Upcoming Reads: May 2019 -September 2019

We had our quarterly planning meeting at The Roebuck on Tuesday and came up with a reading plan all the way through to the end of September!

May 2019

14th     (Poetry) Vladimir Nabokov, Collected Poems (Tim)

21st      (Short Stories) Girl, Balancing by Helen Dunmore (Kay)

28th     (Theme) Reading a book whilst in that country/city

June 2019

4th       (Novel) Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale (Kay)

11th     (Poetry) Elizabeth Bishop, American 1911-1979

18th     (Short Stories) Stefan Sweig – revisit (Tim)

25th     (Theme) Scientific rivalry – Darwin/Wallace, others (Christine P)

July 2019

2nd       (Novel) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Tim)

9th       (Poetry) Robert Frost (Tim/Kay)

16th     (Short Stories) The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

23rd     (Theme) Your favourite book from overseas (omitting West Europe and US0

30th     Meal – La Buvette or other restaurant

August 2019

Holiday time! Read away, fresh suggestions.

September 2019

3rd        Planning

10th     (Novel) The Cat’s Table by Michael Oondaatje (Tim)

17th     (Poetry) Matthew Arnold (Clare/Tim)(

24th     (Short Story/Novella) A Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese (Kay)





Cookbooks Aren’t What They Used To Be

Am taking the liberty of reblogging a post from Kay’s blog which is very relevant to April 23rd’s subject of food writing. Happy Reading !

Travel Gourmet


‘Fings ain’t wot they used t’be’ goes the old Lionel Bart song for the hit London stage show of the same name in the 1960s about East London Cockney characters. According to that doyenne of cookery writing Prue Leith, cookbooks aren’t what they used to be either. ‘In my day you could still buy a good cookbook in paperback with no pictures at all. I doubt if they would sell today. But those books were much used’ she told the Radio Times recently. She seems to think that nowadays people only buy cookbooks for show, rather than use, and that they are merely coffee-table books and represent lifestyle aspirations. It’s caused a bit of a rumpus over the media with people agreeing or disagreeing. What about you? What do you think?

Amidst this social media controversy I was interested to listen to Andrew Graham-Dixon extol the virtues of Elizabeth David’s Italian…

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Upcoming Reads: February – May 2019


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We met in The Roebuck for our first meeting of 2019 and had a great time working out a reading plan for the next three months. As usual, we followed our now standard pattern of: 1st week – Short stories (SS); 2nd week – Poetry (P); 3rd week – Novel (N), though occasionally a non-fiction title; and 4th week – Theme (T). There will be one 5th Tuesday – and we thought by April we would definitely be ready for a meal together at a local restaurant.

February 2019

5th       (SS)     PROPERTY by Lionel Shriver (Doreen)

12th     (P)       LUCK IS THE HOOK by Imtiaz Dharker (Tim)

19th     (N)      A ROSE FOR WINTER by Laurie Lee (Kay)

26th     (T)      Ghost Stories (Margaret – who suggested a good one for winter nights!)

March 2019

5th       (SS)      DINNER PARTY by Joshua Ferris (Doreen)

12th     (P)        RIVER IN THE SKY by Clive James (Kay)

19th     (N)       PARIS ECHO by Sebastian Faulks [due out in paperback in February] (Kay)

26th     (T)        Friendship – good or bad; life-enhancing or destructive (Margaret)

April 2019

2nd     (SS)       THE COLLECTED STORIES OF STEFAN SWEIG, published by Pushkin Press      [currently out of stock but also you may find some of the stories in their cheaper Pocket Collection] (Tim)

9th      (P)        A general theme of poems for Spring (Doreen)

16th    (N)        WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje (Tim)

23rd    (T)        Food writing (Margaret)

30th                 Meal!

May 2019

7th                    Planning


21st     (N)        A BEAUTIFUL SUMMER by Cesare Pavese (Kay) [one in the Penguin European Writers series; Doreen suggested we do something European!]



The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

The joy of the book group is other group members highlighting bits you’d overlooked and joint appreciation of memorable passages. This happened a lot last night and this insightful review rounds it off.

JacquiWine's Journal

Last year I read and really enjoyed Muriel Spark’s 1959 novel Memento Mori, a darkly comic exploration of ageing and mortality. In the hope of building on this positive experience, I recently turned to another of her early works, the wonderfully titled The Girls of Slender Means. Luckily for me, it turned out to be a great success. It’s a mercurial novel. Deceptively light at first sight, there are some genuine elements of darkness lurking just beneath the surface, all of which come together to make it a really interesting and surprising read.

Set mostly in the summer of 1945, The Girls of Slender Means centres on the May of Teck Club in Kensington, a hostel for the ‘Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation…

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The Purple Swamp Hen

This evening’s book provided a lively discussion. Final verdict was that these were typically magazine stories. Here is a fuller post.


Dame Penelope Lively has had a storied literary career. Short-listed for the Booker a couple of times and a recipient once, she is the recipient of many other literary awards. She has written two memoirs with a third that focuses on gardens due out this month. Apart from novels and children’s books she has five short story collections of which “The Purple Swamp Hen” is the most recent. Distinctly traditional post-World War II British in tone, each story is narrated with limited dialogue. Well written, but due to narration, most of the stories have the emotional detachment of an observer. Relationships, particularly marital fidelity or lack thereof, are the subject of a number of the stories.

Her constructs are imaginative. The title story is told from the perspective of a purple swamp hen in Pompei. “Biography” is a series of interviews about Lavinia Talbot, a recently deceased professor (and BBC…

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Brat Farrar – Josephine Tey

Last night’s book was a success all round – here is an excellent blog post to sum it all up.

I Prefer Reading

Patrick Ashby committed suicide when he was just thirteen. He threw himself off a cliff or swam out to sea until he could swim no more. His parents had been killed in a plane crash shortly before but his family – twin brother Simon, sisters Eleanor, Jane & Ruth & Aunt Beatrice – & friends had no idea that he was distressed enough to take such a drastic step. Beatrice Ashby (known as Bee) had stepped in to look after her nephews & nieces & take on the running of The Latchetts, the estate & horse stud that would provide a precarious living for the family. Precarious, that is, until Simon, now the heir to his mother’s fortune after Patrick’s death, turns 21 when he will inherit.

Just before this milestone, a young man turns up claiming to be Patrick Ashby. From the beginning, the reader knows that he is…

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My Mother’s House and Sido – Colette


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Last night’s delightful book features vignettes of French country life at the turn of the 20th Century. This excellent blog post includes 3 very typical quotes giving a true flavour of the book. (It also highlights the importance of the choice of translation – the one used was the one most of us had bought and included some exquisite passages)

Ordinary World

What glory can there be in snapping green beans? A few weeks ago, I was given a large bag along with the inherent task of discovering just that. The beans were dirty, and more numerous than I hoped. They also had some spots that would need pruning before the whole bunch could be washed and prepared on the stove. Thinking about a plate fully laden with freshly cooked and delicately seasoned green beans, brimming with potassium and shell outs, impelled me to begin the task, made longer by the hems and haws of getting started.

That afternoon I wondered about the lack of celebration for the mundane. It seems we all want to kick ass in a specialty of one sort or another. We want to be stellar, even singular, at something good and praiseworthy. Then, we all want our plate of steaming vegetables for dinner. Perfectly prepared, but perhaps…

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Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba


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Autumn seems to be the time we traditionally read some serious non-fiction. (Last year it was Ben Judah’s This is London)

For 2017, the chosen book is Les Parisiennes by local author, Anne Sebba. This is not a book to enjoy.  It is a book to pull you up short and consider the good fortune of living in the 21st century in a country with no experience of enemy occupation.  It is ferociously well-researched, amplifying our understanding of the depths of barbarity which the Germans meted out to French women in situ in France, and after their subsequent deportation. French complicity in the round up of the Jewish population is examined in depth as is the disparity in the treatment of returning Jewish deportees from the Resistance deportees.

It is a long harrowing read and needs considerable stamina to continue as the details are unimaginably bleak. But it is worth it. The closing chapters are very thought-provoking. They reveal (among other things) how the de Gaulle government manipulated the emphasis of media reporting once the initial purges of collaborators had taken place and analyses the difficulty deportees had reintegrating into society.

It is also an account of how French culture defiantly retained its place in the world despite the German onslaught. Attempts to pillage French art treasures and transfer haute-couture to Berlin were thwarted. The coverage is good of Picasso’s reasons for staying put in Paris and continuing to work, despite the exodus of other artists. And overall the book is a corrective to the post-war glamourizing of the activities of the Resistance.

We were evenly split over whether the immense weight of detail was irritating or whether it was necessary to provide every last fact in order to refute Holocaust deniers.

In terms of evaluating the narrative thread, each individual woman’s story was at times difficult to keep separate in the mind as the action progressed. Several of the SOE agents for example just blend into each other until their very shocking ends are retold. So hard to read if, like a lot of us do, you usually read very quickly. 

The book memorialises the hideous sacrifice made by many women to achieve the salvation of France. And it inhabits the mind for quite a few days after completing – the very definition of a good read.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day


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I was amused to read Lucy Kellaway (formerly of the FT) describe this the other day as a book about a job interview which of course it is. I wanted to recommend it but felt it might be too sweet but this excellent post explains the underlying tone which backs off the romantic element.


I’m sorry I did not take the advice of my fellow bloggers AT ONCE and dive into this charming, funny novel by Winifred Watson. It is sweet without being too sickly, an escapist fairytale with a good dose of humour and wisecracks to keep it grounded. It has the feel and style of those 1930s Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers comedies which I used to watch after coming home from school in the afternoon, before I sat down to do my homework. It was – for once – not relegated to the underground storage room of the library, but up proud and yellow on the ‘mood boosting books’ shelf. And never a truer word was spoken!

It is a fairy-tale, a Cinderella story of a middle-aged, downtrodden governess who is sent by mistake to the apartment of a glamorous nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, rather than a household full of unruly children. Before…

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Books we have lent…..


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We recently had a theme of Books we’ve most often lent and why? and we reflected ruefully that had more of the books we’d lent been returned we’d have a bigger list !

A unanimous choice from all present at the discussion was The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.  A classic tale of love and life with a backdrop of the unification of Italy. This is one we’ve all promoted to other people.

Here in no particular order are the rest of our favourites.

Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers (Novel)

Pre-first world war (1903) and early example of an ‘invasion’ novel about how a German landing was stopped by two young men on a sailing holiday. Writer was in the Navy. It’s a grown-up Famous Five (though there only 3 of them)

On Broadway  – Damon Runyon (Short Stories)

This is an omnibus of Damon Runyon’s short stories written about gangster life in New York – Broadway to be specific – during the Prohibition Era.   Full of lovable rogues and skullduggery. Narrator writes in the vernacular of the period. It’s the sort of book you can just dip into at any point and start reading, so very specific and so sums up character it works.  The musical Guys & Dolls was based on it.

The Last September – Elizabeth Bowen (Novel)

The story of a big house in Ireland before its demolition.  Set in the early part of the twentieth century during the Ascendancy – time of the Black & Tans.  It’s notable for the way it captures that time and how the house seems to mould characters. (very good Wikipedia entry about this book)

The Tortoise & the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins (Novel)

Story just unfolds in a rather grand commuter village.  Excellent characterisation. This was one of the novels we read in May 2014.  Here is a review written at the time

Glass Room – Simon Mawer (Novel)

Such different uses for the same house set in the very interesting central strip of Europe.  It belonged at times to the Nazis then Soviets and finally to the Czechoslovak state.  The house is built for a young couple and the story opens as the wife as an old lady goes back.

The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien (Novel)

Fantasy, ridiculous but very funny

The Innocent in Erendira – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Short Stories)

The Innocent of the title is a non-person, a sort of Cinderella without the happy ending.

The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (Novel)

Really dark story of a trader and his passage down a river in Africa.  A psychological journey not a light read – a deeply questioning book

The Company She Keeps – Mary Mccarthy (Short Stories)

Set in bohemian New York literary/political circles not long after Mccarthy’s best known novel, The Group and using some of the same characters.

The Ice Age – Margaret Drabble (Novel)

Terrific state of the ­­­­nation novel, very atmospheric about a developer in the North East (based on John Poulson). Gritty atmosphere of the time.  Echoes of 2008 and echoes of now.

South Riding – Winifred Holtby (Novel)

The writer was a great friend of Vera Brittain.  A winter book set before WW2 – the characters are all very real.  The heroine is a young headteacher who has come from elsewhere.  All human problems are here; it shows the terrible poverty that existed before the Welfare State.  Chapter headings are grouped under various committees of the council.  Well intentioned and very much of its time and useful to read now with the retreat of the the state. Shows genuine insight into the past as written contemporaneously.

In Montmartre – Sue Roe (Non-fiction)

Subtitled Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris 1900 – 1910 it gives a good idea of who knew who and how they interrelated. Also a very good description of what Picasso was trying to do artistically through this period

Revolution in the Head – Ian MacDonald (Non-fiction)

Subtitled The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties.  The introduction is a very good (if left-leaning) account of the history of the Sixties followed by a listing of every single track recorded by The Beatles looking at musical construction, musical influences, particular instruments used. Finally at the back of the book is a useful glossary of musical terms.

And finally an email choice sent in by a member unable to attend

My choice for tonight would have been  Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers (Novel), which was lent to me when I set off on my own to Venice in 2006 and I’ve since lent to a number of other people when they tell me they are going to Venice. However, it’s less about Venice (although it gives a wonderful sense of Venice and you can trace some of the settings in the novel) and more about love and loss, friendship, self-discovery and of course angels and miracles. I enjoy Vickers’ novels for her insight into her characters and relationships – she’s a Jungian therapist – but they’re not heavy reading.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your enthusiasms and giving us food for thought for our free-reading month of August.