Very early on Saturday morning, in bed, enjoying the sun through the French doors and the breeze. Mr. Pom has already left the house to get his hair cut. (He goes to an old school barber who doesn't take appointments, so he has to be first one in or he has to "waiiiiiit". Men hate to waiiiiiit.)
For some blessed reason the dogs have not stirred and although my bladder is about to burst, I refuse to get out of bed and wake them up. I am savoring these few minutes of birdsong and quiet before the storm begins.
Oops, I shouldn't refer to The Wedding as the storm, right? It's not a storm on any front but these are the last few minutes for the next ten days when I am not totally and completely overtaken with all things wedding.
In fact, I was supposed to pack last night and leave by myself first thing this morning for the Cape, the first person to head up. Unfortunately, I spent the two hours before dinner staring into my closet trying to figure out what to wear for the rehearsal dinner. Then Mr. Pom insisted on going out to dinner and plying me with a large glass of wine. My last memory was watching the season finale of Smash on demand and turning over until he woke me sneaking out for a haircut. So today I will get some last minute errands done and then take off late afternoon or tomorrow morning.
But I promised a summer reading post and here it is!
Not technically summer, yet, but on Memorial Day, when everyone is hungover from the wedding, I shall be sitting my butt on a beach chair (whether at the beach, in my backyard, or in front of a fire in my living room) and cracking open all the books I've been too busy to read.
Truth be told, I have been reading a lot, lately. I am too scattered with all that is going on to write, so I have been reading and sketching. The latter will wait for another post, but I wanted to share the wonderful books that I've been enjoying.
I have divided this into two posts: the first concentrates on UK fiction, which I am rolling in like a pasture of bluebells and cowslips on a summer's morn. (That's cowslips, not cow patties.) For those of you who roll your eyes at yet another series of UK novels, don't click off; there are several who will change your mind, especially the literary mysteries that are not Miss Marple. The second post, has some great American writers and fascinating nonfiction, one of which I declare my nonfiction book of the year. (You'll have to wait for that for a few days....)
I may have written about this once before, but it bears repeating. This is a most unusual, charming, and tender novel. A young boy, a father's death, the Outer Hebrides, secret agents and red herrings, a bear and a fantasy, and a journey back to the heart.
A modern Jane Eyre tale of an young Icelandic girl who is orphaned and sent to her Scottish uncle's family, who take her in and then in turn ship her off to a Dickensian boarding school when the beloved uncle dies. Eventually she ends up as a nanny in a island (I'm on a Scotch kick). Beautifully written with a strong sense of place from Scotland to Iceland, and a page turning plot.
The Arctic Circle, a group of young scientists in the late 1930's, and a dark, brooding land that reflects back the unease and self-doubts that they bring with them on the expedition. Isolation and desolation; shadows and seaweed; dogs and delirium. I read this in two big gulps, up late at night in a rainstorm, too spooked to walk across the hall and jump into bed with Mr. Pom.
I don't recall how I discovered S.J. Bolton, but I suspect it was on Cornflower Books, which is the source of so many of my wonderful UK reads. (Thank heavens for The Book Depository, which is my source for books not published in the U.S. and has free shipping worldwide. ) I am not a mystery reader; I am perhaps the only person in the world who has not read The Dragon Tattoo trilogy (though saw the movie). If I am going to read a mystery, it has to be a literary mystery, preferably with an author from the UK.
Bolton is a marvelous writer who uses powerful imagery and exquisite prose to tell the story of a flawed, damaged beauty who works as a vet in rural England and prefers rescuing badgers to talking to her neighbors. A fast-paced plot and enough romance to make one wistful is snaked through with ...snakes and I can't tell you more without giving away the plot.
Now that I've discovered Ms. Bolton, I am reading through her ouevre, and began with her first book, Sacrifice, set yet again in rural Scotland. (My blanketing of tartan reads is only coincidental, but most delightful.) Reading a first novel after you've read a third or fourth is like watching home videos of your grown child as a toddler. You chuckle over her tenacity of getting back up on her training wheels after many spills off the bike, while noting the seeds of talent and intelligence in their first words and unconditional love. The book is a little over-plotted and has so many interrelated characters and switching of identities that I often had to go back and give it a second read. However, a novel that begins with the female protagonist digging a ditch with a front loader to bury a horse and finding a body preserved in the peat, is irresistible, and the strong sense of place in the setting of the Shetland Islands, the Viking folklore, and the resilience of the female character, this time a resourceful ob-gyn, creates a worthy read. I have two more of her books packed in my car for the Cape.
A Writer's Britain (Second Edition) by Margaret Drabble
A Writer's Britain - that is the Britain I wish to visit. I suspect it exists only in my mind or between the pages of a A.S. Byatt novel, but I will get there some day. I have not opened this book yet but it is all packed in my hold-all. What could possibly be more sweet than Margaret Drabble writing about English authors writings about Britain?
Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton
Have only dipped into the first few pages and have never read the author before but she has a long list of novels, and all appear to be those endearing read that combine romantic comedy, well-realized characters with foibles and heartache, and just enough satire to make one nod in recognition. This one is about a newly-appointed male principal of an all-girl Cambridge college. Ah, more British reading for lovely summer nights.
House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths
On the northern coast of northfolk, archeologists are studying coastal erosion when they stumble across a grave of 6 men. Another literary mystery with a strong sense of the cold, damp, windy coastline and a battle of life and death linked to WWII, unraveled unwittingly by the young, single mother archeologist. Griffiths has a series of mysteries and they are all on my TBR list.
Daphne: A Novel by Justine Picardie
I don't know why it has taken me so long to pick up Justine Picardie's novel about Daphne DuMaurier. Rebecca remains one of my "threshold books" of my youth and anything about DuMaurier intrigues me. I have vivid memories of reading it for the first time and have frequently reread it over the years, always surprised anew somehow at the double twists at the end. Picardie's novel is a portrait of DuMaurier years after her success with Rebecca. Facing 50, she is heartsick over her husband's affair and his subsequent nervous breakdown; her literary career is stalled and threatening to tank; and she is trying to tease a book out of a 40 year old literary scandal that involves Bramwell Bronte. Told in 3 parallel narratives set years apart in the style of The Hours, some of the narratives are less sure-footed and more predictable than one would like. The most lush writing is woven through the atmospheric peeks into Menabilly on the Cornwall coast and the over-the-back-fence look at Hamstead. A most intriguing book.
VANISHING CORNWALL, THE SPIRIT AND HISTORY OF CORNWALL by Daphne DuMaurier
After reading more about Cornwall in "Daphne" and never forgetting the vision of Happy Valley filled with azaleas, I was excited to pick up a used copy of this out of print book by DuMaurier. Next on my list to read.
Drowning Rose by Marika Cobbold.
This little novel is a quirky gem that travels back and forth between the main character's brilliant and promising youth as an artist and her stunted and emotionally frozen adulthood, the result of the drowning of her best friend in boarding school. I confess to a wee bit of impatience at the long-suffering Eliza and her blinders as to what really happened. But sometimes characters are drawn to the extreme to provoke the reader to assess whether they are really as pure -or evil - as they appear. The author has a dark sense of humor (Tragically flawed Eliza works as a restorer of damaged porcelains) and beautifully drawn characters in evocative settings. As much as I wanted to stay in Eliza's little house on a square in London, I wanted to sit inside the manor house in the Swedish countryside, drinking copious amounts of tea whilst watching the snow fall outside the windows.
The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric
I have just started this series of novels, never having heard of Lovric beforehand, and again, I am unsure how they came on my reading radar. I was drawn to them because they take place in Venice ( yes, I got a visa to leave the UK for vacation). These two books are considered young adult novels, but they are extravagant and fantastical stories that will appeal to anyone who loves books bursting at the seams with ripe language, vivid plot, and larger than life characters. It is richly embroidered with details of the underside of this extravagant city, which in the author's imagination is layered with sharp-tongued mermaids and ghosts. I've only read a few pages and it is calling to me in my hold all.
The Floating Book:A Novel of Venice
by Michelle Lovric.
Again, I am unsure where I learned of Lovric but I think I will own a copy of her entire list before the summer ends. I haven't opened this yet, but the description is irresistible: Venice, 1468. Sosia Simeon, a free spirit with a strange predilection for books and Venetians is making her particular mark on the fabled city. On the other side of the Grand Canal, Wendelin von Speyer from Germany is setting up the first printing press in Venice and looking for the book that will make his fortune.
I think this is enough to get you started on your own summer reading list. In a few days I will post part 2, which has some fabulously quirky American novels and rich nonfiction, including a book I consider my favorite nonfiction book of the last few years. Let me know your literary jewels for summer reading in a hammock in the shade of an elm, or under a porch roof dripping with rain, or starry sky by lantern light