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Book Review: Snowfall in Burracombe by Lilian Harry


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This is a delightful book and just right for this time of the year. As you know, I love all things ‘village’ so this book was perfect for me.

‘In the village of Burracombe, nothing stays secret for long and behind the peaceful, rural charm, there’s always a scandal to uncover, a newcomer to the village to set tongues wagging, a happy occasion to celebrate or friends to help their neighbours through the tough times.

It’s December 1953. As the village prepares for the festivities, for many people a happy Christmas is by no means certain. For Stella Simmons, recovering from a car crash, the winter wedding that she and her sweetheart had planned seems impossible.

Elsewhere in the village, Jackie Tozer is dreaming of America and Hilary Napier, who thought the war had robbed her of her chance of happiness, has to ask herself if she could ever imagine leaving her life at the big house for the sake of love and adventure.  The darkest time of the year finds everyone asking questions with no easy answer.

As snow falls softly on the village, and everyone wishes for peace and joy, Burracombe proves once again that there’s a always a surprise around the corner.’

so say the jacket cover! Lilian Harry has written numerous books, but this is the first one of hers that I have read! I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to you. I counted 60 characters in all. Far too many for me to remember so after reading the first chapter, I started making a list.  I wrote down the character’s name, who they were and who they were married to or in a relationship with. Perhaps if I had read other books in the series, I would know by now, who is who, but I didn’t. I found this book in a charity shop and pounced on it! Do you make lists of characters when you are reading?

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I have just completed two more doggie blankets for the Battersea Dogs and Cats home. I hope I can get them off in the post in time. I expect they won’t mind if they’re late arriving. There is a blue one and a purple one. I’m using up my stash nicely!

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Have you noticed how busy the delivery men are? It must be a very stressful time of the year for them. I hope they all get a bonus like the bankers!!! This year, here in England, we adopted the Black Friday nonsense. I say nonsense, not because it is a waste of time. If you can buy a TV at a very reduced price, then good for you, but I don’t like what I see on the television with regard to the behaviour of many of the shoppers. Frankly, it was disgusting. I would much rather we adopted the Thanksgiving Day that you have over in America. Following on from Black Friday is Cyber Monday and yes, we have that too now. Those two days of sales have caused havoc with UPS etc.

Tomorrow is the 12th so I’ll be posting my Christmas cards and putting up the Christmas Tree. I’m looking forward to doing that.

What will you be doing tomorrow?

Book Review – The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier


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‘Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker, who has rarely ventured out of 1850’s Dorset (England) when she impulsively emigrates to America.  Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family.  In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.’

My friend bought this book for me for my birthday, back in October and I loved it. It is the third book by Tracy Chevalier that I have read. The first was ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ and the second was ‘Burning Bright’.

My friend thought I would like the book because it deals with an English girl’s journey to America to begin a new life. She knew that I had that same experience back in 2006 when I left my life in England to go and live in Tennessee. From then until 2013 I was back and forth from England to America, spending approximately six months of the year in each country. Finally, Larry and I decided that England was the best choice for a permanent home given that we are both getting older! The distances are not so great, there is not so much the need for private transport and the health service is better. Those were the three main criteria which influenced our choice plus the fact that I already owned half a house over here.

In the story, Honor’s choice was different, but in many ways she found the same differences over there that I did.

I encourage you to read this book. It is a good read and very enlightening.

Oma

Leaf Cards


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I’m currently read Mary O’Hara’s lovely book ‘The Scent of Roses’ wherein we learn about her life as a singer, as a newly married woman and as a nun.

‘In the fifties, Mary OHara, almost by accident, found fame and fortune as a singer and harpist.  She had a gentle beauty and charm, coupled with a unique lyric soprano voice.

Mostly, I came to realise, book reviews are about current books or those just published, but I tend to read new and old and often re-read those I like the best. Although I knew of Mary O’Hara, I hadn’t read this book before and now as an older person, I have been enjoying it. I may not have read it in my younger years, but it speaks to me now as a 62 year old. This morning I read about the leaf cards she made and would like to quote from the book here for you now:-

‘As soon as I was Solemnly Professed (admitted into the monastery), my father went off to work in the U.S.  Every now and then, a particularly lovely autumnal leaf, indigenous to whatever part of North America he was in, would arrive from him in a letter.  He would pick them up on his rambles, press them and send them on to me.  They were so attractive that I took to sticking them on to cards and using them as markers in my choir books.  One day Sister Hildelith, who had seen my leaves, asked me if I’d join forces with her and produce some leaf cards for the annual display of handmade gifts from members of the community for Lady Abbess on her Feast Day and I agreed.  However, shortly after that , Sister Hildelith had to drop out of the project because of other commitments, so reluctantly I had to continue on my own.

Eventually the finished leaf cards went on display among all the other community gifts.  It was a lovely surprise to discover that not only did Lady Abbess like them, but so did other people including the Cellarer, who asked if I’d produce more for sale in the monastery shop.  So I went on happily making leaf-cards in my free time, little thinking that it was to develop into a fascinating hobby.  Until then I was not well acquainted with the flora in our grounds, but gradually, I became more knowledgeable.

At first I just culled random, experimenting with lots of things.  Although I never used flowers as such, apart from the heads of conparsley, hogweed or fennel,I sometimes picked a flower after the petals had fallen off and the flower assumed a different appearance.  Clematis, for instance, after the petals have dropped off, becomes ‘old man’s beard.’ Pressed at an early stage, it remains silky and a shiny pale green for an indefinite time and looks stunningly lovely.  Pressed at a later stage it turns out lavender-coloured, very feathery and fragile-looking.  I sometimes called these the ‘Eye of God’ or ‘Ezechiel wheels.’

To me each leaf I worked with was a new source of wonder because each was a unique creation and something living.  The combinations of leaf and paper were myriad.  I was in the enviable position of having access to off-cuts, and sometimes whoel sheets of what must have been some of the most beautiful hand-made papers in the word, from Japan to England.  My sources of supply were all within the monastery walls and contributions came from the printing room, where they also did Fine Printing, the scriptorium, the bindary and the artists’ studio.  Besides hand-made paper in white and in various colours, shades and textures, and Japanese veneer, I was also given good quality machine-made papers, sometimes hand-dyed.  Soon it became the most fascinating work I’ve ever done.

A by-produce of this was that I became much more observant of the beauties of nature out of doors around the enclosure.  Eventually, as the work expanded, I was given a special cell to work in, which I called my ‘Leafy Bower’, and was also provided with a table, shelves and a guillotine for cutting paper.  It was absorbing and enjoyable work.  Sometimes I referred to them as my Zen cards.’

That passage from the book and it’s subsequent paragraphs, which went on to chronicle further successes with the art, moved me somewhat. I got to thinking about how a simple thing like receiving a leaf in the post from her father started something which gave Mary and all her friends and later customers such pleasure. It really is the simplest things in life that give the most rewards.

Here is Mary in song:

 

I wish you a happy and peaceful weekend.

Oma

 

Book Review – The Light Between Oceans


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I just finished this book the other day. It was fabulous. Funny how some books capture your imagination and others don’t. That’s why it is difficult to recommend because I always feel like ‘well, I liked it, but maybe they won’t’. However, this book is so good and I’m not alone in feeling that, that I have no hesitation in recommending it.

It is impossible to review it in depth without giving the story away so all I will say about that is that it is all about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who live on a tiny island beneath the lighthouse off the western coast of Australia. One day a boat drifts on to their shore. In the boat is the dead body of a man and a tiny 2 month old baby. What happens next you must read for yourself. I think you will find the book hard to put down.

The authoress is M. L. Stedman and it is her first novel, published in July 2012. For a first novel or even a subsequent one, it is stupendous. Why? because I couldn’t put it down. Not a word is wasted and yet her descriptions are thorough and the characters are very well drawn.

Be warned – it is a heartbreaking story so you’ll probably need the tissues. I did and when the book was finished, I was left with that empty feeling that only comes at the end of great story.

I’m told a film is coming so be quick and read the book first because they’re always better than the films, right?

Oma

Tea with Miss Clare.


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I am a big fan of Miss Read or, to give her her real name, Dora Marie Saint. She wrote ‘Village Diary’ in 1957 and it tells of a village school with two teachers, Miss Read and Miss Clare; Miss Clare is the older of the two and has recently retired from teaching. She returns to the school when needed. The book is beautifully illustrated by J.S. Goodall.

In this excerpt, Miss Read is going to have tea with Miss Clare. Why don’t you escape with me into the dreamy world of Fairacre, for just a few moments and read about life in a bygone age?

‘Miss Clare invited me to her cottage for the evening.  She refuses to let me fetch her or run her home in the car, but cycles, very slowly and as upright as ever, on her venerable old bicycle.

As usual, the best china, the snowiest cloth and the most delicious supper awaited me.

Miss Clare’s cottage is a model of neatness.  The roof was thatched by her father, who was the local thatcher for many years.  She has an early-flowering honeysuckle over her white trellis porch, and jasmine smothers another archway down the garden path.

In the centre of the table stood a cut-glass vase of magnificent tulips, flanked by a cold brisket of beef on a willow-pattern dish garnished with sprigs of parsley from her garden, and an enormous salad.  The freshly-plucked spring onions, were thoughtfully put separately in a little shallow dish.

‘It’s not everyone that can digest them,’ said Miss Clare, crunching one with much enjoyment, ‘bu my mother always said they were a wonderful tonic, and cleared the blood after the winter.’

Miss Clare’s silver was old and heavy and gleamed with recent cleaning.  How she finds time to keep everything so immaculate, I don’t know.  Her house puts mine to shame, and she has no one to help her at all, whereas I do have Mrs. Pringle occasionally to turn a disdainful hand to my affairs.

After we had consumed an apple and blackberry pie, the fruits of Miss Clare’s earlier bottling, we folded our yard square napkins – which were stiff with starch and exquisitely darned here and there – and washed up in the long, low kitchen, while the coffee heated on the Primus stove.’

When life gets frustrating, I pick up one of Miss Read’s excellent books. She has written two series about village life plus other stories and is always a joy to read. My favourite of the two series is Fairacre, which is written in the first person. I pretend that I am Miss Read, when I read the stories and live through all the ups and downs of village life along with her. The other books are about Thrush Green. Miss Read herself, preferred these. I suppose it is easier to write in the third person. I read them all regularly.

For those of us who live the village life, or try to! it is nice to dip into these books for inspiration. I encourage you to give them a try if you feel so inclined.

You can read more about Miss Read here.

Book Review – The Postmistress by Sarah Blake


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I didn’t warm to this book at first, but as I’ve found in the past, it’s worth persevering sometimes. I had a bit of difficulty with the characters because at the beginning, the author kept jumping from one place to another, one character to another. However, once I’d sorted that out, I realized what she was trying to achieve, i.e. the importance of news reporting during the wartime.

A female American news reporter travels to London and later through Europe and reports back to her American audience as to the full horror of what was going on in Europe during World War II. She carried with her a ‘portable’ talking machine (not actually invented till a few years later)and recorded what people were saying, on trains, in the underground stations etc.

A young American doctor, newly married, hears one of the reports and decides to go to London to share his skills. Before he leaves, he gives a letter to the local postmistress and asks her to give it to his wife, should he not return.

There is a lot of poignancy in this book. In places it is hard to read but overall it is an unusual take on the events which ordinary people get caught up in during the last world war.

I recommend it.