those who haven't had the treat of a Corinna novel, these are set in present-day Melbourne. Corinna's a baker and lives in a 1920s block of astonishing elegance and comfort with three cats and a live-out private detective lover. I may well have read them all, gorged on them all, even. However, she covers human and feline behaviour with perfect understanding. I've also been influenced by Corinna to read them while sipping a gin and tonic. This does, of course, mean that I'll read them again in a little while for detail. That's the kind of re-reading I really enjoy.

Kerry Greenwood is published by Allen and Unwin and Poisoned Pen Press, so her books are widely available online and not in many English bookshops. US Kindle owners were given a treat when Earthly Delights was the free dowload on 14 February.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Maeve Binchy and Lorna Lewis

January's biting cold, damp, flurries of snow and 'resolute' bloggings about economy, diets and the like make me want to snuggle somewhere in peace and quiet with really escapist fiction. I've been out walking to the post office and bank already this weekend, but seem to be lacking a suitable hat. I have woolly ones that I can just pull on and wonder during each cold spell whether I shouldn't go and afford myself something smarter. Not that there's a milliner near me - I'd need to try a large department store.

I have two books on the go, which isn't many for me. One vintage, the other modern. I like a bit of contrast.

I've escaped into Maeve Binchy's last novel A Week in Winter. Not that I've finished it yet. However, first impressions are very positive. I was sorry to hear of her death last year and was delighted to find that she'd finished this novel. She seemed such a nice lady in all the positive senses of the word and this book is ahead of her usual high standard. We're back in small-town Ireland and one of life's survivors is using a lifetime's savings to buy and open a small hotel. Stone House was the former home of three spinster sisters and the sale allows Chicky redemption and to give back small kindnesses that had been so willingly offered to her. So far, a novel of friendship, family and kindness. Small things, yes, but they are the very best and most valuable of small things.

Vintage reading this week is from the reading room, so can't photograph or take it home. Which is a pity as the reading room is arctic. However, The Silver Bandbox is an enjoyable read that happens to be one of those 1950s 'career books for girls'. Lorna Lewis, an author I can recommend, did some good work in the 1950s and 1960s encouraging girls to consider jobs in hotels, management, factories and millinery in this last. Fanny Lea's adventures with 'flamingo-pink' cotton for the customers and 'tinned salmon' cotton for the workroom are enjoyable and from an era where all smart women wore hats for day-wear, not simply for weddings, if the wedding were especially smart. It's all about working hard, paying your dues and being rewarded by your employer, if you've put in the work to deserve it. There's something rather reassuring about that.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

East Wind Melts the Ice

January's a month when everyone seems to be feeling a little flat. The adrenaline rush of the new year's resolution is fading already. The sales might be on, but that means the crowded shops are best avoided. I'm trying to use the month to burrow down into my 'not finished yet' pile. You know, the one that every reader is adding to, even if they don't admit it. I try, not that I always succeed, in giving a book a few chances if I'm not immediately drawn in. Time, light, mood and all sorts of emotional responses mean that a book might need a few attempts.

I've had the elegant East Wind Melts the Ice on my shelves since it was first published in 2007. It's been pushed back when reading for business or for travelling. Some books, like this one, are too beautiful to take outside or shove in a rucksack. I've enjoyed Liza Dalby's writing on geisha and kimono, so thought that I'd manage to finish this one quickly. Well, it's 2013 and I'm still finding it difficult to finish. That's not to say that the book isn't interesting, but the unfamiliar subjects mean that the book requires concentration, peace and quiet. I don't always have any of those elements. However, January has long dark afternoons and I've had the computer off for much of the day. The book is a collection of short diary entries as small essays. I'm keeping this for bedtime or early morning reading to read an entry or two a day. Twisting between Japan and California, this is a fascinating scrapbook covering gardens, houses and wildlife. I'm enjoying her work as she discusses writing in English and Japanese - how she's translating Eastern concepts for a Western audience and her discussions with her translator. It's a book for thoughtful days and I am determined to finish it this year.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Characters old and new

Inspired by the wonderful Catherine Fox, I've been musing on the futures of favourite characters. She mentioned on her blog that Harry and Isobel did marry (good!) and that Andrew Jacks is fine. He'd be surviving every University restructure and terrify under-prepared undergraduates and university bureaucrats. Like one of my own tutors, watching him in a staff-student meeting would be seen as an afternoon's entertainment. Just not for the victim of his superior intellect. If you haven't read Catherine Fox's kindly sarcastic novels of life in the Church and around University, then you're in for a treat and there are three.

What of "my" own characters now that I have four? I feel quite certain that Tania Whichart (an early version of Petrova Fossil) would continue zooming around in a sleek little car and be a pilot. Perhaps even a Spitfire Girl during the Second World War. I suspect she'd have a fabulous time and eventually gain some confidence. Vivien Farthing is likely to have risen in the publishing world and been charming and elegant about it. Lintie Oliver's more of a puzzle. In wilder flights of fancy I do see her as a globe-trotting journalist. Then again, I see her relishing in the delights of an ordinary childhood having written her way into a family. As to Candy Nevill, she'd certainly reach New York and have the most amazing time charming America eating everything with enthusiasm before begging recipes. I can just see Ianthe and Candy riding the escalators and exploring every floor of Macy's. Assuming you could drag Candy out of the kitchenware department, she might even be persuaded to try on some smart clothes. I don't know how old Williams Sonoma is, but it strikes me as the sort of shop she'd greatly enjoy. I returned home from my last trip to America (not New York, one day, perhaps) with some Nordicware. I'd hoped for pineapples, but they only had roses in stock. It makes very pretty cakes. American friends rave about the food in local farmers' markets or in Trader Joe's. Then again, food shopping takes on new excitements when travelling as you negotiate any language barriers, see new packaging and find new flavours, if not new foods. Candy Nevill did mention Sally's Kitchens by May Worthington. This appears too rare to even be on sale. Is this worth tracking down for a read? Anyone?

New titles? Well, I'm still in a haze of rights and permissions, though with very interesting emails about writer relatives. It can take up to eighteen months to ascertain exactly who owns the rights to certain novels and some rights-holders are easier to track down than others. I'm doing the usual corporate treasure hunt to find out which arm of the conglomerate held the rights last in a few cases at the moment, so there'll be more news when I can give it to you.