Raindrops on roses....

This weekend was much colder...Saturday was overcast all day and we snuck off to a matinee performance of the National Theatre's touring production of Travelling Light, which starred Sir Antony Sher. It is so wonderful to have an amazing new theatre within 5 minutes walk of home! It's as close as the cinema....now we just have to get used to using it!

I've been doing a lot of spring cleaning recently...I just took a big bag of stuff to the local RSPCA charity shop. It wasn't rubbish...rather bits and pieces that are still good, but that we just don't need or have room for. Clothes that don't quite fit or look right...costume jewellery that I bought on a whim, without thinking about whether it would suit me! Baking accessories that I just will never use (purple plastic cupcake stackers that someone sweetly gave me...) Things that I hope others will love and get some use from. It feels really good to do this...even though I have to steel myself every time. I constantly fight that instinct that says 'keep it in case'!!
One thing that I do find impossible to throw out is a book...I just can't do it. I'll pass them on to friends or family, but I so love to read & reread...even if I only pick out favourite passages the second or third time. Paul is the same, luckily...we always find space for more! So today I thought you might like to see my 'special ones'. My desert island pile....the books I would absolutely hate to be without, ever. So much so that I have several editions of most of these...just in case I mislay or lend one and don't get it back!
First, the ones I've loved since childhood. Of course, I found it so hard to choose...Little Women, the 'Katy' stories, the 'Little House' series. But in the end, it had to be...
This edition was originally my Mum's. It's faded & misshapen & stained (it's fallen in the bath at least once!) But I so love the story of Anne (with an 'e') the red-haired, feisty little orphan who is taken in by kind-hearted Matthew & his crusty old sister, Marilla...even though they had really asked for a boy to help around their farm. It's so charming...still makes me laugh & cry and I can recite whole chunks!
Next, another book that my Mum passed down to me...not well known at all in contrast to Anne...
'Nuts in the Rookery' by Mathena Blomefield. It's an autobiographical account of her childhood, growing up in rural Norfolk at the end of the 1800's. This is actually the second she wrote - I managed to find the first, 'The Bulleymung Pit', just a few years ago. Wonderful. The cover is just brown, which is why I show the title page! Mum must have given it to me when I was about 5 years old...how do I know? Because I 'autographed' the endpapers....
As you can see, I was no artist!!
All of Alison Uttley's books are gems - this is my favourite. Quite similar to 'Nuts...' in that it's an autobiographical account of her childhood (although she's called 'Susan' in it) at around the same time. My addiction to history started pretty early! This one is still in print, but if you ever come across one like this, with illustrations by C.F Tunnicliffe, then snap it up!
Growing up now...

You might expect me to include something about my beloved! I've always really enjoyed reading scripts & screenplays. 'Amadeus' is in my top 5 movies...but this book is the script of the original play it was adapted from. Different in many ways...but it will always take me back to the magical night, over 30 years ago, when I first saw it performed at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. From the minute the curtain went up, I had goosebumps. Amazing. I once met the playwright, Peter Shaffer...and I was able to tell him just how much his creation had affected me.Such a special moment!
I have many, many books on Mozart....but on my desert island, I would have to take this volume of his letters over the others. Because they are his voice!
Another script I would take is 'Journey's End' by R.C Sherriff. Written just after the end of WW1 by someone who went through it. The language, the characters & the story...incredibly & almost painfully moving. I have seen the play a few times, and reading this brings it back to life for me.
The First World War is something I have always been drawn to...and now I'm writing a novel about it, even more so...

'Chronicle of Youth' by Vera Brittain is...sublime. Another of her books on the same subject, 'Testament of Youth' is more well known - I love that too. But this is the one I would take, because it is her actual diary of those  years, and so we see the story unfolding as she did...and so we feel as though it's happening in real time. This desperately poignant tale of how she lost her fiancee, beloved only brother and two other close friends in WW1 encompasses the loss & futility of that period for me. 'Letters from a Lost Generation' is a compilation of the letters that passed between them all during that time, and fleshes out the characters & personalities involved. Unputdownable.
Neil Oliver's great book 'Not Forgotten' traces the stories that are to be found by stopping & looking at the names WW1 memorials...fascinating and informative, and he writes in a very personal way as though you are sharing a conversation.

While I'm on the subject of loss & tragedy....Claude Lanzmann's documentary film 'Shoah' should, I think, be required viewing for all teenagers as part of their studies. It's 11 hours long...but nothing for me has had a greater impact than these real people who experienced the holocaust (on all sides) simply talking. This transcript is treasured. The second book is so uplifting...it contains true stories of camp survivors and how they rebuilt their lives after liberation. Amazing lives. Such bravery and spirit.

I've put these two together, because they are both novels about women...and transformation...and ultimate happiness. 'Precious Bane' is a treasure and 'The Enchanted April' never fails to lift my heart.

Similarly, 'Dared and Done'....about the incredible clandestibe courtship & happy marriage of Elizabeth Barrett & Robert Browning is a courageous, romantic & triumphant story of love and its power to change everything.
Looking at this list, it seems that I generally prefer non-fiction...so it may be a surprise that my book of books is a novel. The one that I would choose (if I absolutely had to!) is...
I know that it's not a particularly original choice. But since I first read it at the age of 9, it has captured my heart. It is, to me, perfect. Several sequels and alternative endings have been written by other authors...they are superfluous, I think. Even the great Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine couldn't quite capture the magic, although they had Hitchcock's help...
It is a book of it's time, capturing the feeling of the 1930's as if I could walk through a door straight into it....it's a thriller....it's a truly fantastic piece of storytelling...and it's a great love story too.
I can pick it up the minute I finish and begin all over again...and find something new every time. And that's why it's my Number One!
Reading this post again, it occurs to me that my choices are fairly 'heavy'! I do read and enjoy all sorts of books...but I think that the ones I've chosen reflect the fact that I love to learn when I read...to experience different times & places and to take something from them.
I'd love to know your Number One - if you have one - & why it's special to you.
Thanks so much for your lovely comments, they are so much appreciated...and I hope that you have a wonderful week. Happy April - I hope it's Enchanted for all of us! xo


  1. oh such a beautiful post! Loved it. And absolutely love your books. I've never been one for the classics, other than Dickens and a spot of Shakespeare (The taming of the Shrew being my fave, such a modern tale considering when it was written).

    I love buying books that I loved in my childhood. Which means that over the past ten years or so, I've collected almost all of The Famous 5 (have one left to get!), and all of the Malory Towers & St.Clare's stories. How I love Enid Blyton, it's the food descriptions that does it for me!

    And, I have also managed to get hold of 'The Ballet Shoes' and 'The family from One End Street'. I remember reading TFFOES when I must have been about 10, it still has a feeling of magic about it. I buy and keep them not only so I can go back and relive my childhood, but because I know Girly Girl is going to love them just as much as me. I think there is something really precious about passing books on to family. Just recently, my Mum gave me a book she'd had back in 1961, some yearly annual. What I liked best was the doodles she'd drawn inside, and that's what I like best about your books. Your artwork is just wonderful, what a lovely memory to have :O)

    loved your post. thank you for sharing


  2. Well dear far away friend, this makes me feel like I am sitting with you and sipping tea. Precious Bane was a watershed book for me (as was Mitford's Our Village). Of course Little Women, which I read and wept over so many times. Anne of Green Gables transported me. I wanted that room over the trees. I loved Anne's spunkiness and I loved reading how Lucy Maude Montgomery went from being poor and unsure of herself to surmounting all obstacles.

    Our tastes are similar. The First World War has always interested me. I can't imagine the inhumanity and the loss suffered by so many. (Including the loss of innocence).

    How IS your novel coming?

    Thinking of you and the Bee Man (have you read The Bee Man of Orn?).



  3. P.S. Oops, forgot to mention Enchanted Apri. LOVE it. Did I really do the most ridiculous thing and sell my old copy when I had my Heart's Ease shop? Well, yes, and I sold too many others that I still miss!

  4. This was such a fantastic post, thank you so much for sharing, Rachel! When I was younger, I read so many books. I must admit, in the past few years, being on the internet has replaced my reading time. I would really like to get back into it.

    I must read Anne of Green Gables again, and I have never read Rebecca or Enchanted April, so thank you for the recommendation!

    Some of my favorite books (besides the obvious Susan Branch and Gladys Taber books):

    1. The Education Of Little Tree
    This book made me laugh and cry, and I read it three times. It was written in such a simple voice, but the story is so touching and profound.

    2. Little House on the Prairie
    I love the whole series, of course, and have re-read them five times. But Little House is my favorite.

    3. It
    This book transported me into a whole different world. The characters were so real, I actually cried when one of them died. I read this book when I was about thirteen, and I was visiting relatives in Austria and Hungary. I didn't speak or understand the languages back then, so when we visited with family members, and my mother would talk with them, I would sit and read 'It.' Even though it is a 'horror' story, to me it was much more a book about coming-of-age. I think Stephen King is one of the greatest authors of our time, and I am amazed with what his mind churns out!

    4. The Dog Who Came To Stay
    I adore Hal Borland books, and this one is especially meaningful to me, because it is about his close relationship with his dog.

    5. Speak To The Earth
    This is such a great book...simple accounts about living on a farm. I especially love the stories Rachel Peden tells about other country folk...the things they've said and done.

    Oh my goodness.....I could go on and on and have of course forgotten many that will make me mad later to have forgotten them! But those are the ones I thought of off of the top of my head.

    Thank you for me lovely Easter card, Rachel! It was so lovely to see it sitting in my mailbox this morning, and I am so touched that you thought of me.


  5. Great to see you blogging again! I read the play Amadeus, found it in a second hand bookstore in Montreal. I even tried myself on it, just for kick, reading Mozart's or Salieri's parts. With a lot of work I think I could play a decent Salieri (as an amateur of course, let's not get carried away).

    A post I wrote a long time ago about the movie:


  6. Oh my gosh, are you sure that you are not me? No, I have seen your photo...you are much prettier! I LOVE Rebecca and of course, you know the movie "The Birds" by Hitchcock was really from a short story set in England by Daphne Du Maurier, right?
    Oh dear, I love Robert and Elizabeth Browning!
    I could go book by book on this post but suffice to say that we really do have a lot in common!
    And just from the title of this post, please tell me that you love The Sound Of Music as much as I do.
    And that book with your name in your childish handwriting, love that you shared that with us!

  7. Thanks for these lovely comments...Dawn, you must read Enchanted April NOW!! I know you will love it. So fascinating to read other recommendations..books strike such a chord with everyone...and we are all so different. Kay - I DO love The Sound of Music, of course! Austria is one of my very favourite places & the music is fabulous!So funny about my childish 'autograph'... I remember my Mum being really cross with me and telling me to 'never draw in books'!! But I (& she) am so glad I did now! Love to you all xx

  8. Dear Rachel, what a great post! I loved learning about your favourite books. Anne of Green Gables is one of my absolute favourites! Susan B. recommended Enchanted April too. I've never read it, but now, thanks to you, I will have to find myself a copy! Thanks for sharing your list! It's always nice to know what people's favourite reads are. Have a lovely week, sweetie! Love you! xoxo

  9. Rachel,

    Oh boy, I relished this post! I read Enchanted April just as a book I picked up by chance, an old copy, before the movie and could not believe my luck in finding such a gem. And Precious Bane? One of my favorites. I have , on your recommendation, just ordered two books by Alison Uttley and one is a cookbook, which promised to be full of stories of the process of cooking and gathering as in Cowslip Wine. Do you have this one?
    Have you ever read anything by Mary Webb?
    Late 19th Century East coast American, wonderful feel of what life was like then in a small American village. There is so much on your list that looks interesting,I especially appreciate the volume (Gill) on the holocaust and rebuilding afterwards. Thank you Rachel for this list of treasures.

  10. Hi Rosinda...everyone should read The Enchanted April, in my opinion! I actually gave Susan her first copy, so I'm very proud of that introduction because I know she loves it! Julie...thanks for your wonderful comment. I have the book you are talking about in front of me as I write...Recipes from an Old Farmhouse. Oh my goodness, you will love it! I bought my copy with my pocket money when I was 12. The stories are magical- so happy that you reminded me, I am going to read the chapter on Easter Baking later! Mine is a Faber & Faber copy, with those beloved Tunnicliffe illustrations. I know you will treasure it. xo

  11. What a great post! I too love books- a lifelong affair. Anne of Green Gables was also a favorite of mine, and of course saved and passed down to my daughter. In fact, I have many beloved copies of my childhood favorites that I have let my daughter "borrow" because I simply can't part with them:) I always tell her that I will leave them to her in my will. She's nearly 22 now and has started her own collection of favorites to pass down to her children someday. Thanks for a lovely post- Jacqui G

  12. Ah wonderful Anne of Green Gables - my favourite as a child too and I still keep re-reading it. That together with my very unoriginal favourite Pride & Prejudice are my two most read books. Precious Bane is the only other of yours that I've read though. I've read masses and all sorts, but these days I just can't cope with "heavy" any more. I'll look out for Enchanted April.

  13. Nice selection of desert island books. I do love Little Women and the Alcott home is not too far from where I live. Loved the movie Little Women too.

  14. What about the custom made Mandy annual? Where was that in your ratings? My personal favourite is Roger's profanisaurus, closely followed by The Inbetweeners yearbook, but then I've always been rather more highbrow than you............xxxxxxxxx

  15. Ahhh.....books. I love books---being an English teacher has kept me close to books. So, an all-time favorite? The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne---injustice, love, betrayal.... in a setting of early America when we were just England in another country and trying to make our own rules but still had many connections to our homes in Europe...

    Human misgivings: jealousy, prejudice, judgement of others....and a very strong woman main character who remains true to her self and to the man she truly loves. I LOVED teaching it, although, Hawthorne's writing is challenging at best....but I 'spoonfed' by readers, explaining each and every symbol....the rose, the door, the 'A.' Thank you for sharing your collection....and Happy Spring cleaning---I'm about to begin that next week!!
    Joann in CO


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