Monday, February 13, 2012

What I've been reading (and a giveaway)

My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I've been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.

First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I've had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you're the type of person who walks into a friend's home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you'll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble --  keeping in mind that I haven't yet finished the book -- is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I'd prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won't have to backtrack to pick up. I've found myself making mental notes of books I'd like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton's children's books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don't like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).

I've written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It's a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, "I get it! You're educated! Give it a break!" She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.

But I digress. So if you're like me and like Brocket's book sans copy or you hated Brocket's book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that "cutesy" look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It's the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they're prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don't look as pretty as brass ones would, they're 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.

Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I've been itching to read this biography as I've heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I've also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth's 60-year-reign as Britain's monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I'm giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen ... even if it's just her corgis. I'm sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I'll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck ... and thanks for entering!


  1. I suppose I admire the Queen because although she's led an incredibly privileged life, she has also served her country with focus and determination, which is more than can be said of some of them!

    Actually just wanted to sympathize with the aching hand. I've been experimenting with plastic bag crocheting, and have a similar ache. (Oh and did I tell you about my Law degree? LOL)

  2. My family emigrated from England shortly after Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne. The Queen was our bond to the motherland. We would huddle around the radio to listen to the Queen's Christmas speech on BBC; now I listen on the Internet. My Father would pontificate on all that was wrong with the US and everything that was right about England; what else would you expect from a WWII Royal Marine? My mother usually got all teary-eyed and wanted to get on the next plane home, but we stayed in the US where we had made our home and raised our families. The Queen is our reminder of our roots and our past. She is our connection to all that is dear to us. She is a woman of character and integrity who has demonstrated to millions of young women over the years that women can be leaders.

  3. I admire the Queen for being a monarch who has remained respectable and elegant over a long reign full of changes. Some of her ancestors couldn't keep their poise even for a few years.

    That and her hats, which are all made in England.

  4. The Queen is like a rock. She is steady and committed. She has had to deal with some very challenging issues, both personal and national, and remained steadfast in the midst of them. She comes across as being a very strong woman, one who knows herself. I think when she is gone the world will have lost an irreplaceable treasure.

  5. When I think of the Queen the first word that comes to mind is Duty. It always blows me away when people do a job, that they did not ask for, and do it so well. She seems to be above it all when many others are always running to the press to get their side of the story out. (I'm not saying that is wrong just not something I admire.)
    Although I do have a secret idea that Prince Phillip says all the things she wishes she had the freedom to say.

  6. God bless the Queen for just keeping on trucking at the age of 85! I have to say I really admire her stamina for making polite conversation for fifty years at events of state. That Homemade book looks right up my alley as I am something of a crafting fanatic.

  7. I admire the Queen for her dedication to duty...much more than any politician in this country. I also envy her history - look at her family tree!

    Love the blog!


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