Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Book a Month

After reading my post about signing up for "A Year In Books" at Heywood Hill in London, some of you asked me to keep you updated about the books I receive. So here we are, my book for July! I was very excited to open up the most recent package from Heywood Hill and find Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. I have loved "A Year in Books" so far! The booksellers at Heywood Hill understand my literary interests and have sent me some wonderful books.

 Each book comes with a bookmark designed by Cressida Bell

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes is a book that has definitely been on my radar. I haven't started it yet but here are a few things I know --

Set in Victorian London, it came out originally as an app with chapters released weekly, each one ending with a cliffhanger -- a 21st-century version of a Victorian serial novel. It has now been published as a complete volume. And just as Julian Fellowes began "Downton Abbey" with a famous historical event -- the sinking of the Titanic -- he begins this book with a famous social event -- the Duchess of Richmond's ball in 1815 which was was held in Brussels, where some of the Allied troops fighting Napoleon were encamped. Many of the guests at the ball were young officers which meant they had to leave at once to go to their regiments. Many of them were killed shortly after while fighting in the battle of Quatre Bras, which turned into Waterloo. This ball was to become one of the most tragic parties of all history, as many of the handsome young men in attendance would be dead within days.

Most of the book is set in the early 1840s and concerns two families: the aristocratic Ballasises, who live in a mansion on Belgrave Square and the wealthy Trenchards, whose fortune stems from trade and who reside in Eaton Square. At the time there would have been a distinct social divide between the two, even though in London it was easier for the groups to mix than in the country. Events occur that will link these two families together and Julian Fellowes uses this storyline to demonstrate how things were changing back then in terms of the social order. By the end of the century aristocratic families such as the Ballasises became so financially strapped that they had to search for American heiresses to be able to keep their estates. Just like Lord Grantham did with Downton Abbey. 

It seems there are enough Downton Abbey-like qualities in the book to satisfy those of us who are missing the popular series. It has gotten good reviews and I look forward to delving into another world created by Julian Fellowes. One bookshelf in my study is now reserved for my Heywood Hill books. I look forward to seeing the twelve volumes lined up together at the end of the year.

I would love to know, what are you reading right now?   
Have you read Belgravia?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Garden Ramblings

A knot garden at Haddon Hall in England designed by Arne Maynard
From his new book The Gardens of Arne Maynard

"There is no Frigate like a book to take us lands away, nor any coursers like a page of prancing poetry."
-- Emily Dickinson

After spending an hour lost in the pages of the beautiful new garden book The Gardens of Arne Maynard, I understood the meaning of Emily Dickinson's quote. I was given this book by a dear friend for my birthday and when I finally got around to looking through it, I felt as if I had been on a trip to the East coast and Great Britain and toured some of the most magical and romantic gardens!

London-based Arne Marnard grew up in rural Dorset and began gardening while still a child. He considers himself more gardener than garden designer. That may be the case, but after reading this beautiful book you will realize what a talented garden designer he is. Wherever the property is located, he is able to read the land and create harmonious landscape designs. He is known for his large country gardens in Great Britain and is celebrated for his ability to draw out the essence of a place. He can design in any style -- a beachside retreat filled with dune grass and scrub, a knot garden on an Elizabethan estate, an intimate manor-house garden enclosed by a yew hedge. They are the stuff of fairytales.

A few years ago he moved to Wales with his partner and created a beautiful garden there. His new book covers twelve of his gardens, including that of his home in Wales. They include an Oxforshire manor, an East Hampton beach house, an Elizabethan estate, a farmhouse in Devon and a rambling mill house in Wiltshire. One of the things I love most about the book are his detailed essays about the elements that go into his creations: roses, kitchen gardens, borders, topiary, craftsmanship, and pleached, pollarded and trained trees. These sections are very informative and useful to any gardener. The craftsmanship section is especially interesting regarding the materials he favors for plant supports and structures. He prefers to make them "from local materials in order to establish a connection with the surrounding landscape and with its traditions." I also love what he has to say about roses. "I use the rose -- one of my favourite of all flowers -- in three ways: to clothe buildings and soften walls; to add impact and weight in mixed borders with its blowsy, perfumed splendour; and in the wilder parts of the garden, bringing unexpected sophistication to a meadow or tumbling through the tree canopy in great frothy cascades." Yes, I agree, roses bring romance to any garden!

If you love gardens, be sure to get a copy of The Gardens of Arne Maynard. It is a treasure trove of information as well as inspiration.  It is the first book devoted to the work of this talented designer. Not only will it inspire you with ideas for your own garden, but you will be transported to some very magical places. His poetic writing about gardens will sweep you away. Pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea and beat the heat by immersing yourself in this book. In the meantime, take a look at the photos below and enjoy a little tour of his beautiful and evocative gardens. Arne Maynard understands the notion of garden as sanctuary and retreat.

Beach house in East Hampton, New York

17th-century farmhouse in Devon

Oxfordshire Manor

Haddon Hall in Derbyshire

Allt-y-bela, Arne Maynard's home in Wales 

Stay cool this weekend!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bloomsbury News

The studio at Charleston

After all these years the Bloomsbury Group continues to inspire. Charleston, the country retreat of its members, was a hive of writing and art. The artists who lived there painted and decorated every surface of the house -- the walls, cupboards, doors and mantelpieces -- and created a magical place. Its beauty inside and out, as well as the artists and writers who lived there, have been a source of inspiration to so many. Here are a few exciting Bloomsbury-related arts events that are happening right now! 

"The Other Room" by Vanessa Bell 

The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London will be hosting a Vanessa Bell art exhibition, her first major solo show. Most people know Vanessa as the sister of Virginia Woolf, the husband of Clive Bell, the lover of Duncan Grant and the doyenne of the Bloomsbury set. But many people don't realize what an accomplished artist she was. The curators of the exhibition at Dulwich are making it very clear that she was a talented artist who deserves a show of her own. Oh, how I would love to be in London for this one!

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, the subjects of a new film based on Eileen Atkins' play Vita and Virginia

Eileen Atkins' play Vita and Virginia about the friendship and affair between the writers Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is finally going to be made into a film. The relationship between the two literary luminaries began in 1922 and lasted around a decade. They remained friends until Woolf's death in 1941. Woolf dedicated her novel Orlando to Vita, a book that has been called "the longest and most charming love letter in literature."

A fan designed by Duncan Grant

David Herbert has curated a fascinating exhibition A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30 at the Victoria Gallery in Bath, England. It brings together rarely seen pieces of fine and decorative art to recreate the essence of lost Bloomsbury spaces. So many of these rooms no longer exist, but fragments still remain. Charleston is the only significant example of a Bloomsbury home to survive. After years of searching for furniture, ceramics, fabric, sculpture and paintings, he has reassembled many Bloomsbury interiors. He has collected pieces by Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to create an intimate look at the domestic lives of these artists.

David Herbert's Bloomsbury Ceramics

David Herbert has also created a line of Bloomsbury-themed ceramics decorated with foliage and flowers inspired by Duncan Grant's and Vanessa Bell's own designs. Go here to view. I can't wait to order some of these!

And one more thing -- a restaurant! The Dalloway Terrace, named after Virginia Woolf's famous book, has opened in the heart of Bloomsbury. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu for its afternoon tea was inspired by the Bloomsbury group. This restaurant looks lovely and I have read only good reviews!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Year in Books

Reader, I did it. The most famous line from Jane Eyre has been on my mind ever since I visited the lovely old Heywood Hill shop in London a couple of weeks ago and bought Reader, I Married Him. Edited by Tracy Chevalier, the book is a collection of short stories by writers such as Esther Freud, Jane Gardam and Francine Prose, all inspired by "Jane Eyre." I haven't had a chance to read the stories yet, but did read the fascinating Forward by Tracy Chevalier which explains why this line is so celebrated. The book was commissioned for Charlotte Bronte's two hundredth birthday year which is 2016.

And what was it that I did? Well, I took the plunge and signed up for Heywood Hill's "Year of Books!" Ever since I read about this service many years ago I have been considering it. But I could never quite take the step...

First let me tell you about the service. The Heywood Hill customer pays a fee and the store chooses books after interviewing the recipient about their likes, dislikes, and idiosyncratic interests. The customer receives twelve volumes over the course of a year, beautifully wrapped and delivered monthly. If there is one thing Heywood Hill is known for, it is the ability to build a library for a person's home. Apparently they do this on a regular basis. The "Year in Books" is one way to tap into this knowledge and literary assistance on a much smaller scale.

Now, back to that momentous day in London...It was a beautiful afternoon and my husband and I were walking around Mayfair. I said that we should find Heywood Hill. This Mayfair book shop has a rich history with many famous associations. For example, John Le Carre set a scene there in "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy." The novelist Nancy Mitford worked there during World War II. And it is currently owned by the 12th Duke of Devonshire, son of Nancy's sister, Deborah Mitford. Go here to learn more. As the stores's mystique was swirling in my head, I remembered that it was located on Curzon Street.

After a quick consultation with our map we found the street but were at the wrong end. I called Heywood Hill and a kind young man stayed on the phone with me until we got there. The store was right next to a construction project and was fairly well hidden from view. And Heywood Hill is a tiny shop. Finally we arrived and there were at least a dozen books I wanted to buy. Exercising some self-control, I purchased just one, "Reader, I Married Him." I soaked up the delicious atmosphere -- wooden bookshelves, crown moldings, a fireplace, elegant chandeliers, and stacks of books piled invitingly on tables.

Photo via here

But eventually I got up the nerve to ask a young woman on the staff about "The Year in Books." After hearing the details I considered two things:

1) I was about to have a very big birthday and I wanted the next year to be a year of meaningful books.

 2) I was actually at Heywood Hill and wouldn't it be nice to be interviewed in person instead of doing it by email.

So, it was decided. This would be my birthday present to myself -- a year of enlightenment, Heywood Hill style! We talked for 30 minutes about my book interests and the deed was done. I would receive one book a month for the entire year chosen by the staff based on the information I had given them. Each book would come with a special book mark designed by Cressida Bell. And wrapped in the charming Heywood Hill style. I received my first book around June 20 and couldn't be happier. Here's what it all looked like.

The package

The book

The author, who also wrote "Corelli's Mandolin" 

The bookmark

All in all, it was an unforgettable experience and will surely be the birthday gift that keeps on giving!
I'll let you know how I like this book. So far it is very good!