Monthly Archives: June 2015

Review: George’s Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Gallic Books.

My Review:
George's Grand TourGeorge is an eighty-three year old gentleman living a quiet life in the French countryside.  He has been a widower for a few years now and his daughter keeps careful watch over his life.  George does not alter his daily routine of watching television, visiting with his neighbor Charles or napping so it is shocking when George decides that he is going to take a three thousand kilometer road trip.

When George’s overprotective daughter decides to take a two month trip and leave him alone, he makes plans with his neighbor Charles to embark on a trip of a lifetime.  These two elderly men prove that one is never too old, too tired or too feeble to have an adventure.  As George and Charles’ route follows the same stops as that of the Tour de France, the places they visit and the cast of characters which they meet on the way are interesting and delightful.

George’s granddaughter, Adele, decides that she has not seen her grandfather in over ten years and out of the blue wants to renew her relationship with him.  Adele begins texting George as he makes his way on his tour and the scenes in which George figures out how to use his phone and the language of texting are hilarious.  George learns that technology is not necessarily such a bad thing and the daily messages between himself and his granddaughter serve to rekindle their heartwarming relationship.

I must say that there were a few plot twists in this book that really surprised me.  George and Charles have very different reasons for embarking on their trip which are slowly revealed to us throughout the book.  Adele also has some of her own issues as a young woman who is trying to figure out her own place in the world.  There is also an interesting attraction between George and Charles’ single sister whom they stop and visit along the way.

No matter where George goes on his trip, he has a gentle way of winning people over and making friends.  He certainly won me over and I highly recommend giving GEORGE’S GRAND TOUR a try while you are sitting on the beach or anywhere else on vacation this summer.

About The Author:
C VermalleCaroline Vermalle was born in France in 1973 to a family whose French roots go back at least as far as the 16th century. Yet, she is a vegetarian who can’t cook, doesn’t drink, finds berets itchy and unpractical and would rather eat yesterday’s snails than jump a queue.

After graduating from film school in Paris, she became a television documentary producer for the BBC in London and travelled the world, at speed and off the beaten tracks, in search of good stories. In 2008, then on maternity leave, she penned her first novel « George’s Grand Tour », whose international success allowed her to quit her job and indulge in her three passions : books, interior design and travel – slowly this time.

After writing 7 novels in different genres and different languages, going on a world tour with her family and building a wooden house in a forest, Caroline now lives between a small seaside town in Vendée (France) and a small seaside town in the Eastern Cape (South Africa) with her son, a black cat and her husband, South African architect-turned-author Ryan von Ruben.




Filed under France, Literature in Translation, Summer Reading

Review: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

My Review:
Diary_of_a_Prov_Lady_for_website_1This is another great classic brought to us by the small British publisher, Persephone Books.  The book is a detailed daily journal of a woman who is trying to the best wife, mother, neighbor and friend as possible.  She has two young children, Robin and Vicky, whom despite her best efforts to the contrary she tends to spoil. One of the funniest scenes in the book is that in which Robin talks her into playing the piano, the gramophone, a music box and letting the clock chime all at once; in the midst of this walks an uninvited guest, the aloof and snobby Lady B.  The trials placed on our provincial lady will resonate with all mothers struggling on a daily basis to raise kind and polite children.

There are a plethora of interesting characters that the lady tells us about.  Lady B., her aristocratic and aloof friend is always dropping in on the lady at the most inopportune times and giving the lady ridiculous and useless advice.  Lady B. does not have the same financial restraints or familial duties as the author of the diary, so humorous quips about Lady B. are sprinkled throughout the diary.  The Vicar’s wife is also a frequent visitor; she is one of those people who claims that they are only stopping by for a minute but are still hanging around three hours later.

The lady’s diary also tells the reader of her monosyllabic, disinterested and rather ill-natured husband, Robert.  Robert has very little to do with the children, expect to complain when they are too loud or too messy.  His favorite pastime is to fall asleep while reading the paper.  This edition of the book contains drawings of different characters in the book and there is a great illustration of Robert asleep in his favorite chair.

The diary has several recurring themes which the lady must constantly struggle against: unruly servants, insufficient money, negative remarks about her personal appearance and constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends.  The lady deals with all of these things with remarkable calm and manages to keep any rude or deprecating comments to her diary.

I highly recommend THE DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY as another humorous and entertaining read from Persephone Books.

About The Author:
Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture (9 June 1890 – 2 December 1943), commonly known as E. M. Delafield,was a prolific English author who is best-known for her largely autobiographical Diary of a Provincial Lady, which took the form of a journal of the life of an upper-middle class Englishwoman living mostly in a Devon village of the 1930s, and its sequels in which the Provincial Lady buys a flat in London and travels to America. Other sequels of note are her experiences looking for war-work during the Phoney War in 1939, and her experiences as a tourist in the Soviet Union.



Filed under British Literature, Classics, Humor, Persephone Books

Review: The Celestial Omnibus and Other Tales by E.M. Forster

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Dover Publications through NetGalley.

My Review:
Celestial OmnibusThis brief collection of stories show the true depth of Forster’s literary talent and his ability to infuse fantasy and imagination into his writing.  My favorite stories were two in the collection into which Forster incorporates many classical references.

In the “Celestial Omnibus”, a boy discovers a sign for an omnibus in the lane across from his house.  The alley is a very odd place for an omnibus to pass through so the boy gets up very early one morning to investigate it.  When the sun rises a carriage does appear out of the fog and the driver picks the boy up.  The boy goes on a journey of a lifetime through the clouds and he meets nymphs and great writers and heroes from famous books.  The omnibus driver is Sir Thomas Browne, the famous essayist, but the boy doesn’t recognize or understand any of the famous people he meets; he just knows that he has had a wonderful time and has seen amazing things.  The story is full of literary allusions and classical references but I won’t give any of them away here so as not to spoil them for other readers.

When the boy comes home after having disappeared all day, his father canes him for telling lies about his supposed journey to heaven.  The boy’s neighbor, Mr. Bons, which happens to cleverly be “snob” spelled backwards, decides he will bring the boy back to the allow and show him that no such omnibus could possibly exist.  But when the omnibus shows up in the alley and picks up Mr. Bons and the boy, Mr. Bons does not have the same magical experience on his journey as the boy; for Mr. Bons’ imagination is not as carefree and vast as the boy and he does not witness the same remarkable landscape as the boy does.  It is no wonder in the end that Mr. Bons meets a horrible fate.

My other favorite in the collection is a story entitled “Other Kingdom.” In this story, an upper class aristocrat named Mr. Worters has taken a fiancé from Ireland, Evelyn Beaumont, who is much below his social status.  In order to better educate his new fiancé, Mr. Worters hires a classics teacher, Mr. Inskip, to teach her Latin.  It is evident from the beginning that Miss Beaumont does not have the intellectual capacity to learn ancient languages, but she does have a whimsical imagination and a carefree spirit.

Mr. Worters decides to buy his fiancé a wood, named Old Kingdom, for a wedding present.  When Worters decides that the wood needs fences and paths and bridges, Miss Beaumont gets very upset that he is trying to organize and tame the natural wood.  Through several allusions, the reader, or at least this reader, is quickly reminded of Ovid’s story of Daphne and Apollo in the Metamorphoses in which Apollo attempts to capture and tame Daphne the wood nymph.  Similar to Apollo, Worters learns the harsh lesson that he cannot tame nature or the spirit of this woman.  Miss Beaumont has a metamorphosis of her own but it is not the type that Worters had hoped for.

This is a collection of stories that I will reach for and reread over and over again and every time I read them I will discover something new and different.  I highly recommend THE CELESTICAL OMNIBUS AND OTHER TALES from Dover Publications.

About The Author:
ForsterEdward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect”.

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster’s views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.


Filed under British Literature, Classics, Short Stories

Review: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

Today I have something a little different to review, a play by the Czech-born British writer Tom Stoppard.  This is a very short work, fewer than 100 pages long.  But it is full of great humor and insights about love and relationships.

My Review:
The Real ThingWhen the play opens, Max and Charlotte are having a discussion about Charlotte’s recent trip to Amsterdam.  It becomes evident to Max that Charlotte never went on any trip and it was all just a cover to have a clandestine rendezvous with her lover.  Max commends Charlotte for making the trip seem as authentic as possible by bringing back souvenirs for her mother.  We soon realize that the scene between Max and Charlotte are not really married but were acting in a play that was written by Charlotte’s husband, Henry.

Stoppard plays quite a bit with drama and reality and oftentimes blurs the distinctions between the two as I noted in the first scene.  We learn that Charlotte and Henry’s relationship, much like that of Charlotte and Max’s onstage relationship, has its issues.  After Henry and Charlotte separate and marry other people, Henry makes an interesting observation about commitment; he believes that many people say they are committed in a relationship and never give it a second thought.  But for a relationship to succeed, both parties involved must renew their commitment on a daily basis.  He concludes, very astutely, that there are no real commitments but bargains that are constantly being made between lovers.

The characters in the play are flawed and are trying, like everyone else, to figure out what love is and to find long-lasting love.  They deal with their relationship issues with humor but also with golden nuggets of wisdom that they have learned through experience.  One of my favorite speeches in the play is given by Henry to his young daughter about love.  He uses the Biblical Greek word “to know” in his definition; “to know” someone in a carnal sense is a euphemism in the Bible but Henry feels that it is a fitting definition for love because it is through the flesh that we allow one special person to truly know us like no other.

THE REAL THING is a quick yet thought-provoking read.  If you want to add more drama to your reading lists then I highly recommend it.  This play has also made me want to explore more of Stoppard’s works.

About The Author:
StoppardSir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler; 3 July 1937) is a British playwright, knighted in 1997. He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love, and has received one Academy Award and four Tony Awards. Themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom pervade his work along with exploration of linguistics and philosophy. Stoppard has been a key playwright of the National Theatre and is one of the most internationally performed dramatists of his generation.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard left as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946. After being educated at schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright. He has been married three times, to Josie Ingle (m. 1965), then Miriam Stoppard (m. 1972), and Sabrina Guinness (m. 2014).


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Filed under Humor, Plays

Review: The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray

My new favorite literary obsession is the wonderful novels from Persephone Books.  Please visit their website to learn more about this small press and the fabulous books they publish:

My Review:
The Happy TreeFirst, I would like to mention that each Persephone book comes with beautiful endpapers and a matching bookmark.  Each endpaper and bookmark pattern that are chosen have a history of their own.  The picture here is the endpaper from The Happy Tree and is a replica of a 1926 printed woolen plush by TF Firth & Sons.

This novel shows us the devastating effects that World War I has on ordinary people who are trying to carry on in their daily lives while chaos and death have broken out around them.  The story is told from the point of view of Helen Woodruffe, who spends her childhood with her Cousin Delia and her two sons, Guy and Hugo.  Helen’s own father has died and Helen’s mother wants nothing to do with raising a child.  So Helen’s paternal relations step in and raise her.  She spends many happy days running around the family estate at Yearsly with Guy and Hugo.  Helen is particularly close to Hugo who is about her same age; they seem to have a special understanding of one another’s sensitive personalities and they share the same interests.

As Helen and Hugo develop into teenagers, it is evident that there is a strong attraction between them.  Everyone who is close to them assumes that they will eventually marry.  But when Hugo takes interest in another girl, Helen agrees to marry a man named Walter because she thinks Hugo is lost to her forever.  Walter is a good husband and loves Helen and it is sad that she comes to the conclusion that she has married the wrong person.  Helen has three children with Walter and she does seem happy for most of her married life with Walter.

The most interesting part of the book is reading about people’s reaction to the war; Helen and her family are at a dinner party when Franz Ferdinand is assassinated and no one believes that there will be a war and any fighting that does break out they believe it will be minor.  When Great Britain is pulled into the war and all of Helen’s young friends, including Guy and Hugo, join the fighting no one believes that the war will last for very long.  As the war drags on, Helen gets notice of one friend after another who has been wounded or killed in the fighting.  In the meantime, she has to deal with food rations, long lines and fuel shortages.  This begins to wear her down and she becomes very depressed, especially when her second child is born.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is one in which Helen describes the struggle of everyday existence during the war years:

This was not life, this daily drudgery, this struggle to keep going, to get through, to exist. I was marking time, we were all marking time, waiting and waiting for the strain to relax, for the war to end; and meantime our youth was going.

THE HAPPY TREE is a realistic view of World War I as see through the eyes of Helen and the everyday British citizens whose lives were worn down by this horrible conflict.  Persephone Books has given us another great classic that should go on the “must read” list for all those interested in World War I historical fiction.

About The Author:
rosalind-murray-copy_1Rosalind Murray (1890-1967) was the daughter of the well-known classical scholar Gilbert Murray and Lady Mary Howard. Brought up in Glasgow and Oxford, she was educated by governesses and at the progressive Priors Field School. She published her first novel, The Leading Note, in 1910 when she was 20, her second, Moonseed, in 1911 and her third, Unstable Ways, in 1914; this was the year after her marriage to the historian Arnold Toynbee, with whom she had three sons between 1914 and 1922. The Happy Tree came out in 1926; it was followed by another novel, Hard Liberty, and by a children’s history book.  During the 1930s Rosalind Murray’s interests turned to theology; although brought up agnostic, she was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1933, and published several books about faith and religion. She parted from her husband in 1942 and spent the rest of her life farming in Cumberland.


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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Historical Fiction, Persephone Books, World War I