There has been bookshopping ….

…. there often is, but it’s a long time since I’ve found so many interesting titles in the course of just a few days.

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On Saturday morning I spotted a ‘3 for £1’ sale at a charity shop in town. I’ve not had much luck with those sales lately, but of course I have to look, and this time my luck was in.


Nancy Milford‘s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald has been on my wishlist for ages, and so I pounced as soon as I spotted.

I was very taken with Sarah Moss‘s first novel – Cold Earth – and I’ve been wanting to read her second, and so when I spotted a copy of Night Waking I picked that up too.

And then I needed a third. There was nothing unmissable but I spotted a book by Victoria Holt that I didn’t know – The Silk Vendetta – I liked the look of it and so it became my number three.

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There is a lovely café-bookshop a couple of hundred yards from my mother’s nursing home, and I hadn’t visited it in the nine months I’ve been visiting her. That was because I had Briar with me, but I haven’t taken her since my mother was ill, and became so much more frail than she had been. I would if she asked, but she hasn’t …. and that meant I could look in the bookshop.

I found two lovely numbered Penguins.


I have loved Daphne Du Maurier‘s writing from a very young age; I read every book the library could offer and, later on, I built a collection of my own, but I never came across a copy of The Du Mauriers before. I knew that it was a history of the family in the 19th century, but I hadn’t realised that it was written as a novel. I was smitten from the first page …..

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers is already in my Persephone collection, and it is a lovely collection of stories. But it holds ten stories – four less than the original edition. I don’t know why, I don’t know whose decision it was, but I remember finding out and being horribly disappointed that I had left a Penguin copy behind in the Oxfam shop a few years ago.

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I took a couple of extra days off work after Monday’s bank holiday – one for a jaunt and one to catch up with things around the house – and today was the day for the jaunt!

We try to visit St Ives once a year, to look around the town, to visit the galleries, and to investigate some different bookshops.

I didn’t expect much from the first charity shop we visited. There was a very small selection of books, but I spotted the name of a favourite author


The Landlord’s Daughter and The Room Upstairs both date from the late sixties. The reviews seem to be very mixed, but I love Monica Dickens‘s writing and so, of course, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Oxfam Shop has been a happy hunting ground in the past, and it was again today.


The Birds in the Trees by Nina Bawden fills a gap in my Virago Modern Classics collection. I loved her books for children – especially ‘Carrie’s War’ but I still haven’t read any of her adult novels. I really must.

Judasland by Jennifer Dawson also comes dressed in Virago green, but it was published as a new novel in 1991, not as a modern classic. I’ve read one of her books – The Upstairs People –  I love her style and I have a feeling  that this comedy, set in academia, could be rather special.

Summer in Baden-Baden is Leonard Tyspkin‘s homage to Dostoevsky and, because Russian novels are calling to me, because it’s a train book, I decided to pick it up.

And, best of all, I found a book by Francis Brett Young. I love his writing, and I love that Mr and Mrs Pennington is the story of the first year of a marriage in the 1920s.

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Now I just need to magic up some more shelf space ….

Books for a Desert Island

“Desert Island Discs is on the radio. I think there should be a Desert Island Books where the guest tells us which books he/she would take … “

As soon as I read those words in Ann Kelly’s The Bower Bird I began to wonder what books I would take.

It wasn’t easy. Some beloved authors – including Thomas Hardy, Margery Sharp, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Wilkie Collins – had to be dismissed because I couldn’t pick just one book from many wonderful works, and because I knew that whichever one I took I would regret leaving another behind.

There had to be a good range of books. I could easily have picked eight Victorian novels, but I had to allow for different days, different moods needing different books.

And I wanted books that could give me everything – beautiful prose, engaging characters, wonderful stories, thought-provoking ideas ….

Books to engage all of my emotions, and books to make me think and ask questions.

Books with so much to offer that I could happily read them over and over again.

And now, finally, I think I have my list:

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

The perfect picture of a community and the people who make it. Such wonderful characters, such wonderful ideas and emotions, and a green Virago Modern Classic to remind me of so many others.

Skallagrig by William Horwood

If I could take just one book, this would be the one. A book that speaks to me personally and says all that needs to be said about what makes us human.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

My favourite Brontë sister, and a wonderful Victorian novel that I know I could read over and over again.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

It’s a long time since I read this one, but I still remember it so well. I can’t quite explain what makes it so special, I just know that it is, and that I want to take it with me to read again.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

I did wonder whether I should take a Cornish book. Would reading of Cornwall allow me to travel home in my head or would it just make me homesick? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Love in the Sun is just too lovely to leave behind.

The Gormenghast Books by Mervyn Peake

When I want to escape sun and sand, this is the book that will take me into a completely different world. To wander down dark castle corridors and watch extraordinary stories unfolding …

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers

Perfect short stories take me back to an England that has long since gone, but that I have visited so many times in books. And a Persephone book so I have the bookmark, the endpapers, the sheer beauty of the book as an object to enjoy.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

I would definitely want a big historical novel, and this is definitely the right one to take. The first one I read, the book that made me realise that history can be questioned, and a book so rich in detail that I could lose myself for days and days ….

Yes, I think that those eight books and I could live happily together for a long, long time.

And now please tell me, how would you pick your desert island books? Which ones would you take?

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers

Persephone Endpapers

I started reading Tea With Mr Rochester at the end of the first Persephone Reading Week and I realise now, at the start of the second, that it has been on my bedside table ever since. 

Because it is a long book? No. The ten short stories that make up Tea With Mr Rochester fill just one hundred and sixty-two pages. It has lingered because the stories are so lovely that they need to be savoured slowly. So lovely that I read many of them more than once; that I was reluctant to read the last story, to never again be able to come to one anew.

Yes, it really is that good.

It is a book to transport you to a different world. England in the 1950s, and a series of well-appointed drawing rooms. Each is distinctive, but there will always be beautiful furnishings, with just the right individual touch. And they will always be adorned with flowers, and with music. Such beautiful descriptive writing.

“It was, of course, a peculiarly gracious room, with its high ceiling and Adam chimney-piece. The shining white walls were painted with light and dim reflections of colours, and a thick black hearthrug smudged with curly pink roses – an incongruous Balkan peasant rug in that chaste room – somehow struck a note of innocence and gaiety, like the scherzo in a symphony. That rug, and the photographs on the lid of the grand piano, the untidy stack of books on a table; and a smoky pseudo old master over the fireplace, with the lily of the Annunciation as a highlight, a pale question mark in the gloom, gave the room an oddly dramatic quality.”

Young women pass through these rooms. Genteel young women who have had sheltered lives, and whose pictures of the world, whose ideas of romance, have been painted from literature: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice.

In the title story a young girl wrapped up in Jane Eyre imagines onew of her aunt’s friends as Mr. Rochester, and is thrown into confusion when her aunt takes her to tea with him.

“They went on with their gay, incomprehensible conversation as if she was not there. It was quite safe to steal glances at Mr Considine, recalling the moments when he had played with Jane, as a cat with a mouse, the delirious moments when he had broken short a sentence with a betraying word, all the moments of agony and bliss one had shared with the little governess. And that most wonderful moment of all, when he at last declared his love and gathered her into his arms, and one had nearly fainted with delight.

But suddenly Mr Considine took her by surprise. The blue eyes looked straight into her own, and then he said, with an amused smile – “Prissy has been weighing me all this time in her invisible scales. And what, Prissy, if I may ask so personal a question, is your private opinion of me?””

Yes, men are dark and mysterious creatures. And other women are darker too. More knowing, and often troublesome.

For all of this to work the writing needs to be perfect, and it is. The descriptive writing is lovely, but it is also clear and exact. The observation of the characters is exact; empathy is there always, but sentimentality never.

The construction of the stories is elegant, the storytelling is flawless, and although they are set in a very real world they often have the air of fairy-tales. 

Their sphere may be narrow, but they are wonderfully diverse. Some are gently satirical, some are fanciful, some are haunting. All are romantic, in the best sense of the world.

My heart wants to tell you about them all, but my head says no. These are stories should creep up on you, and delight you, as you read.

And read them you must.

Frances Towers died in 1948, leaving behind just this one book.

But this one book is perfect.

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“The mistresses and the girls were too dull for words, too dull to put into the diary. Only Miss Hornblower was a little different because she took the Shakespeare class, and one got the feeling now and again that she was keeping back something too precious to tell.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


I so wish I was at home, but I have been sent away to school. I hate it. I so want to escape, to fly away onto my imagaination, but I can’t. I ‘m never left alone and I’m so tired that I can’t even dream at night.

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

This all comes courtesy of Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers