Christmas came early…..


I have been busy, can you tell? And it’s definitely not all related to bookish bliss, unfortunately. How I wish it was, though! Trips to the annual year end Big Bad Wolf Book Sale provided the much needed respite in between the on-going mini crisis at work (brought on after my hard disk crashed sometime towards the end of November). Many months of data were lost as a result of that and to cut a long story short, much time and effort had to be put in to recover what was lost. Time that would otherwise have been well spent reading or bonding with my new books.

Anyway, enough with the gloom, let’s move on to the happier stuff, shall we?
Finding these lovelies to bring home were indeed the little sparks of joy that helped made these dreary days more bearable. Just looking at them is at times therapeutic enough, I find.

Especially if it’s something as beautiful to behold as Jane Mount’s My Ideal Bookshelf. It’s always fun to read about other book lovers’ choice of favourite books and why they matter to them the way they do. And it’s even better when these essays are accompanied by a visual display of beautifully illustrated book spines.

I found a fair few books on travelling (both the conventional and unconventional kind), ranging from those who attempt to travel on foot (in this day and age!) across Europe to Rome in Harry Bucknall’s Like A Tramp, Like A Pilgrim, to those who decide to take “a train journey to the soul of Britain” – Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late. Then there are those who would cycle all the way home to England from Siberia – Rob Lilwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia: 30,000 miles, 3 years, 1 bicycle, while another’s  yearning for adventure would inspire him to take flight with flocks of snow geese, journeying through thousands of miles to arrive at the Arctic tundra – William Fiennes’ The Snow Geese.

For a more historical flavour of travels in the days gone by, there’s Edmondo de Amicis’ classic Memories of London and Stephen Inwood’s Historic London: An Explorer’s Companion.

I was also able to bring home some really interesting memoirs/ biographies that I’m very excited about. Top off the list is Noreen Riols’ The Secret Ministry of Ag. & Fish: My Life in Churchill’s School for Spies.

It was 1943, just before her eighteenth birthday, Noreen received her call-up papers, and was faced with either working in a munitions factory or joining the Wrens. A typically fashion-conscious young woman, even in wartime, Noreen opted for the Wrens – they had better hats. But when one of her interviewers realized she spoke fluent French, she was directed to a government building on Baker Street. It was SOE headquarters, where she was immediately recruited into F-Section, led by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. From then until the end of the war, Noreen worked with Buckmaster and her fellow operatives to support the French Resistance fighting for the Allied cause. Sworn to secrecy, Noreen told no one that she spent her days meeting agents returning from behind enemy lines, acting as a decoy, passing on messages in tea rooms and picking up codes in crossword puzzles.”

This reminded me of the film The Imitation Game, which I really loved.

Derek Tangye’s first volume of his Minack Chronicles, A Gull on the Roof: Tales from a Cornish Flower Farm has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of it, probably five or six years ago after my first visit to Cornwall, a place I have been longing to go back to ever since. So, until I get to do that, I will just have to ‘revisit’ Cornwall by living vicariously through Tangye’s tales.

I will probably save Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir Slipstream for until I have at least read the first volume of her Cazalet chronicles, which I have been meaning to.

A few others that also caught my fancy:

The Jamie Oliver Effect: The Man, the Food, the Revolution by Gilli Smith
In The Dark Room: A Journey in Memory by Brian Dillon
Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery by Mark Rice-Oxley
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

And for something really unusual and one of a kind, Philip Connors’ Fire Season.
For nearly a decade, Philip Connors has spent half of each year in a small room at the top of a tower, on top of a mountain, alone in millions of acres of remote American wilderness. His job: to look for wildfires.
Capturing the wonder and grandeur of this most unusual job and place, Fire Season evokes both the eerie pleasure of solitude and the majesty, might and beauty of untamed fire at its wildest.”

How enticing does that sound!


Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime – a memoir with an artistic slant.

Dominique Browning’s Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness – I have a copy of her other book, Around the House and In The Garden which I kept meaning to get around to but still have not.

Sara Midda’s A Bowl of Olives “….. is a work of pure enchantment, celebrating food of the seasons, of family, of travel and memory.”
This is a gem to be savoured, no doubt. I was thrilled to chance upon this, having loved her art in In and Out of the Garden, which is just pure delight.

Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) and Daniel Duane’s How To Cook Like A Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession are two deliciously promising memoirs that I also found at the sale.

I loved the cover of the George Orwell (Keep The Apidistra Flying) so it had to come home with me.

And for something more serious, but very readable (I sampled the prologue), The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World by Greg King.

I was also very happy with the two C. S. Lewis that I found – The Great Divorce and Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. Another interesting discovery was Marcia Moston’s Call of A Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife. “Moses never wanted to be a leader. Jonah ran away from his missions call. And when Marcia Moston’s husband came home with a call to foreign missions, she was sure God had the wrong number. His call conflicted with her own dreams, demanded credentials she didn’t have, and required courage she couldn’t seem to find. She promised to follow where God led, but she never thought the road would lead to a Mayan village on a Guatemalan mountainside.”



Erwin Raphael McManus’ The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art.
“McManus demonstrates that we all carry within us the essence of an artist. We all need to create—to be a part of a process that brings to the worldt something beautiful, good, and true—in order to allow our souls to come to life. It’s not only the quality of the ingredients we use to build our lives that matters, but the care we bring to the process itself. Just as with baking artisan bread, it’s a process that’s crafted over time. And God is the master artisan of our lives.” This should be good too!

Essay collections are another favourite of mine, and I was glad to have managed to pick these up.

Jonathan Raban’s Driving Home: An American Journey
Richard Rodriguez’s Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
V.S. Naipaul’s Literary Occasions: Essays

A few more interesting finds :

Tessa Cunningham’s Take Me Home (memoir of a daughter taking care of her 95 year old father).
Joyce Cary’s A House of Children (an autobiographical novel about childhood).
Colm Toibin’s Homage To Barcelona (travel writing by a fine novelist).

And oh, there’s also a Virago Modern Classic that came in the form of Rumer Godden’s Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (what a lovely title!).



Speaking of lovely titles, Michelle Theall’s Teaching The Cat To Sit and Alexandra Fuller’s Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness definitely got my attention with theirs. These two, together with Charles Timoney’s Pardon My French, Fenton Johnson’s Geography of The Heart, Edmund White’s Fanny: A Fiction, Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London and Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady, were found in another two different book sales, besides the Big Bad Wolf.

Well, where books and book sales are concerned, the more the merrier I’d say!
So…… seen anything here that you fancy so far? 🙂

I didn’t try this….. I was only hungry for the books!

An unexpected find….

Du Maurier memoir 1Look what I found while waiting to board the train home after a short trip back to my mum’s hometown over the weekend! Of all places, there happened to be a small offering of books for sale going at bargain prices, right in the centre of the busy central station. What a pleasant surprise! 🙂

Du Maurier memoir 2Du Maurier memoir 3

I never knew that Daphne du Maurier wrote this pictorial memoir which was completed just shortly before her death in 1989. I was aware though, of her other book ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ which also paid tribute to the beauty of the place that had played a major part in shaping her, both as a writer and a person.

Du Maurier memoir (a)

Personally, I consider Cornwall to be my favourite corner of the UK, too. There’s just something very special about the rugged landscape and the raw beauty of the place. It is without doubt, a corner of the world I would love to be able to return to again and again, if ever I am so blessed with the opportunity to do so.

I can’t wait to get started on the book and be carried away to ‘Enchanted Cornwall’! 😉

A Book… A Place… A Time…

The Book : The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay–Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched southwestern leg–and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong possibilities about the pair who began to walk down the quay at Lyme Regis, the small but ancient eponym of the inbite, one incisively sharp and blustery morning in the late March of 1867.

For the longest time ever, I have had this strange misconception about the book, of it being something of an entirely different nature to what it actually was. And as a result of this, I never had the interest or intention to read the book at all. That is until two years ago, a friend insisted that I watch the 1981 adaptation (brilliantly portrayed by the sublime Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons), in order to put an end to my misconceptions. And I am glad I did. For not only did I enjoy the film adaptation immensely, but it had also renewed my interest in the book, and in the writer.

“It is all too easy to be transported into the world so vividly created for us by John Fowles, as he details the love affair between Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, whilst simultaneously exposing the hypocracies of Victorian England. Haunted night and day by the face of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ (Sarah Woodruff) Charles Smithson struggles to forget her and concede to a life with the entirely more conventional Ernestina Freeman. Theirs is the expected and typical Victorian pairing, but as the action progresses, Charles finds his initial curiosity towards the enigmatic Sarah developing into attraction and eventual desire. In his novel, Fowles powerfully depicts Charles’s inner conflict between head and heart, painfully illustrating the consequences of allowing the heart to overrule in such a repressed, hypocritical society.”

The Place : Lyme Regis, Dorset – England

The sleepy fishing village of Lyme Regis.



The famous Cobb (also featured in Jane Austen's Persuasion).
The only bookshop I managed to peek into.

Lyme Regis, often called the Pearl of Dorset, is a sleepy fishing village situated on the border between West Dorset and East Devon, right in the middle of the Jurassic Coast.  This is the back-drop upon which the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman is told.

The Time : Summer of 2010

I had the wonderful opportunity of travelling to the UK with two other tavelling companions during the summer of 2010. Our journey saw us driving all the way from Dumfries (south west of Scotland) right up to Lands End which is the most westerly point in Cornwall (south west of England).

Since one of my travelling companions was the same one who made me watch the film adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and so happened our travel route would see us passing by Lyme Regis, of course we couldn’t miss out on the golden opportunity to stop and savour the atmospheric setting for both the book and film. We didn’t have time to explore much as we were rushing to make it to our next pitstop, Torquay (home to dame Agatha Christie), where we were to put up a night.  However, despite what little time we had strolling the Cobb and being accompanied by light drizzle together with the “most disagreeable easterly wind” blowing at us , Lyme Regis still managed to have left an indelible impression upon us. Enough to make us want to return to it again, someday. If for nothing else, at least there is the Herbies cheese burger that surprisingly turned out to be one of the best we ever had, to go back for! 😉

Throughout the trip, we also made the following stopovers :

Conwy, North Wales (where we went into the Smallest House in Great Britain!)
Llangollen (home to the famous Two Ladies of Llangollen)
Hay-on- Wye (Town of Books, need I say more?)
Brecon (known for its beautiful walks)
The Cotswolds
Thomas Hardy's cottage
Torquay (home to Agatha Christie)
Penzance (this station being the most westerly station in England, is truly the end of the line)
St. Michael's Mount
St. Ives
Minack Theatre (the most amazing open-air theatre ever!)
Lands End

And of the books that were related in one way or another to these places (ie: bought from, set in, read about, listened to….) I’ll leave that to another post, another day, another time.  😉


Note :

‘A Book… A Place… A Time….’ is (hopefully) going to be a recurring feature in this blog. In it, I hope to be able to relate books I’ve either read or planning to read, listened to, or watched an adaption of, to the places I’ve travelled to in the past, or hope to travel to in the future. Hope this idea will somehow translate well onto the blog. 🙂