JEREMY MUSSON – Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant

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Acquired via BookCrossing 22 Apr 2011 – bookring

The author has clearly consulted many sources, and uses them wisely and well in presenting a history of the country house servant from Medieval times to the present. I particularly liked the strand about the architects and architectural features involved, which was brought right up to date with a discussion of present-day needs and requirements. Well put together but I have to say that, although a copy-editor is thanked in the acknowledgements, there were some very odd sentences, which were a bit off-putting!


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E-book, read on Kindle. Downloaded Feb 2011 from (I think)

Usually, I have a "nice" book or two on the go at home and then a less special copy to pop in my handbag for reading on the bus.  But I took a look at my TBR and realised that I’ve got up to the Christmas/Birthday acquisitions, which means lots of "nice" books and not many "handbag" books.  So I thought I’d use my poor, dusty Kindle, so eagerly anticipated and so underused since I got it, for reading on the bus.  After all, a) I have 44 books on it, and b), as Matthew pointed out, I happily wave my Blackberry around on the bus, which cost twice as much.

So – the reading experience was good.  I felt hyper-vigilant at first, taking it into town and back including coming back on the No 50 bus after 8 pm.  But it was fine; as far as I could see, noboldy turned a hair, or even looked at it.  My commutes to work are quite quiet as I go in early and come back before rush hour, and again, I was fine.  I have the Kindle in a case, so I just popped it out of my bag, propped it on my bag on my lap, and there I was. It’s comfortable to hold with the case folded back (I have one shaped like a traditional book) although I don’t yet use it one-handed like the people in the ads. The screen was easy to read in sunlight and duller conditions, the pages are easy to turn, and the procedure for putting it away – flicking the switch and closing the case – take the same amount of time as inserting the bookmark and shutting the book.  I am careful of my handbag with it in, and make sure it’s stored vertically between my purse and a notebook, and I’m more careful not to slam my bag down or kick it out of the way (and I keep the Kindle out of the bag at home) and all seems fine.  

As to this particular book.  Well, it was a charming read, which I would not have been able to read without digging out a second hand copy in Hay on Wye or a similar place, but easily available through Project Gutenberg and other sites like manybooks.  My only problem with the text was that a) illustrations were not included (I have read a book with illustrations on M’s e-reader, so assume this is an issue with the text and not the Kindle), and b) some of the accented letters came out oddly – and of course Icelandic has a lot of these.  I presume that’s a glitch in the coding, and it was OK, if a little annoying.  The narrative itself is the 2nd edition of the book, originally published in 1889 and again in 1894 with a ‘Preface to the Second Edition’ which I didn’t notice until I was checking the publication date.  But I’m glad I read it after the main narrative.  The book deals with a trip to and around Iceland, undertaken by the author, her brother, her female friend and two of her brother’s male friends.  Intrepid as an Isabella Bird, she quickly takes to riding the Icelandic ponies in the "man’s" style, i.e. sitting astride the pony rather than side-saddle, finding it more comfortable and easier on both her and the pony.  The consternation with which this report was received was the subject of her Preface, in which she admits that she hasn’t been able to make people change over to the new style.  Apart from this controversial issue, it’s a lovely description of Iceland, its people and places, giving a vivid snapshot of the island at the beginning of its tourist age, when it took 5 days to get there by boat from Scotland.  Many of the sights and sites are the same, which made it a good companion to my Rough Guide, read recently, and in fact I’m now on to another book about travelling in the country.

A good experiment with the Kindle, and a great book I wouldn’t have found without the device.  I will definitely be continuing with both the Kindle and the collection of slightly obscure travel narratives I have loaded onto it.

ELIZABETH VON ARNIM – Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther

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25 Dec 2010 – LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa gift from Parmaviolet

The letters of Rose-Marie Schmidt, from a small town in Germany, to ex-lodger Roger Anstruther, back in England having declared his love at the very last minute.  Very vivid and lifelike, funny and poignant; her family and neighbours are drawn beautifully, as are the house she moves to and her relations with her servant.  So far, so delightful, but the ending, heralded though it is by some acerbic comments and others’ suspicions that she is a "liberated" woman, is both fresh and surprising.

I think this is the only Von Arnim I didn’t already have, and is a valuable and worthwhile addition to my Virago collection.

M.C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor

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Borrowed from Ali

I read A.R. books because of their "cosy" nature, with only the odd death, not described in gory detail.  This one, which opens so abruptly with the return of James Lacey that I thought I’d missed one in the series, was full of deaths and violence, with characters seeming more than usual to be introduced just to be killed off, and being killed really nastily, which was quite unpleasant.  I hope this isn’t going to be a trend in the series from now on.

DAVID LEFFMAN & JAMES PROCTOR – The Rough Guide to Iceland

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Acquired via BookCrossing Dec 2010 – from Connected charity shop for BC purposes (but will keep for a bit)

Although this is quite outdated now, it was still great to read in such detail about a country I’ve always been fascinated by and wanted to visit.  I will certainly go back to the Sagas now and will continue to dream.

Really badly copy-edited, though. Rough Guides, do you need my help?!

RUMER GODDEN – The Greengage Summer

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25 Dec 2010 – Secret Santa gift from LibraryThing Virago Group member Parmaviolet

A delicious coming-of-age novel.  Cecil and her delightfully-drawn siblings are thrown onto their own resources when their mother falls in on the way to their holiday in France.  They are awakened to the mysteries of sex and adulthood by the set of characters at the hotel, some of whom – Eliot in particular – are meant to be protecting them.  Hugely atmospheric and evocative of hot teenage summers and learning who to trust.

JOHN WESTWOOD – “How To Write A Marketing Plan”

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Lent by Colporteur for reviewing

A good basic guide to marketing and writing a marketing plan. Full review, undertaken for Colporteur, can be found here: (click on relevant book title)

OWEN HATHERLEY – A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain

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From library

The author delivers an excellent, detailed, sometimes vituperative and highly readable critique of the "Urban Renaissance" architecture that came after the postmodern "vernacular" mish-mash of the 1990s.  This is characterised by lofty and noble aims that are not often carried through – and not just because of the credit crunch.  Our cities are full of mixed-use behemoths and home-grown attempts to ape great architecture, leading to a PFI hospital-style mess.  Hatherley celebrates the great modernist and brutalist successes like Park Hill in Sheffield and notes what is happening now in an approachable, human and often funny way.

DAN KIERAN & IAN VINCE – Three Men In A Float: Across England at 15 mph

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Bought 04 Dec 10 (charity shop)

Ostensibly one of those amusing wacky travel books, this time about driving across England from East to West in a milk float, like the best amusing travel books, this has depth provided by the relationships between the three travellers, and Dan and Ian’s meditations on England, society and the value of "slow travel".  This made it a satisfying as well as a funny read.  I’ll be offering it on a BookCrossing bookring.

GRAHAM GREENE – The End of the Affair

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Acquired via BookCrossing 07 Nov 10 – bought at the Connected shop for BC purposes

I picked this up at the charity shop because Matthew and I wanted to catch up with some 20th century classics.  He read it first and enjoyed it.  A short novel in which we follow the fortunes of Bendrix, Sarah, the woman he once loved but now claims to hate, and her husband, Henry.  Narrated in flashbacks, the narrative voice reminded us both of Iris Murdoch, with the London setting adding to that for me.  Powerful and perceptive, a close study of one man’s state of mind and deeply atmosphericm with moments of pathos and humour – we could see why it’s a classic.

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