Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Life in Books: Day Five

Happy Friday, one and all. Still lots of wonderful choices to come in My Life in Books - hasn't it been fun so far? Maybe you've been thinking up your own choices... I'd love to see other people try this out on their blogs. Let me know if you've posted your own choices!

Thomas lives in Washington, and blogs at My Porch. Of course, I love all the folk who've chosen books this week, but I especially love Thomas' blog and his witty, sensitive, and occasionally wry look at a great range of books.

Annabel lives in Oxfordshire, and is known to the blogging world as Gaskella. She and I first 'met' when we shared quotations on the back of Angela Young's wonderful novel Speaking of Love.

Qu. 1) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.

Thomas: I perceived that I grew up in a book-loving household, but it may not have been so. I remember my dad read fairly often, and my mom traded paperbacks with other women. It was certainly enough for me to recognize that reading was something worth doing, but we didn't have lots of books in the house by any means. But we did live two blocks from the library where I spent a lot of time. When I first contemplated which book would stand out from my youth I immediately thought of The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert. As I thought more about it, I realized it was an early example of my attraction to housekeeping novels with a cozy twist. Post-war Germany, family living on a farm in two old railroad cars. If you have any doubts, just check out the cover art of the copy I read as a child.

Annabel: Yes – our house was always full of books. My parents read to us from a big book of 365 bedtime stories, but as an early reader, once I was onto proper books I read by myself avidly. The weekly visit to the library was a weekend ritual, and I still have my pile of Puffin paperbacks of many children’s classics. Alice in Wonderland was one of the ones I returned to frequently – I loved the sheer fantasy of it all and wished I could have such wonderful adventures. I love the way that Alice stands up to everyone including the Queen of Hearts in that childlike way that questions everything. I love the inventive language too – I can still recite ‘Jabberwocky’ which I memorised as a child.

Qu. 2) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed?

Thomas: The first "grown-up" book I read was trash. It was Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. Pulp fiction about kids forced to live in an attic with a little incest thrown in. I was probably about 12 when I read it. Definitely not meant for my age group. The first "serious" grown-up book was A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White. Although a classic of gay fiction, it was a little over my head at 15. Still, I was eager for anything with a gay theme.

Annabel: It’s not the first, but this is one of my earliest grown-up reads that always sticks out in my mind -
Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov. My Dad & I always ran the bookstall at the Guides jumble sale, and I got it there. It was the first proper Science Fiction book I read and was responsible for an enduring love of that genre – I read nothing but SF and fantasy as a student an in my early twenties. Fantastic Voyage was foremost an adventure, and was full of pacy thrills – could the microminiaturised submarine finish its healing job inside a man’s body in time before the effect wears off? Turns out Asimov wrote the novelisation of the film, not the original story, but I still loved it.

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Thomas: I remember many from 20s that I loved, but in terms of books that had an effect on my life (at least at the time) I would have to say A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I avoided reading it because it didn't seem like my kind of book. But I finally gave in and loved it. It also helped me get control of my life in a kind of roundabout, but very important way.

Annabel: TV adaptations of modern classics were probably responsible for bringing me back to reading ‘proper books’ again. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which the BBC televised in 1985, really struck a chord with me. Having holidayed in many of that book’s locations – the mountains above Montreux (where there really is a famous sanitarium), and the Riviera, I found that real sense of place gave an added dimension. As with Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises I got a rather vicarious pleasure and sense of schadenfreude reading about all these posh folk gadding about, getting drunk, and seeming to be waiting for life to happen to them, rather than the other way around.

Qu. 4) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last five years, and how has blogging or the reading of blogs changed your reading habits?

Thomas: Such a tough question. I could never name just one book. Authors who have come into my life in the last five years who I think are brilliant include May Sarton and Barbara Pym. And then I would have to include the entire Persephone List, which has been, by far, the most important discovery for me. Although does it count as a discovery if it was other bloggers that led me to it? The biggest change from blogging and reading book blogs is that I am now more likely to listen to bloggers than people I actually know when it comes to fiction.

Annabel: Since I started my blog, one of the things I’m particularly enjoying is reading some amazing teen and young adult books. The best of which differ only from novels for grown-ups in that the main protagonists tend to be younger, (and there’s less swearing and risqué bits). The quality of the writing can be top-notch. Marcus Sedgwick and Philip Reeve have been amazing discoveries, and Reeve just gets in first with Here Lies Arthur – a retelling of King Arthur’s story as seen by Merlin’s apprentice – and it’s all spin, no magic. Very brave and different – and it won him a Carnegie Medal.

Blogging has and hasn’t changed my reading habits. I was a member of a book group for years before I started blogging, so I’ve always read a diverse range of books (except for during my SF/Fantasy phase above). Quantity-wise I’m fairly consistent too. What has changed is the way I now think so much more about what I read - I don’t want to write too much rubbish on the blog! I also get many recommendations from reading other blogs, and it’s wonderful to have made so many blog-friends through books.

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

: There is nothing I read that I would consider a guilty pleasure. Bad TV. Now that is a guilty pleasure.

Annabel: I’m never embarrassed by any of the books I read, but there is a time and a place for devouring a ludicrous thriller – get the right setting and even Dan Brown can be a fun read. However my guilty pleasure is far better than that – being a teenager in the 1970s, I’ve more or less grown up with James Bond. My first Bond books came from the Guides jumble sales too and I still love them. I was surprised when I re-read Casino Royale a couple of years ago – the first Bond book in which he gets his licence to kill, but he doesn’t start off as quite the bastard he will later become!

And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?

Annabel, about Thomas' choices: Shockingly I've only read one of these choices myself (Owen Meany, which I enjoyed), although I've been intending to read Barbara Pym for ages. Flowers in the Attic was such a shocker, everyone was reading it. I was on my Science Fiction kick by then and resisted, but it was the book to read. Everyone needs to watch some bad television - it's very therapeutic. This is an interesting set from someone who obviously has read widely throughout their life.

Thomas, about Annabel's choices: I have only read the Fitzgerald so I think we may have very different reading interests. I am prone to say she is mid-twenties and definitely likes to read about other worlds. From Alice's fantasy to science fiction to the world of 007. Even Tender is the Night is a world that most of us can only really see from the outside. Based on these choices I am going to go out on a limb and suggest she might like Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey (not Peter Carey). [Simon: Oo, I think she might - I *love* Edward Carey too.]

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Life in Books: Day Four

Hope you're having a fun week so far - I definitely am. We're on our fourth couple of readers, with three more to come after today - I hope you've been picking up lots of suggestions, as well as revisiting much-loved books from your own life.

lives in Ontario, Canada and blogs at Roses Over A Cottage Door. She's one of those lovely bloggers who started as a blog-reader, and was persuaded to join the blogging masses - we're so glad you did, Darlene!

Peter lives in Somerset, England, and is better known here as Our Vicar, for he is my father. He is the only member of our family not to have a blog... yet!

Qu. 1) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.

Darlene: (Cue the violin music) Books were almost completely absent from my household growing up and I have only one memory of being read to by my mother. What we did have was a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and I loved each and every volume. Being an information junkie from the age of four (I would listen to news stories and run into the kitchen to repeat them to my parents) this collection suited me perfectly. Everything I could have wanted to know from aardvarks to zebras was contained within those pages and was perfect for dipping in and out of.

Peter: We didn't have a lot of books at home - one bookshelf in the main room - maybe a hundred or so books. I don't remember many of them - one was a Bible (which I still have - given to my mother at the age of 12). I'm not sure about children's books, but Brer Rabbit was there somewhere, alongside some books about Golliwoggs, and some Enid Blyton.

Qu. 2) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed?

Darlene: I remember the first grown-up book I enjoyed, it was called Karen and was about Karen Killilea, a girl with cerebral palsy (told you, information junkie), written by her mother Marie. I had finally convinced the woman who drove the library bookmobile to let me sign out a book from the adult side of the van. When I was in Grade 5, unbeknownst to me, I was labeled a 'gifted reader'. A couple of times a week the principal of the school would collect me from class and I had to sit in another classroom and read with him. For the longest time I thought it was because I was naughty but really it was because the rest of class was reading books way too easy for me. Adults didn't inform children about things in those days, you just went along.

Peter: One of the books on the shelf was Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather - I don't know what happened to that, but I remember writing an essay in secondary school about the Battle of Sheriffmuir (1715) and expanding Scott's version and thinking maybe nobody's ever written such a long account of the battle. The first grown up novels I read were probably those by PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan-Doyle.

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Darlene: It was all about Jane Austen in my late 20s and early 30s so I would have to say Pride and Prejudice. Her writing just seemed to always feel right. Whenever I would veer towards other genres I would eventually reach a saturation point, be left wanting, and end up returning to Austen where there was usually something new to admire or laugh at depending on your mood. And if you don't have an English accent, you've read at least part of her books out loud just to see if you could pull it off. I can't!

Peter: I spent much of the time in my 20s and 30s reading Maths and Theology books, for my degrees in those subjects. These include The History of Maths by Carl B Boyer - a fascinating account; and The History of Israel by John Bright - covering the Old Testament from an historian's perspective. It was also during this time that I started reading Thomas Hardy's novels - my favourites being Tess of the D'Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure. [Simon: to this day, I think Hardy is the only novelist I have heard Dad mention favourably!]

Qu. 4) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last five years, and how has blogging or the reading of blogs changed your reading habits?

Darlene: There has been so many favourite books over the past few years but for this venture I am going to choose Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I love that book and could not believe my luck when Nicola Beauman hosted a book chat on said book at Persephone while I just happened to be visiting London. It took that particular reading experience up a notch and I will never forget it. Reading blogs has enriched my life beyond all measure. Growing up in a household that did not value books or education as much as I did left me feeling isolated and out of place. This community of booklovers has been my classroom and when you write something, be assured that I am paying attention and learning. For as long as I can remember there has always been a book on my nightstand, since discovering blogs there are now stacks!

Peter: In recent years I've read Pride and Prejudice and begun (but, several years down the line, not yet finished) Lord of the Rings, having been persuaded to try these by Simon and Colin respectively. Under my own steam, I've enjoyed reading a couple of Bill Bryson books - particularly A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

: The Daily Telegraph is my guilty pleasure once or twice a month. Because it comes from outside the country it costs a ridiculous amount but I don't care. My husband knows I would rather have that than a bouquet of flowers and I pore over every detail. Can I buy the items advertised on sale at Boots or, but I love looking anyway. And I love choosing which play I would see at the weekend if I could just hop on a train or exhibit to drop by and scrutinize. It's like a mini-holiday in a newspaper and is always accompanied by a pot of tea and some cake.

Peter: I remember buying my first Guinness Book of Records when I was 10 - and have occasionally snuck one onto the house over the years.

And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?

Peter, about Darlene's choices: This lady - and why do I presume a lady when the inclusion of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a quality English broadsheet could easily have been on my list? This person obviously followed Stuck-in-a-Book's suggestion from September 2009 to start Dorothy Whipple with Someone at a Distance. My guess - sensitive (somewhere in the caring professions?), conservative (unlikely to be reading Stieg Larrson), aware of the world (and the Telegraph also suggests a conservatism) and interested in learning (still reading history and biography as well as novels) - this strikes me as a very interesting lady.

Darlene, about Peter's choices: In my humble opinion, the person who chose these books is witty, intelligent, supremely curious and has an eye for detail. Going out on a limb I am going to suggest this person has achieved higher education and far from considering it something to get through, they really enjoyed the process. They would love to live in the countryside but have to live close to the city, they're happy with their own company but enjoy a laugh with friends as well. And last but not least...there is a much-loved cosy cardigan somewhere amongst their clothes.

Waiting on Wednesday # 44 - Stay

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick:

Clara’s relationship with Christian is intense from the start, and like nothing she’s ever experienced before. But what starts as devotion quickly becomes obsession, and it’s almost too late before Clara realizes how far gone Christian is—and what he’s willing to do to make her stay. 

Now Clara has left the city—and Christian—behind. No one back home has any idea where she is, but she still struggles to shake off her fear. She knows Christian won’t let her go that easily, and that no matter how far she runs, it may not be far enough....

Deb Caletti
April 5th 2011 by Simon Pulse

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Life in Books: Day Three

We're on Day Three, and late tonight I will be coming back from Paris, to see how things are going... but, fear not, we're not even halfway yet. Plenty more to come from your favourite bloggers and blog-readers!

lives in Chicago, and has been blogging as Bluestalking Reader for many years. She's a librarian, and was responsible for introducing me to Shirley Jackson - thanks, Lisa!

Victoria lives in Cambridge, but I'm bridging the Oxford/Cambridge enmity to invite her here today! She is well known for her informed and thorough blog posts at Tales from the Reading Room, and might be better known around the blogosphere as 'lit love'.

Qu. 1) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.

Lisa: My parents did read to me, and enrolled me in a children's book of the month club. That's probably when my bibliomania started. Waiting for each new book taught me to feel a lot of excitement about them. Otherwise, though my oldest brother was moderately fond of reading no, it wasn't a very bookish household. I definitely had the most books of anyone in the family. By far!

My favorite book as a child was a Richard Scarry book of nursery rhymes. I don't recall the exact title. I was fascinated by the illustrations of cartoonish animals and read the book 'til it fell apart!

Victoria: Both my parents were keen readers, and we had a lot of books about the place. My father used to belong to the Reader’s Digest club and one bookcase was full of their books that he had rebound himself in red, blue and green mock leather. I remember a friend calling around for the first time, looking at the books in awe, and finally asking ‘Are those video cassettes?’ Both my parents read to me, although it wasn’t long before I preferred reading to myself because I could go quicker in my head. But my father loved reading the Paddington stories and those were real childhood favourites. I think the magic of Paddington lies in the fact that he can be so endearing whilst getting everything wrong – the table whose legs he ends up sawing off completely because he can’t make them level, the bacon trailing from his suitcase and attracting all the dogs in the neighbourhood. It’s a child’s dream – to make mistakes and still be lovable.

Qu. 2) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed?

Lisa: It's hard to recall what would have been first, so I'll say The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I remember it taking a long time to get through them, but they were gripping. That started me on a short fantasy spree I didn't indulge again until the Harry Potter books.

It's difficult to remember what was going on at the time, but I must have been around 10 or 11 years old, which leads me to believe these weren't my first adult books. But they were challenging for me at that age. Really I was just a bookish kid most happy when I was solitary, which is still largely true - save the kid part! I hated school, but did well, especially in English literature courses, which were a joy.

Victoria: When I was 11 I tried to read my first Agatha Christie. I have no idea why it was so important to me to read her – some sort of instinctual attraction. But the book gave me such nightmares that my mother forbade them for another year. As soon as I hit 12, I was back on the Christie sugar. That year, my brother (much older than me) had left home to live and work in London, and I was on my own in the school holidays. I’d grown up enough not to lose sleep over crime fiction, but not enough to feel secure alone in the house when reading about murder and mayhem. I spent most mornings quietly terrified and avidly sucking down Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple regardless.

Oddly enough, I can see now that crime fiction is really about creating security for the reader; it assures us that there is a clear line between guilt and innocence, good and bad, and that society is set up to protect the vulnerable. I loved the feeling of resolution and certainty that came with the conclusion, even if I had to go through all kinds of anxiety to get there.

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Lisa: There were two books I read around this time, introducing me to the "magical realism" and "stream-of-consciousness" styles. But if I must pick one it would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was astounded by it! It taught me all new things about what's possible to create in prose. The journal I write now is somewhat "stream-of-consciousness," though I haven't written anything using "magical realism." I'm intimidated by that. The other book, by the way, was Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

: Across my mid-twenties I was writing a PhD on Colette and Marguerite Duras, two French 20th century authors. They had a huge influence on me, as both wrote about the way we use fictions of one kind or another to create and sustain our identities. But they had such different ways of approaching the problem. For Colette, the body and the mind were infinitely flexible; one could become a chameleon and adapt over and over to changing circumstances, shedding skins with practiced ease. Duras believed that life scars us with certain profoundly significant events and, one way or another, we are always trying to recreate them, or understand them; and whilst narrative is the only means at our disposal, it is never the same as the experience itself.

This is a swizz, I know, picking the entire oeuvres of two authors when the question asks for one book, but I just couldn’t choose; I’ve veered back and forth between their different ways of thinking ever since, uncertain quite what I believe.

Qu. 4) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last five years, and how has blogging or the reading of blogs changed your reading habits?

Lisa: There are so many! I'll choose David Toscana's book The Last Reader, about a librarian in a small Central American town who works at a library that essentially no one but himself uses. It's like Don Quixote, in a way, as the librarian relates everything he reads to his real life, and immediately tosses any books that don't fit his experiences. A strange yet wonderful book. Blogging! Ah, it's changed my life in so many ways. Reading the blogs of others has led me to add far too many books to my reading list (!), and writing my own blog has both helped me keep track of my reading and thoughts on what I read, and disciplined me to write regularly about books. Writing a blog has also taught me to be more analytical about books, to look for themes, for instance, and how a book is structured rather than reading less critically.

Victoria: Blogs have had such a huge effect on my reading. I thought I read widely, but I certainly had my eyes opened when I came to blogging and realized quite how narrow and restrained I’d been. I’d never read an American novel before (unless we count the Sweet Valley High series, which I am disinclined to do) [Simon: I was so pleased to hear someone else confessing to reading these!] and now I am a massive fan of American literature. One of my favourite novels of the past few years has been The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. I have a soft spot in my heart for doomed longing and narrators who are there for the eye witness account, and if you add in Fitzgerald’s glorious prose and his exquisite sense of queasily sated hedonism, well, naturally you have a masterpiece.

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

Lisa: I'll go with Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series. I generally like my mysteries to be British in setting, but in a bucolic, small village region rather than a city. So I was suprised how much I enjoy Rankin and consider myself hooked!

Victoria: I have a real taste for the blockbuster novel. Many years ago I attended a very high-powered reading group at the university, and the talk fell to childhood reading.
One of the dons there was expounding on Homer’s Odyssey and how much he had loved this book as a boy and how he had read it over and over, with the others in the group fervently agreeing. I’d never read any Homer, and went home with that dreary feeling of being a dullard and a light-weight. ‘Ah but no one in that room knew as much about Jilly Cooper as you do,’ my husband comforted me. And I took a distinct pride in the fact that that was certainly true. And if I had to choose between rereading Riders, or rereading The Odyssey, there’s no doubt in my mind which one it would be...

And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?

Victoria, about Lisa's choices
: Scarry's nursery rhymes - Scarry is the epitome of charming, wholesome delight, and is probably responsible for this country's obsession with talking meercats. Lord of the Rings - is it wrong of me to see a sort of continuation of the Scarry theme here? A sort of What Do People Do All Day in Middle Earth? But to get through Tolkein's massive volumes at an early age is the sign of a truly dedicated reader, I'm sure. One Hundred Years of Solitude - difficult, demanding, and yet sensuous and playful too. It's highly sophisticated narrative, though, so I would think it appeals most to the very experienced reader, and one not afraid of reading very different and unusual books. David Toscana - I had to look this book up, but it turns out to be magical realism, same as Marquez. It's a niche interest, which again makes me think of a very particular, sophisticated and intellectual sort of reader. Ian Rankin - ah a bit of grit. Magic realism is often violent, so no surprises to find a dark and violent sort of writer on the list. Rankin is good at creating his own world, much like Marquez and Tolkein, too. A reader who loves to be completely immersed in his books, then, who wants to be taken to a different world when he reads. And I think it's a man. [Simon: Oops!] And someone with a university education, possibly with a literary element.

Lisa, about Victoria's choices
: I would venture to guess this reader is someone who values relationships and the romantic ideal. For some reason I also see this person as someone who enjoys independent films, perhaps in translation, and is comfortable with endings left somewhat uncertain. This is harder than it looks at first!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Author: Stephenie Perkins
Release Date: December 2nd, 2010
Publisher: Dutton Children's
Age: Young Adult
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Anna and the French Kiss is one of those books you keep reading amazing reviews. It was on my TBR pile but I couldn't find the time to read it until a few days ago, when I was looking for a romantic story  with a HEA ending.

I really liked Anna. She was fun and light but also smart. I could easely relate to her, even when I haven't had the same experiences as her. If my parents sent me on my senior year to another country (even if it's Paris) I wouldn't be so happy. But even with that going on, she was always in a good mood and trying to have the best experience. She was a real girl, with doubts and scared, but also ready to take a chance.

At first I wasn't completely sure about St. Clair. He seemed insecure and giving hope to Anna while he was with his girlfriend was mean. But then I thought Who isn't insecure at that age? Specially about love. He was also smart and good looking, and Anna liked him since the beggining. But I was glad it wasn't another one of those instant-love relationships, and I think that's why I liked so much this book. Nobody is perfect.

Excellent characters, awesome writing, Anna and the French Kiss didn't let me sleep until I finished it. I loved, LOVED, that Anna and St. Clair were friends before being a couple. Usually it doesn't happen this way in young adult books, but I think it's more real.

Overall, I loved this book and I can't wait to read other books from this author, as Lola and the Boy Next Door.

My Life in Books: Day Two

Hope you're enjoying the week so far (and, importantly, that the formatting and whatnot has all worked out... I'm leaving it all to spring up of its own accord, and crossing my fingers that it works out) - let's introduce the lovely folk for Day Two!

Lyn lives in Melbourne, Australia and was responsible for introducing me to the world of Persephone Books. She blogs at I Prefer Reading.

lives in Somerset, England and was responsible for introducing me to the world (!) since she is my mother, better known here as Our Vicar's Wife, and blogs under that moniker here. [Simon: link fixed now!]

Qu. 1) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.

Lyn: I've always loved books although my parents weren't big readers. Too busy working and they both left school at 13. They must have read to me when I was very young but I could read myself by the time I was 4, so after that, I read to myself. Mum & Dad always bought me books and I always asked for a book if there was a treat on offer. My favourite book as a child was probably The Youngest Lady in Waiting by Mara Kay. It's about a girl who becomes lady-in-waiting to Grand Duchess Alexandra at the court of Alexander I and gets involved in the Decembrist uprising. It led me onto my interest in Russian and royal literature and history, which I still love today.

Anne: My family enjoyed books - although there weren't huge numbers of them in the house. Most Saturday mornings found us at the library borrowing up to six books (I think). From there we went to the sweet shop where I usually bought 4oz of 'chewing nuts' which were a kind of chocolate covered toffee. During the afternoon you would find me lying on my tummy on the bed, hand dipping into the sweets and brain absorbing the first book from the book pile - so my mind was fed and my teeth rotted!

An early book I can remember enjoying was The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope. I had no idea it was published so long before - it was timeless to me. A real adventure story set in the fictional Ruritania - full of derring do! It made an Easter holiday magical - curled up by the fire, breath held against the next twist in the plot! (Of course, I also adored the William books, Anne of Green Gables etc. and even Biggles - but I guess this is cheating!)

Qu. 2) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed?

Lyn: Probably Jean Plaidy's historical novels. I was 12 or 13 and loved history. We didn't study British or European history at school so I found my way to non-fiction history through Jean Plaidy and a lot of other historical novelists, some better and more accurate than others.

: My first 'grown-up book' has to be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I read this first as a child - just as far as her leaving Lowood. After that it was 'grown-up' and I lost interest. I returned to it a couple of years later - this time I was infuriated by its missing out the 'teenage' years - I felt that it had nothing to say about me as I was then - it ignored those years and the age of 18 seemed a grown-up goal a thousand miles away! Third time lucky! I tried again when I was nearer the magic age of 18 - suddenly the book was released to me - I could enjoy it in its entirety! I can think of no other book which I read in chunks like this - this one was unique! (I should say too, that this was the time I really looked for books with Annes in them - add Persuasion to the list!)

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Lyn: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield. I was around 30, working in my first job as a librarian and the branch manager (we still work together in the same library service) recommended the Provincial Lady to me. I laughed at Lady B and the bulbs on page 1 and didn't stop laughing all the way through & that's how I fell in love with the middlebrow novel of the 1920s & 30s.

Anne: My twenties were spent busily learning to be a teacher. At the end of the day I enjoyed nothing better than a Miss Read or an escapist romance to lull me off to sleep - good old Georgette Heyer! However, the book I am choosing is not by either of them - it is Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier. I have no idea how many times I read and re-read that book! I pored over maps of the area, I took a holiday - my first all alone - down on The Lizard and I plodded along the country lanes and footpaths all around the
Creek on a romantic quest. For me the attraction was the book's idea of running away from a life confined by others' expectations and being free to be oneself - the fact that there was a gorgeous French philosopher pirate in the mix made it all the more enjoyable. I loved the romance and the adventure - the understated sex scenes and the violent jealousy and possessiveness of Rockingham. Her treatment of Dona's husband was kind, if pitying and the descriptions of Cornwall lured me there. I cried every time I got to the farewell at Looe Pool - not least because I was reaching the end of the book and it would be a while before I allowed myself to read it again! And at the end, the inevitability of Dona's tame, encumbered life made sense to me - I would never be brave enough, or sufficiently lacking in commitment, to leave everything and run away!

Qu. 4) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last five years, and how has blogging or the reading of blogs changed your reading habits?

n: Nella Last's War. An earlier edition of Nella's Diaries sat on the shelf at Ringwood Library all the years I worked there but I never picked it up. Only about three years ago when the book was reprinted and when I'd read other WWII diaries, letters & novels, did I read it. Since then, I've read the two further volumes of Nella's Diaries & I'm really sorry that there will be no more. Blogging and reading blogs has reminded me of books I have on the tbr shelves and prompted me to get them down and read them. It's also introduced me to new authors and imprints that I might not have found on my own. The internet in general and our online reading group in particular, has widened my reading horizons.

Anne: I adored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer. There are maybe more worthy books and more affecting books that I have read in the last five years, but that stands out as a jewel of a book, which was a pure pleasure to read. Perhaps it was partly because the author was over 70 - it gave me hope that it may not be too late to write 'my' book! As for literary blogs - I am SO proud of yours, Simon, and I love reading it [Simon: thanks, Mum!] - but find myself defeated by the tbr pile it is helping to increase - have I enough years left to read all the books I'd like to read?

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

Lyn: I'm very predictable. I know my tastes and I don't stray too far outside them. Life's too short and I have so many books I want to read in my favourite subjects and periods that I can't fit in anything new. As to guilty pleasures, English women's magazines like The Lady and Good Housekeeping, when I can get them. [Simon: the cover I've chosen isn't an English edition of the magazine, but... it is lovely, isn't it?!]

Anne: My guilty pleasure - mmm... there are so many! Maybe it is time with the Misses Bennett as I take one more turn around the ballroom with Jane and Bingley, or Elizabeth and Darcy... after all... with so many books unread, should I really be re-reading Jane Austen for the umpteenth time?

And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?

Anne, about Lyn's choices: I think this person (definitely a woman) had a conventional education - Jean Plaidy's books would have appealed to her because of their historical accuracy and the way they get inside the mind of the central character(s). The Provincial Lady shows an appreciation of wit and the 'sending up' of the ridiculous - whilst having a real understanding of human nature under a variety of circumstances. Nella Last - ah, the historical theme again - and more intense reading of the female mind when she is 'up against it'; the magazines again hark back to a different age.

This person appreciates the comfort and familiarity of a home well-made. She likes to get 'under the skin' of other people - in the sense of understanding how they tick. She knows her stuff when it comes to history. I think she has lived through changing times and regrets the loss of some of the niceties of a lost age. I'd like to invite her to tea!

Lyn, about Anne's choices: Probably easier to give a few attributes for the lover of these books. All of them seem to involve romance in some form.

Prisoner of Zenda - romantic, lover of lost causes.
Jane Eyre - independent, passionate, moral.
Frenchman's Creek - romantic, adventurous, restless.
Guernsey - literary, curious, compassionate.
Pride & Prejudice - romantic, well-mannered, correct.