The Year In Books: October…

In which I come over all contemplative…

IMAG7609I seem to have given up on fiction for a while. Looking over the most recent reads, it’s all been factual.

I thoroughly enjoyed Marc Morris’s The Norman Conquest and was going to go straight on to read his book about castles – rather succinctly titled Castle – except that somewhere in between, I bought a copy of Katherine Swift’s book about her time creating the garden at Morville in Shropshire – The Morville Hours – and found myself immersed in a wonderful way that wouldn’t allow me to put it down until it was finished.

I had intended to read it when it was first published – am I right, was it serialised on radio at the time? But I never got around to it. I used to drive through Morville regularly at one time, before Katherine took over the garden, so I was intrigued to know more.

But this is far more than a gardening book. Oh yes, there is a lot to interest a gardener, but Katherine cleverly arranged her chapters in the form of a medieval Book of Hours, and so, following the turning year, in rhythm with the turning offices of the monastic day, she gives us glimpses of her own life, the history of Morville and people over the ages connected with the area. I was spellbound. I read a review of the book which described its tone as melancholy. I agree, but it felt totally appropriate and I felt sad when I came to the end.

I cheered myself up by going back to Castle. If castles are your thing, this is going to please you, but perhaps not the best reference for your thesis on medieval architecture. My only problem with it though had nothing to do with the content, but with the paper it was printed on. The hardback copy I have uses thick shiny paper – very pretty, but dreadfully difficult to read in bed with the bedside lamp – I had to keep moving the pages around to avoid the reflections (I know, never satisfied some people…). I hadn’t seen the TV series which went with the book, but having finally managed to get Channel 4OD to work, I might seek it out.

It hasn’t been the best summer for history trips for me this year, so reading all these history books has gone some way to sooth a need, but reading The Morville Hours, had renewed an interest in these medieval books – the Books of Hours – each one a magnificent work of art, combined with a story of the men and mostly women who owned them and used them daily. I love that rich mixture, the sense of connection both with the medieval artists who slowly, religiously, wrote and decorated the pages and with the women in whose hands these very pages were held. I suspect that it’s a similar sensation I get from looking at ancient needlework.

So when I was out yesterday on an entirely different mission, and I saw John Harthan’s Books of Hours, I couldn’t resist. It is a book for a history junkie to drool over. There are many colour pictures from Books of Hours throughout the middle-ages, accompanied by a description of the work and details of the owners.


This is just a tiny detail from The Hours of Isabella Stuart, Duchess of Brittany (c. 1417-18). So much crammed into that space – but what I adore, are the little black lines, deliberate, but also free, can’t you just feel your own hand making those marks. There’s much, much more inside – I will have to restrict my time looking at each example or nothing else will get done around here.

And then, all my Christmas’s coming together, I also found the Sue Clifford and Angela King book, England In Particular in the Oxfam bookshop in Berkhamsted. (Thanks Sue for the recommendation – it’s even better than I’d hoped).

This is another book that could easily keep you engrossed for hours. It’s an A-Z of England and its special ways. I like the blurb that says “…offers a way of looking that makes the mundane magical. It will change the way you see the world”. 

So I’m starting October with two gems. Do you believe in serendipity? I certainly think I was extremely lucky to find these – maybe magical? Who knows, it’s something to contemplate…

Changing the subject completely – I’m currently gorging myself on Cox’s apples. My mum craved them when she was expecting me, which is my excuse for eating pounds of them at this time of year. Is it me or are they especially good this autumn?

The Year In Books: July & June

A literary pick ‘n’ mix…

So it’s summer and of course that means we’re all sitting by the pool, reading something light and airy.

Or maybe not…


To be entirely truthful, my reading over the last few weeks has been extremely patchy. I’ve certainly downloaded and read a lot of sample chapters on the Kindle, but as for actually reading through a whole book, ummm, well.

The trouble started when I decided after buying the next Gareth and Gwen novel, not to read it straight away. I’ve gulped down so many series novels over the years, I suddenly thought I’d wait and read this later in the winter. But what to read instead?

I won’t bore you with all the titles I tasted. In the end, on the Kindle I have lined up the following;

  • The Passion – Jeanette Winterson (thank you to My Search For Magic for the recommendation)
  • The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris
  • The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim (guaranteed to make you feel good)

While I was dithering about what to read, Jo at The Hazel Tree posted her review of the classic The Old Straight Track – Alfred Watkins.  This is one of my favourite books, so after reading her post, I dug out my copy and promptly starting dipping in again. Not only is it a fascinating read, but for me it’s quite nostalgic, bringing back lots of happy memories.


Then my yoga teacher lent me her copy of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness – Erich Schiffman, so I’m gradually reading through that too.

Which would probably have been more than enough to get my teeth into. But then, a few days ago, I happened upon the new Marc Morris history book – The Norman Conquest. What is a history junkie supposed to do! I like Marc Morris’s style, and I thought before I buy the new book, I’ll re-read his previous one, about Edward I – which I did.


And then – big mistake, I looked Marc Morris up on the Kindle and found he’d written another book, about castles – Castles: A history of the buildings that shaped medieval Britain. It’s at times like these someone should take my Amazon account off me. Naturally I demonstrated no self-control whatsoever, not only did I order Castles, I also found a copy of Prof R Allen Brown’s classic, English Castles online, which I’ve also ordered.

Which would have been alright I suppose, if I hadn’t then decided I might as well buy The Norman Conquest anyway – which I have…


My name is Anny and I am a history-bookaholic.

Happy reading

The Year in Books: April…


Warning: This post contains gratuitous references to sadomasochism and accountancy – may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition…

April has been an unusually unsettling month for me. The Easter holidays always throw me out of what I laughingly call my routine,  but this was further complicated this month, when I was unexpectedly asked if I’d be interested in taking a six month work contract, doing some of the things I last did over fourteen years ago.

It well and truly sent me off kilter, as I juggled in my mind the pros (money) and cons (too many to mention) of taking it. I hadn’t realised how shallowly I’d buried some of my anxieties concerning office based working, commuting and work related stress. Well this certainly took me right back, only this time I had the addition of two daughters and a delinquent dog to add to the equation.

I spent a very uncomfortable couple of weeks worrying about life, the universe and everything, but when the company eventually found a more suitable candidate, my relief was palpable – in fact I’ve barely stopped grinning, which I think must tell you everything you need to know.

Which is my very round about way of saying that I haven’t read much fiction in April…

What I did read was a book I borrowed on my Kindle. I came across it one night as I lay browsing titles in bed – a very dangerous thing to do – at least in the old days of book shops, you didn’t often find yourself shopping in your nightie at midnight…

The title is Sadomasochism for Accountants, by Rosy Barnes.

Now I would like to point out that as someone from a marketing background, I have had extensive experience of accountants – I can’t say that we are natural bed-fellows; marketers are by nature fond of (and good at) spending money. whilst accountants pride themselves in saving money. It inevitably leads to the occasional conflict…

The only accountant I ever really liked, was the one who exasperated at my inability to provide my expenses on the correct form, offered to do them for me – an act of kindness which he assured me simply saved him time by not having to redo the drivel I gave him.

My experience of sadomasochism is rather more limited, although who knows, perhaps one day I might yet embrace my inner tapestry-needle wielding dominatrix…

I’m not entirely sure how Rosy Barnes feels about accountants, but her sympathies are rather more with the sadomasochists in this debut novel. It is in turns funny, sad and mildly disturbing, as it follows the attempts by Paula to regain the affections of her erstwhile partner, Alan by becoming less boring...

I can’t say that I found it quite as good as some of the reviewers on Amazon, but it was an easy, clever read, which considering my state of mind in April was just about what I needed. I’m not sure who the target market for this novel really is, but if she writes any more, I’ll probably give them a go. You never know if you don’t try it (as they say…)


The picture is a detail from a photograph in the tea-room at Rievaulx Abbey. I can’t show you the whole picture, as it has my daughter doing her impression of that expression alongside, and she would be less than impressed if I posted it!



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The Year in Books: March…

Almost the end of March already – where did that go!

I was going to say that this month’s reading had been an unusually spasmodic affair, but then it struck me that spasmodic is actually my norm rather than exception. So what has been on the bedside table?

Well, I started the month with the latest (to me at any rate) offering in the Pitkirtly series from Cecilia Peartree – The Queen of Scots Mystery. Not an historical whodunnit, but a modern one where the body is found in the eponymous pub. I came across the Pitkirkly books one night when I was looking for something light and cheap . The first in the series – Crime in the Community – was either free or less than £1, and had brilliant reviews, so I went for it.

They are not challenging reads, but there’s something about the wit that appeals to me. Having finished The Queen of Scots, I downloaded the next – A Tasteful Crime – but that I haven’t started yet, something to look forward to one of the nights.

If you haven’t met Christopher and Amaryllis yet, you can find them going very cheap on the Kindle. Cecilia’s blog would be a good place to find out more.

But the book that I’ve been most pleased to read in March is The Alchemist’s Journey by Glennie Kindred.


Now if the words New Age or Alternative bring out the cynic in you, or if your views on life, the universe and everything, are closer to the dishy Prof. Brian Cox than the tree-hugging Prince of Wales, don’t bother going anywhere near this book – I mean it, honestly, don’t touch it with the proverbial barge pole.

However should the idea of fusing alchemic principles with the Celtic festivals of the turning year, to assist on your spiritual journey, sound plausible (and that I suspect is where we’ll all entertain our own thoughts), give it a go.

I loved it, but then I am an ageing hippy and I have been known to hug the odd tree…


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