Recent Book Purchases

Recent Book Purchases

On our recent road trip down to England I bought quite a few books – surprise surprise I hear you say.

1. Film-Lovers’ Annual – 1934
2. The Derbyshire Dales by Norman Price
3. The Better Part by Annie S. Swan
4. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
5. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
6. Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell
7. The Provincial Lady In America by E.M. Delafield
8. Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell
9. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
10. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy even more books as I saw two old Batsford travel books and I actually thought I had bought one Batsfprd book but I’ve just realised that the Derbyshire Dales book was actually published by Warne. I’m now regretting not buying Batsford’s England and Scottish Borders. Oh well, hopefully they’ll turn up at another time and place.

I bought the Dean’s Film-Lovers Annual from 1934 for the photos in it, some of very famous film stars such as Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and an awful lot that I had never heard of so I’ll be googling them. There are interesting photos of film sets too and a photo of Harold Lloyd’s sitting-room showing bookcases full of books. I’d love to be able to see what they are.

The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky

The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky was first published in 1935, the setting is mainly Russia, just before the Great War. Helene is a young girl with a selfish and narcissistic mother, Bella, who is obsessed by her looks and clothes – and young men. Helene despises her mother who doesn’t want her to grow up and makes her dress like a little girl instead of the young woman she is fast becoming. Helene knows exactly what her mother is getting up to with Max, a very much younger relative of hers, but if Boris, her father knows he chooses to ignore it.

Mademoiselle Rose, a servant is the only person who seems to care about Helene, Boris is obsessed with making money fast, gambling on the stock exchange during the day and losing it at the casino at night time. But while the economy is booming due to the war that isn’t a worry and they are living the high life, it’s a different matter when the Russian Revolution comes along and they have to run for their lives.

This is the seventh book which I’ve read by Nemirovsky and almost all of them have had the same theme, they’re very autobiographical and I can’t help wondering what she would have written about if she had not suffered from a ghastly self-obsessed mother. She seems to have spent her writing career getting her own back on her mother, which is understandable under the circumstances I suppose.

Of course Irene Nemirovsky didn’t survive World War 2, she died in Auschwitz after being rounded up by the Gestapo in 1942, apart from having a horrible mother she had two more disadvantages in life as far as the Nazis were concerned, she was Russian and also Jewish and for some reason she didn’t leave France for somewhere safer when she should have.

Her mother did survive however hob nobbing with the people who had murdered her daughter. It’s said that when she did die Nemirovsky’s mother’s safe had copies of her daughter’s books in it. I think that we are supposed to think that her mother was really proud that her daughter had become a successful writer, but I suspect that it was more likely her way of saying: See what I had to put up with from my daughter. How could I be expected to help her when she wrote about me like this. Nemirovsky may have felt that she had got her own back on her mother but to me it seems to have been at the price of her life.

Her books are all beautifully written though with such lovely descriptions, it makes you feel you have climbed right into them. I have to mention the translator Sandra Smith. Translators often get taken for granted I think, but when you’ve read a book which has clunky words in it and you find yourself supplying better alternatives, it makes you appreciate good translations.

Biddulph Grange Gardens – part 1

Biddulph Gardens & Grange

Biddulph Grange Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire is owned by The National Trust although only the gardens, the grange house is privately owned. It was a popular destination, it was difficult to take photos with no people in them, but I couldn’t help thinking that it must be very strange to live in a house that size, but have no real garden of your own. I think it must be awful to have nowhere to hang out your washing! Trust me to think of the domestic problems. On the other hand you have these beautiful gardens on your doorstep and you don’t have the worry of the upkeep of them. The photo above is of their monkey puzzle tree area, the framework on the right is sheltering a display of baby monkey puzzles (Araucaria).

Biddulph Gardens

Reflections and a huge carp.

Biddulph Gardens

The photo below is the Chinese Garden area.

Biddulph Gardens
It’s a lovely place to visit if you find yourself in the Midlands of England. You can read more about it here.

Biddulph Gardens

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, also known as Ernest Elmore, was first published in 1935 but my copy is one of those British Crime Library Classics reprints.

I quite enjoyed this book but again I think that there must have been better British vintage crime books which could have been reprinted before this one. I think that if I had been given this book to read but not told that it had been written by a man it wouldn’t have been long before I realised that the author was indeed male. They always seemed to concentrate more on teeny details and timing, at the expense of character and background. Or is that me madly generalising?

The setting is Boscawen, a small village in Cornwall, where Mr Dodd the local vicar and his friend the local doctor are in the habit of meeting once a week to have a meal and choose crime fiction books from a parcel of six which they have ordered from the library. They like to talk over the books they read and fancy themselves as connoisseurs of crime.

When Julius Tregarthen a local magistrate and landowner is murdered in his own sitting-room the local police are baffled. Inspector Bigswell (I had a real problem taking that name seriously!) really hopes that he won’t have to call in Scotland Yard but with few clues as far as he is concerned, he needs help from someone, and that turns out to be Reverend Dodd.

Bigswell is happy to have Dodd point him in the right direction and more or less solve the case. Completely different from poor Miss Marples’ experiences with police detectives of course – sexism no doubt. There’s also a policeman called Grouch, I don’t know if the names were meant to be amusing or what, anyway, I would give this one a 3 out of 5. I do love the cover though.

Classics Club Spin

Well the number has been chosen and it’s number 5, which for me means reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which isn’t fiction at all but is his account of his experiences in Spain during their civil war in the 1930s.

I almost changed this title for another Trollope at the last minute as I’m not at all sure that it’s seen as being a classic, but heigh -ho such is life and I’m sure that it’s going to be a really interesting read.

Buxton, Derbyshire – a Georgian Spa Town

The main street in Buxton has some lovely buildings in it, although the shops aren’t exactly high class nowadays, it’s easy to imagine how it must have seemed when all the shops were independent ones.


Buxton is a town which I’ve long fancied visiting, probably because it’s one of those spa towns, mentioned in Jane Austen’s and Emily Bronte’s books. In fact it’s a very old spa town and Mary Queen of Scots went there to take the water in 1573.

Buxton  spa
Buxton has a classic Georgian Crescent, such as I’ve only seen in Edinburgh, although Bath is probably more famous for them, I haven’t been to Bath yet though, I’m saving that for another road trip to the far south west.

Buxton  spa

It seems that everywhere we go places are swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulin, these old places cost a fortune to maintain, so it’s just as well that the lottery fund has given ¬£millions for the refurbishment.

Buxton  spa
As you can see, Buxton has a very grand opera house which seems to be well used for various productions.

Buxton  Opera House

Right next to the opera house, vewry close to the centre of the town there’s a great park, beautifully set out and planted and obviously a favourite place to go for locals and trippers alike.

Buxton park

Buxton Park Bridge

I love that rope effect edging, I’ve only ever seen it straight before, I think the curved swags are very unusual.

Buxton  Park planter

You don’t often see Victorian post boxes like this one nowadays. The nearest one to me that I know of is one in South Queensferry.

Buxton Post Box

The photo below is a stitch of the spa and as you can see there are several advertising boards around the place. One of them pointed up the hill and said there was a secondhand bookshop 5 minutes walk away. So we legged it up a very steep long hill, which was definitely nearer ten minutes away – but lo and behold we reached what seemed like another town, Buxton has an upper and lower town and the upper part is even older and that’s where the high street is. I think a lot of visitors must miss that part altogether, we nearly did. Anyway, suffice to say that books were bought, by me anyway. The shop is ancient with lots of nooks and crannies, an original old cooking range still in place downstairs and – a ghost in residence – allegedly!

Buxton spa stitch

Buxton is definitely worth visiting, unfortunately – or maybe fortunately for us – St Ann’s Well wasn’t in working order, I think it’s being refurbished too. Not long ago Jack read Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker and one of the characters in it said of Bath’s spa that he was sure that people had already bathed in the water they gave you to drink. Let’s hope Buxton wasn’t the same!

Classics Club Spin – number 10

It’s Classic Club Spin time again and I must admit that the last time I took part in one I got a big fat F for fail as I didn’t manage to get the book read, for the first time. I have my excuses of course, life just got in the way of reading, boring domestic stuff and then I had Peggy from Peggy Ann’s Post visiting for a month and we were too busy running around Scotland!

My list is quite different from the last time but they’re all books I’ve had lying around for years, calling to me to read them and I’ve been cruelly ignoring them, apart from the Trollopes which I have on my Kindle, so here they are:

1. Veranilda by George Gissing
2. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
3. The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
4. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
5. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
6. The Trial by Franz Kafka
7. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
9. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
10. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
11. An Eye for an Eye by Anthony Trollope
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
13. Nana by Emile Zola
14. Is He Popenjoy by Anthony Trollope
15. The Castle by Franz Kafka
16. Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
17. An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
18. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
19. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
20. Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant

I’m happy that quite a lot of them are foreign classics and there’s nothing in the list which I want to avoid particularly. I can’t wait to see which number comes up.

Dandy Gilver and The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom by Catriona McPherson

The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom is the latest Dandy Gilver investigation from Catriona McPherson. This one is set in Glasgow in 1932 and the whole city is dance crazy. There is a big dancing competition coming up and none other than Victor Sylvester will be officiating.

The Locarno Ballroom in Sauchiehall Street is the venue and Theresa, better known as Tweetie is one of the contestants. She’s the very spoiled and self-centred daughter of a wealthy businessman and her dancing partner is a young man who works for Tweetie’s fiance. The other contestants are very much more down to earth, typical Glaswegians.

When Tweetie starts to get various threats, such as being sent a dead stuffed bird – her parents are understandably worried and call in Dandy and her side-kick Alec to try to track down the perpetrator, and keep an eye on Tweetie.

This was a good mystery with a particularly enjoyable setting for me as I knew everywhere mentioned, and in fact the street that I was born in is even given a mention. The various different types of tenement flats are described in detail which will be of interest to people who haven’t frequented any.

I was a bit disappointed that gangsters featured in this book – thinking that yet again Glasgow is being portrayed as a wildly violent place, but in a note at the end McPherson does say that gangsters had been a problem in the city up until the early 1930s, after which the police seem to have got to grips with the problem.

If you want to have a wee keek at what The Locarno actually looked like, click here.

This book counts towards the Read Scotland 2015 challenge.

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay is the second book which I’ve read by the author. I wasn’t too keen on the previous one but I found this one to be much better. It was first published in 1935 but my copy is one of those British Library Crime Classics re-prints.

The setting is a female college in Oxford. That happens to be a favourite setting for me and when I think about it I can trace my love of females in an educational establishment right back to the good old Enid Blyton Malory Towers series.

Four of Persephone College’s undergraduates are intent on forming a Lode League, a sort of secret society, apparently they are popular amongst the students. Their meeting place is on the corrugated iron roof of the college boathouse which is on the River Cherwell.

When they see a canoe coming along the river they’re worried that it might be the Bursar, a woman that they have a very low opinion of. At first they think the canoe is empty but as it floats closer they realise that someone is inside it. That someone turns out to be none other than the hated bursar. Is it foul play, did she commit suicide or was it simply an undergraduate prank which got out of hand? – as the police think.

Mavis Doriel Hay only wrote three books, this one being the second. I found the first one Murder Underground to be less than enthralling but this one which was published just one year later is such an improvement on the first one. Perhaps it was just that the setting was such a familiar one to her and the characters seem more realistic and natural with authentic banter amongst each other.

Coincidentally Death on the Cherwell was published in the same year as Dorothy L. Sayers very much more famous Gaudy Night. The settings are the same, only the actual colleges being different. There were only two women’s colleges in Oxford at that time apparently and it seems that Sayers and Hay used their own alma maters as settings, obviously just changing the names.

Hay only wrote one more crime fiction book but she did write a lot of books about rural crafts, which she was very keen on. She was instrumental in the resurgence of quilting in Wales.

She had three brothers, one was killed in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland, her youngest brother was killed when his Tiger Moth crashed in the Malayan jungle in 1939, in 1940 a third brother who had been captured by the Japanese died on the Thailand-Burma railway and as if that wasn’t bad enough – her Canadian husband who had joined the RAF was killed in a flying accident in 1943. It’s a wonder she stayed sane.

Back Home

We went on another British road trip last week and I managed to be organised enough to schedule some posts to be published while I was away, just in case I didn’t have access to the internet. It turned out that I didn’t feel much like being online anyway, I was too tired as usual, what with running around during the day.

We visited mainly places which we hadn’t visited before. It’s sad but true that I enjoy visiting places in the UK which I’ve heard about, mainly on the TV or radio – often just on road traffic reports, and I wonder what they’re like if I’ve not visited them.

So now I can envisage Wigan, Haydock, Biddulph Gardens, Buxton, Alcester, Blenheim Palace (Woodstock and Bladon) Geddington, Market Harborough, Geoff Hamilton’s Garden at Barnsdale (Rutland), Uppingham, Oakham, Wetherby, Northallerton, Mount Grace Priory, Sedgefield, Washington Village, Morpeth, Rothbury, Cragside and Wooler. The only places we had visited before were Alcester, Blenheim/Woodstock, Morpeth, Cragside and Wooler.

This time we started off driving down south via Moffat in the Scottish Borders. The bookshop was open and I bought two books –
1. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
2. Crazy Pavements by Beverley Nichols

It was a bookish beginning to our break, we were heading for Wigan, an unlikely place to visit but as I had just read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier I was intrigued to find out what it was like now. It has a newish shopping mall but you can tell from the older buildings that Wigan was indeed down at heel in the 1930s. Unlike many places, mainly down south, there was virtually nothing in the way of art deco/1930s buildings. From which I assume that nobody was doing any building at that time, it was a very depressed area. It’s not exactly vibrant at the moment but it’s still an awful lot better than Kirkcaldy, my nearest large town, which seems to have yet another empty shop each time I visit it.

We stopped off at Buxton, mainly because it was a Georgian spa town and has associations with Jane Austen.

Sedgefield was chosen as an overnight visit mainly because it was Tony Blair’s constituency when he was an MP and I wanted to compare it with Kirkcaldy. In the end I didn’t even take any photos there as it was such a wee place with just a few shops, a village really. I feel quite unreasonably aggrieved with the inhabitants of Sedgefield for voting in Tony Blair as their MP and allowing Blair to set off on his egomaniacal merry power binge which has put us in the horrendous position we are in now.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to over the last week or so and I plan to show you some photos of the various places which I hope you might be quite interested to see.

What did I buy when I was away? Not a lot really, apart from some more books, but that’s another blogpost.