Posts Tagged ‘Wales’

september books hydrangeas

The Knockoff, Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza
When Glossy magazine editor-in-chief Imogen Tate returns after a six-month leave, she’s horrified to find that her former assistant Eve has taken over and is planning to turn the magazine into an app. A whip-smart, wickedly funny satire of the fashion publishing world and our cultural obsession with digital media. I loved it, and I was rooting for Imogen all the way. Recommended by both Anne and Ann.

Named of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley
Literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw gladly accepts her favorite client’s invitation to spend Christmas in Wales. Once she arrives, Lyn has a series of strange dreams about a woman imploring her to take care of a young boy being pursued by dragons. An atmospheric novel that weaves together themes of love, grief and Arthurian legend. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Death Wears a Mask, Ashley Weaver
London socialite Amory Ames and her husband Milo attend a masked ball. They’re on the lookout for a jewel thief, but no one expects murder. Amory assists the police in their investigation, while confronting rumors about Milo and a French film star. Witty prose, a well-plotted mystery and a sensitive portrait of a difficult marriage. (I also loved Weaver’s debut, Murder at the Brightwell.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

Kissing in America, Margo Rabb
Since her dad died, Eva Roth has found solace in romance novels, much to the disgust of her feminist mother. When her crush finally notices her, Eva dares to hope for her own romance – but then he moves to California. Eva and her best friend take off on a cross-country road trip filled with wacky experiences and surprising epiphanies about love and grief. This is not a typical YA love story – it’s so much better. Complex, funny and poignant. Recommended by Rebecca on All the Books.

How to Write a Novel, Melanie Sumner
Aristotle Thibodeau, age 12.5, plans to write the Great American Novel (in 30 days!) and thereby solve her family’s financial problems. Her novel is autobiographical, but the characters (single mom, zany little brother, handsome handyman) just won’t behave as Aris  wants them to. Entertaining (though too cutesy at times); full of wry quips (and footnotes) on the writing life. Found at Island Books in Newport, RI.

A Demon Summer, G.M. Malliet
Father Max Tudor is called to a nearby abbey to investigate a suspected poisoning via fruitcake. Soon after he arrives, another abbey guest is found dead in the cloister. This was one of those mystery solutions where two-thirds of the relevant information comes out at the very end, which I always find unsatisfying. (Besides, I like Max’s village and wish he’d get back to solving mysteries there.)

Middlemarch, George Eliot
I read this for my occasional book club‘s August meeting. (Obviously, I did not finish it in time.) I found it quite tedious at times, but witty and full of truth at other times. A mixed bag, but a classic I’m glad I finally read.

Since You’ve Been Gone, Morgan Matson
Emily’s best friend Sloane disappears – with no explanation – right before the summer they’ve been planning. She leaves Emily a list of 13 unusual tasks. With the help of a few new friends, Emily completes the list and discovers a new side of herself. I love Matson’s YA novels (complete with plenty of playlists) and this one was no exception.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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stone soup books interior camden maine

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, Paul Collins
Collins moves with his wife and young son to Hay-on-Wye, a tiny Welsh town that boasts 40 bookstores and a large population of eccentric booksellers. He briefly works as a bookseller/shelf-arranger for Richard Booth, self-crowned King of Hay, while browsing the ever-growing stacks. Collins loves arcana, so his memoir occasionally veers that direction, but it’s a charming, quirky story of life in Hay, studded with wry observations on British life. Such fun. (Found at the Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden, Maine.)

Howards End, E.M. Forster
The writing in this classic novel was gorgeous, but the plot frustrated me. The titular house belongs to the wealthy (rather obtuse) Wilcox family, whose lives become intertwined with those of the independent, well-read, idealistic Schlegel sisters and the poor, uncultured bank clerk Leonard Bast. I had trouble sympathizing with any of the characters, or understanding their actions. Forster’s key idea is “Only connect,” but this novel was about missed connections. More a philosophical treatise than a good story.

The Movement of Stars, Amy Brill
Hannah Gardner Price, a young Quaker woman living on Nantucket in the 1840s, spends her nights observing the sky, hoping to discover a comet. When she begins teaching navigation to a young man from the Azores, the community starts to whisper – and with her father’s impending remarriage, Hannah may have to leave the only home she’s ever known. Gorgeous writing, especially the descriptions of the sky; Hannah’s struggle between the known and the unknown (and the tension thereof) is exquisitely drawn. I loved this book. Based on the life and work of Maria Mitchell, pioneering female astronomer.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
When Louisa Clark loses her job at a cafe, she reluctantly takes a job caring for a quadriplegic man in his 30s. Will Traynor, former jet-setting traveler and arrogant businessman, is now confined to a wheelchair and very bitter about it. He and Lou drive each other nuts at first, but gradually become quite close. A heartbreaking story – though quite funny in parts – and a compassionate, nuanced look at complicated issues surrounding disability and death.

Under Wildwood, Colin Meloy
This sequel to Wildwood takes us back to the wilderness on the edge of Portland, Oregon, whose inhabitants (human and animal) are caught up in a bitter war. Prue and Curtis, two teenagers from Portland, find themselves fighting to save Wildwood while running for their own lives. A fun story, though the mythology of this world often gets complicated and over-detailed, and the narration sometimes grows over-elaborate. Not as good as the first one, but I’m sure I’ll read the third book when it comes out.

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It’s been two years since I last visited Oxford, and four years since I moved there to begin my yearlong sojourn as a graduate student. In so many ways, I am very far from that (relatively) carefree, travel-filled, single student life.

However, there are certain times of the year where my body, almost on its own, seems to remember where I was and what I was doing at this time four years ago. Late August means my arrival in Oxford with two bulging suitcases; early November and early April both mean Paris; the first weekend in February always means Whitby. And so I’ve been thinking about where I was four Septembers ago – climbing onto a tour bus with a fresh-faced, excited crowd of ACU students, and heading off for a weekend in Wales.

We began with visits to Bath and Bristol, both somewhat known quantities to me since I’d been to them before. But after wandering Bath Abbey, touring a lovely Georgian home, and absorbing as much information as we could at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, we headed west to a new place: a charming, rambling old farmhouse-turned-hostel just outside the wee village of Brecon, tucked away in the hills of the Brecon Beacons.

Over the next two days, we did some hiking, some browsing in the village shops, some eating together in the hostel’s cozy dining area (I remember the hot apple crumble), and – my favorite – lots of just hanging out in the sunny front yard, with a view of these hills:

I held an unusual position with that group of students – as a 24-year-old grad student, working part-time for their study abroad program, I was not quite a faculty member, yet not quite a student. I’d just met the new crop of students (and was sharing a kitchen and bathroom with five of them, all male), so I was a little nervous about heading off with them for a whole weekend.

That weekend contains, in my memory, no earth-shattering moments – no deep revelations, no particularly surprising conversations. (Those would come later, usually late at night, often in the basement kitchen where we cooked and studied and washed dishes and became part of each other’s lives.) But I do remember walking to the village with Nick, down a dark road (only one streetlight for three miles), our way lit only by the flashlight he held, and meeting some other students at the village pub. We sat at picnic tables outside, and then we walked back together in twos and threes along the same dark lane, tipping our heads back every few feet to look at the stars.

Most of all I remember sitting on the hillside that evening, Moose stretched out beside me and Nathan sitting on my other side, the dampness soaking through our jeans as we watched the fog roll in over the hills. We talked of nothing in particular, still a bit shy with one another, still feeling our way into these friendships that had just begun. Inside the hostel, there was warmth and light, board games and laughter – and we eventually got up, stretched our stiff muscles and went in to join our friends.

But for that brief space of time (an hour? Two hours? An eon?), I remember sinking deeply into the green damp grass and the crisp night air and the warm, solid, safe presence of the two boys next to me. We were new housemates and even newer friends, but somehow, that quiet hour on the hillside five thousand miles from home forged a deep bond between us. And when we got up to go inside the hostel, I knew we had come home in an entirely different way.

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autumn colour week: green

I’m playing along with Poppytalk’s autumn colour week – I missed yellow, yesterday, but decided to go green today. I’ve been thinking a lot about autumn in Oxford, and Ireland and Wales, two years ago, so today’s photos are all from that time. (Besides, even with all the rain we’ve had lately, the UK is still greener than Abilene.)


This is from a walk along the River Corrib in Galway, Ireland. According to my friend Colton, whom I was visiting, this is where the dryads live. I believe him.


We set out to find Castle Menlo, which Colton had seen across the river for weeks, and find it we did. It’s wonderfully ruined and mossy and covered with ivy. (This is an interior shot – we approached it from the back, since it faces the river.) We climbed all around and took photos, then sat in companionable silence and just enjoyed being there.


Here we are in front of the castle. Colton’s grandmother, who is my grandmother’s best friend (our families have known one another for at least 60 years), always insists, “Put people in your photos!” So we used his tripod and put ourselves in.


This is not Ireland, but Wales – the view over the hills from our hostel, near Brecon. On the evening of the day this picture was taken, I sat on this hillside in damp grass, with two of my dungeon boys (Pickle and Moose), and watched the fog roll in over the hills. We talked, and were silent, and when we left we could see the stars.

uni parks

And finally, a shot from my beloved Uni Parks – green leaves, green light, green grass, green everything.

Happy green Tuesday.

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I’m finally back at my little house in Cowley, after two nights at the ACU houses that turned into five. I spent Wed. night over there as we were leaving early on Thursday, and crashed there on Friday night after we returned from Wales. And the weekend was just so chill, and so fun, that I couldn’t leave. I absolutely adore living in the basement with the boys (see previous post), and as the evenings stretch on I find it harder and harder to leave. I love sipping tea with them in the morning as they drink their coffee, joining in their outrageous travel plans, listening to them jam out on their guitars, and being a part of the cozy craziness that is dungeon life. I am quite glad to be back with sweet Lizzie tonight, though. (I needed a dose of femininity…and some non-pasta food. She was an angel, and made salmon and new potatoes for dinner.)

Here, finally, are a couple of photos from the trip, and a brief outline…

We left Oxford around 7 a.m. on Thursday, and drove to Bath, our first stop. I had been to Bath once before, on a frigid February day when I was nursing a bad cold. We quite enjoyed ourselves in spite of all that, but it was so much nicer this time. The weather was cloudy but quite pleasant, and we so enjoyed ourselves just walking around.

The boys and I visited beautiful Bath Abbey:

We found an incredible breakfast special – full English breakfast for 2.75 pounds – at a sidewalk cafe afterward, so took a mid-morning break:

From left, meet Moose, Bryce and Nick, three of my beloved basement boys. They’re mellow, sweet and fun, and they don’t seem to mind having a girl in their midst quite often. 🙂

We went from here to the Georgian House at Number One Royal Crescent, which is the only house on the block kept up in period style. The guides in each room were all charming little old ladies, quite knowledgeable about the house and its contents.

Darling Jacque and I wandered a bit after that and then got delicious fresh takeaway buns at Sally Lunn’s. Mmmmm. I have the recipe for that bread somewhere…must make some more soon.

Drove to Bristol and spent two hours going through the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Quite fascinating, especially the current exhibit on slavery around the British Empire and the world. A bit of sensory overload, but some profoundly interesting stuff. And it’s amazing how much more interesting the history of Zimbabwe is now that I know someone from Zimbabwe. (That would be Mike, Jacque’s sweet boyfriend. He has some amazing stories.)

The rest of the pictures refuse to upload, so I’ll try again tomorrow and save the rest of the story for then. Happy Monday!

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