Tag Archives: Joyce Dennys

Henrietta Sees It Through – Joyce Dennys

So today I thought I would look at a book that I have already devoured from a series of perfect summer reads. These are of course the new Bloomsbury Group titles which look like they are going to live up to the ones released last year (though I still have three of those to read – whoops, nice to have something to look forward to) and are wonderful books that once forgotten are being fondly re-read or delightfully discovered. I loved Henrietta’s War when I read it last year and so of course was incredibly excited about Henrietta Sees It Through being published and naturally it’s the first in the new series I simply had to read.

‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ is the war years from 1942 – 1945 as written by our narrator Henrietta the doctors wife in the Devonshire countryside in the form of letters to her childhood friend Robert. It’s a side to war you don’t often see as really bar the rationing people aren’t that aware there is a war on (and this is written to much comical effect in the previous book Henrietta’s War too) to begin with. In fact most of them are in competition with just what they can do in order to be a part of the ‘War Effort’. Be it from the amount of heating materials they use, the way they can create clothes out of curtains and pyjama’s, who can knit the most and who can house the most evacuee’s.

There is a much darker twist though as the book goes on and suddenly Devonshire isn’t quite as safe as it once was – the siren is even rung on several occasions which has been unheard of until now. Though still incredibly funny in parts I can imagine Joyce Dennys couldn’t just make a set of columns for Sketch magazine (which is where Henrietta was created) constantly funny despite the fact the idea behind it was in some way to make people laugh during these trying times, Dennys own war effort if you will. So people in the village that Henrietta knows do loose loved ones as many people did and though there is sadness Dennys mixes in the hope of the Blitz Spirit which wasn’t just alive and well in London but around the whole country.

I wanted to include a passage which sums up a lot of the Henrietta spirit and also something that will strike a chord with all us book lovers out there. Here is a small drama in the world of Henrietta whilst trying to ‘do good’ during war times…

 ‘But it’s monstrous! It’s frightful! It’s a crime!’ I cried, getting red in the face. ‘Here we are stuck down here: no theatre, no music; the only thing which stops us becoming screaming savages is books, and now —‘
‘Pulp, all pulp,’ said Mrs Savernack, who dislikes books as some people dislike cats.
‘Do go away, Henrietta,’ said Mrs Admiral. ‘You really are terribly in the way.’
I rushed blindly into the street, nearly colliding with little Mrs Simpkins in her bath-chair, who was bringing Stray Thoughts For Girls as her offering.
On the way home I decided to steal the Fieldings. It was quite simple. That night, while the nine o’clock news deadened the sound of my burglarious entrance, I walked into the Savernacks’ house, saw the key of the depot on the hall table, picked it up, and walked out again. Then I went to the depot, lifted the Fieldings tenderly from their shelf, put five one pound notes on the counter under a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, returned the key to the Savernacks’ hall table, and went home.
‘More books?’ said Charles, looking up from The Times. ‘You’ll have to get another shelf put up soon.’
Next morning, like a murderer unable to keep away form the scene of his crime, I took another book down to the Good Book depot. The empty space on the shelf where the Fieldings had been yawned accusingly empty, but nobody seemed to have noticed it, and Mrs Savernack accepted Gone With The Wind very graciously.

I again thoroughly enjoyed the second, and sadly I think final, instalment of Henrietta and the goings on of her and her friends such as the wonderful Lady B, the ditzy flirtatious Faith (a lovely happy story line there) and a few new characters too not just of the human variety either. I said last year that ‘I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite some time. A perfect and delightful book’ after reading ‘Henrietta’s War’ (as you will see from the picture below where it is features on the back of this very book) and was worried this one might not be able to live up to the last one. However with Dennys adding a few darker shades of the war in I found the contrast added something extra that made this a wonderful follow up and whilst I carried on laughing, I was made to think much more about war and its effects. 9/10

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys (you have to read both, it’s as simple as that really)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer (wonderful novel of wartime Guernsey as told through letters between several wonderful characters, it will make you laugh and touch you emotionally, a favourite from 2008)

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Filed under Bloomsbury Group, Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2010, Joyce Dennys, Review

Those Summer Reads…

I mentioned on my bookish bits last week that I was planning on having a ‘Summer Reads Season’ and what time could be better than when I am away myself on a shortish summer break (longer one coming next month). Ahead this week you can expect to hear from publishers, authors and bloggers regarding favourite reads and what delights they have been saving for summer. The newspapers will be going crazy over this in a few weeks (I always read those seasonal lists) and so I thought ‘why don’t I too?’ But for today lets just look at summer reads as a genre shall we?

Two things made me think of what summer reading as a subject, if I did any – which I have now noted I do, for a post which then became a week long jaunt. One was a post Lija of A Writer’s Pet made which really got my mind whirring. The other was that I was already having to look at what books I had read that were my idea of a perfect summer read for something which launches tomorrow (I am shrouding it in mystery to build up the anticipation, ha) and I came up with this delectable eight of which I have had  to whittle down from.

I was going to list them but then the post might be never ending, if you want a list though let me know! Anyway, I never thought that I was someone who subscribed to the idea of summer reading; in fact I thought I read the same things all year round. When I looked into it though from what I read last year I noticed I do actually read a little seasonally. These books initially look like they have nothing in common but the more I thought about it the more as a group they sum up my summer mentality…

  • They are all well written and yet not hard or oppressive (crime doesn’t have to be dark just have some shades) nor are they froth
  • They each have big themes but never make them depressing
  • They have a slightly magical touch to them even if they aren’t surreal (it makes sense in my head to me if it doesn’t to anyone else)
  • They are books you could languish in no matter the genre
  • They are books you want to rave about to people
  • There is generally sunshine in them to my memory, be it the place, the season it’s written about or just a sort of jovial summery prose (even the war time ones)
  • They are literary yet punchy/paced too
  • None of them is trashy

Not all of them tick all those criteria but each one hits at least four or more… So I guess that must be my criteria for a good summer read from me. Weirdly I could probably sum up an autumnal gem for me far easier than I could a summer. I have also noticed that none of them are particularly long, even though one that looks like it might be.

Interestingly when I looked at what was on my current bedside it seems the ridiculously humid London heat of the last few weeks has started to have a summery effect on my reading subconscious already as I have these lined up and ready to go by the bedside.

I think they all fit with my summer bullet points don’t you? So do you read seasonally? What criteria can you list for me that you need from your summer reads? Don’t give any recommendations yet, save yourself for next week when it all goes recommendation mad! Hope you’re looking forward to it?

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Bloomin’ Lovely Lot of Loot

The post man seems to have gotten over his dumping of parcels in the street phase (maybe he reads this blog – ha, can you imagine) and some lovely parcels have arrived at Savidge Reads HQ. I was going to hold off writing about them but one had a very special significance and needed to share it and two I have already devoured and you will be hearing about very soon. So without further ado, here’s some lovely loot…

Now then I have decided to start doing this a bit differently by saying who sent them and what, if anything I know about them or don’t as it might be;

  • The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’ translated by Elizabeth Bishop (from Virago for my Reading for Brazil thing, this is a diary of a young Brazilian in the Victorian era – could it be more perfect?)
  • Dead Babies by Martin Amis (Vintage kindly sent as they know am on a book buying ban and this is the next Riverside Readers book)
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Oxford World Classics, can you believe that I have not read this ever or seen a TV/film version?)
  • London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp (Myriad, a very different sounding debut looking at three gay men over three periods in history, could Kemp be the new Hollinghurst?)
  • Quilt by Nicholas Royle (Myriad, another debut about the loss of a parent and clearing up the debris and life they leave behind)
  • The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule (sent by a Savidge Reader who lurks, Dave thought that this book would be very me, could be interesting)
  • A Samba for Sherlock by Jo Soares (from Savidge Reader Ellen who thought it would be perfect for my love of Sherlock and its author is Brazilian perfect for Reading for Brazil too – aren’t my readers kind?)
  • City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris (Little Brown, sent with Helena Morley, this sounds like a murder mystery/thriller with a difference)
  • The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen (Bantam Press, I let out a rather big squeal when this arrived. Gerritsen is one of my favourite guilt-free guilty pleasures and this is the latest Isles and Rizzoli mystery, which reminds me I haven’t read one for a while.)

Now four books deserve a special read because I think it’s a series that every one is looking forward to after the first six were issued last year. It’s the next in the Bloomsbury Group series from, erm, Bloomsbury. Don’t they look delightful together…

  • Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady (the one I know least about but might have to read very soon)
  • Mrs Harris Goes To Paris & Mrs Harris Goes To New York by Paul Gallico (already heard lots of wonderful things about this but might leave it for a while in case of blogger over kill)
  • Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys (more on this one in a second its special to me)
  • Mrs Ames by E.F Benson (excited about this one too because I have just discovered the joys of Benson through ‘Queen Lucia’ have heard this is very different)

So, ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’, now I don’t normally blow my own trumpet but I got very, very excited when this arrived because I loved ‘Henrietta’s War’ so much last year. I also almost cried/wet myself/laughed/jumped up/all of those at once and down when I noticed this…

Yes that’s me quoted on the back… under one of my favourite authors, on a book originally published in one of my favourite periods. It’s too much. I was asked for a quote a while back yet I thought it was going to be in the inside or something. I genuinely had no idea it was going to be on the back. So that’s been me on cloud nine (despite the blinking hay fever which has gone to a new level) for a few days.

So what books have you won/received/been sent/borrowed/bought of late? Read any of the above? Do let me know, I always love your thoughts.

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Books of 2009… A Teaser

I have to say I don’t normally do something like this during a blogging year. Instead I normally do a Savidge Reads Dozen (thirteen though like the Man Booker) Top Reads at the end of the year here is last years. However as its thanksgiving for some today- Happy Thanksgiving to you – Booking Through Thursday was asking about books and authors we are thankful for. Recently I also saw Jackie of Farmlanebooks do her best books of 2009 so far so I thought for a change I would merge the two in a way. My end of year one won’t be books that have necessarily come out in 2009 just ones I have loved in 2009. I thought for now I would give you my top five (in no particular order) as a bit of a teaser, it was tough I can tell you… there is still five weeks to go till 2009 ends so it could all change.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The story follows possibly my favourite character of the year so far (and there have been a few contenders) Hiroko Tanaka on August the 9th 1945 in Nagasaki just before they dropped the bomb and ‘the world turns white’. Though Hiroko survives her German lover Konrad is killed. Two years later as India declares its independence she turns up on his half-sisters door step in Delhi with nowhere to stay and becomes attracted to their servant Sajjad and all this is in the first 60 pages. The book then follows Hiroko’s story and the story of people around her (that’s all I am saying trying not to plot spoil) through more pivotal times in history such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and America post 9/11… Read more here.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Shuttle is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction books. I should admit here I haven’t read any of her children’s titles either. I had picked it up purely as it was a Persephone novel and I have wanted to read as many as I can get my hands on frankly. Reading the synopsis in the book cover I wasn’t sure this was going to fare very well with me as it seemed to be about the ships that took American’s to England and vice versa in the late 1800’s. I don’t really do books with ships and so with trepidation I opened the book and then simply couldn’t put it down… Read more here.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – ‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilie, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilie is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilie soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilie settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilie… Read more here.

Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me… Read more here.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there… Read more here.

Now I mentioned that we have five weeks left (how is it going so quickly) and so it could all very easily change. In fact I know there are two books I have read but haven’t written about yet that would probably wing it in the top five at the moment. You could also make it change, I would love you to tell me what the top five books are that you have read this year and if I own them I will try and read some of them and if I don’t own them I will look out for them when I have a small binge next week once we are in December! So its over to you…

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Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

Do you ever have the inkling that a book might just be so completely and utterly ‘you’ that you actually put off reading it for quite some time as you are scared of being right? Now I know that sounds a little bit crazy but once you have read that book there are two outcomes. You may either hate it and end up being deflated and forlorn possibly never wanting to open a book again… ever! Or there is the possibility you will love the book so much you wish that you could un-read it and have the pleasure of that first read all over again? Joyce Dennys ‘Henrietta’s War’ is definitely the latter for me, utterly delightful. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me

Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book.

Henrietta is a ‘doctors wife’ (which all the local women think is very important in a slightly unconvinced way) to Charles and mother to Bill and Linnet living in Devon. As we meet her World War II is raging though where she lives the only real way that war is effecting them is the rations and ‘people are talking cockney up and down the high street’. Having home help she spends most of her time trying to join in the War Effort, joining local clubs, doing good, gossiping with her friends (wonderful characters like the bossy Lady B and Mrs Savernake and the flirty Faith who ‘The Conductor’ is in love with) sunbathing on her roof, writing letters to Robert and getting a lot of bed rest.

To have visitors during a Day in Bed is a grave error. It means getting out to do your hair, make up your face, and have your bed made. A little talk on the telephone with a sympathetic friend who is really interested in your symptoms is the only social intercourse that should be allowed. A good deal of pleasure can be derived from asking for your fountain-pen and notepaper, and then not write any letters…

For some people the war wasn’t all bombs and terror, for some in the middle of nowhere it must have felt somewhat removed in many ways and Dennys addresses this. She also looks at how these people lived, admittedly in a comical tongue in cheek way, when the greatest crisis they had was not having enough sugar to make marmalade for the villages ‘Marmalade Week’. We see how the villagers coped and in some ways continued as normal, or as normally as they could, having jumble sales to raise money, joining drama clubs and even at one point getting arrested as Henrietta does.

Most war novels focus on the awful things that happened during that time, what Dennys does with these fictional letters is try and see the light in these dark times and to look for a way to entertain people during the difficulties with laughter.

But now such is Hitler’s power, this evil influence has begun to effect even the residents, and it keeps breaking out in the most unlikely quarters. Miss Piper, the girl in the greengrocers, has gone into jodhpurs; Faith, our friend, looks quite superb in a pair of pin stripped flannels; Mrs Savernack, though I can hardly expect you to believe this, saw fit to appear in a pair of khaki shorts (we all consider her excuse she is digging her way to victory a poor one); and I tell you frankly, Robert, only my love for Charles has kept me out of a pair of green corduroy dungarees.

I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite sometime. A perfect and delightful book and if that wasn’t enough there is more… the lovely illustrations that Dennys also put into the letters.  

Images & Words of Dennys

If you love books by Nancy Mitford, or that show WWII from a different view point, or have you laughing out loud on public transport, or like books set in villages that house wonderful quirky characters (or all of these) then this is most definitely a book for you. I was also in many ways reminded of Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter Downes which I loved earlier in the year. I am so pleased that this gem has been brought back by Bloomsbury and into the mainstream for people to enjoy. I can think of three people instantly I will be buying copies for. I am only hoping, with everything crossed, that Bloomsbury decides to release ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ which would just be wonderful.

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Book Guilt… A Short Solution

With the never ending influx of books (which I love) arriving in the post from you lovely people, from publishers or through my own excessive book shopping spree’s every now and again I need a good book sort. The next Great Book Sort will be happening over the next few evening and will combine this with a ‘Sensation Search’ where I go a-hunting for some modern sensations that I am well aware I own… I am just not sure quite where. You see there are negatives to having so many books** (I just tend to blank them mentally) well a few.

For example I know I own ‘Meaning of the Night’ and ‘Silent in the Grave’ which some of you kindly recommended, they are just in one of six boxes brimming with books, actually they could be on one of the eight TBR shelves, or even just on the various TBR piles around the house (which I frankly dare not even take a picture of). The Converted One commented the other day that “other book bloggers have a TBR pile… so why do you have about twelve and boxes full?’ Hmmm… no comment.

The other issue I get is…  guilt. Partly to people who have bought me books/sent me books and when I say that beam ‘have you read **** by **** **** yet?’ to which I reply with a guilty gulp ‘erm… no… but I will… soon’. I love the fact my friends, readers and all the publishers will see a book and think ‘oh I know who would like that’ I just always feel bad if I don’t read it then and there. Does anyone else get this? Or am I just being a bit over dramatic?

Worst of all however, is the guilt I feel for all the books that sit on my shelves, on any free surface to hand or get popped in a box. These books that I know are waiting with the promise of some sort of adventure that only the two of us can share, this could be a good, bad or indifferent adventure but it’s an adventure all the same. So I thought right how can I get through more of them and still keep on with the tomes of the Sensation Season, and I had an idea involving all of these…

A few short novels...

  • Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (already read – hilarious more tomorrow)
  • Love – Toni Morrison
  • The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark
  • Fire in the Blood – Irene Nemirovsky
  • Cover Her Face – P.D. James (I am in need of some crime)
  • King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes
  • The Tin Can Tree – Anne Tyler
  • The Daydreamer – Ian McEwan
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Bronte’s Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson (very late reading this)
  • Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt
  • A Pale View of the Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro (have had mixed past experiences with Ishiguro)
  • The Swallows of Kabul – Yasmina Khadra
  • Shuck – Daniel Allen Cox
  • True Murder – Yaba Badoe (looks thicker than it is big writing)

What do they all have in common apart from the fact I have been meaning to read them all for ages (apart from Love by Toni Morrison which Claire at Kiss A Cloud is to blame for my purchase of)? They are all short! I thought a short book each week plus one other random and a Sensation Novel is exactly what my reading week can handle. How do you think I will fair? Does anyone else ever get sudden book guilt at the pile they have accrued?

**Note – This post is not a whinge and the more books the merrier are welcomed at Savidge Reads Towers, just so you know!

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Man Bookers and More…

I have had quite an influx of books at Savidge Towers from some lovely publishers and thought I would share with you what titles you may well be seeing much more of on Savidge Reads. The first set of books that have been coming very kindly through the letter box are of course my main source of reading through August and that is the Man Booker Long List.

Booker Books

Now I have ordered them into “read” which are standing up vertically, “going to read” horizontally and then ‘The Children’s Book’ which is my “steady progress” I actually should have put The Wilderness slightly at an angle as I am re-reading that one again as I think I read it to fast earlier this year and missed some of the magic you have been mentioning. ‘Love & Summer’ was read this week and ‘The Little Stranger’ I read a while ago, I am still finding the latter is one I think about a lot in hindsight. I have just finished ‘Heliopolis’ so expect a review of that soon, possibly later today. I am feeling quite chuffed I have gone from having read one and a half of the list to 4 and 3/4 in a week. Now which should I read next? I still have two more to come which are apparently in the post and those are ‘How To Paint A Dead Man’ by Sarah Hall and ‘The Glass Room’ by Simon Mawer… I hope they arrive in time before the shortlist is announced! Eek! There has also been some non Booker books arrive…

Non Booker Books

We have in the picture (do you like my new bedding?) just in case you cant see the books are;

  • One Day – David Nicholls ( we meet a couple of people on the same day every year for twenty years and see how their lives entwine)
  • Serena – Ron Rash (don’t know much about this but sounds like an epic novel)
  • Border Songs – Jim Lynch (haven’t read him before but have always wanted to try The Highest Tide)
  • A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi (I think she is a brilliant comic and a tale of escaping to Britain should be quite funny)
  • Of Bee’s & Mist – Erick Sethwan (not out till December this is meant to be an amazing debut of magical surrealism based on folklore from Erick varying family cultures, apparently this has been quite big in America)
  • The Other – David Gutterson (someone I have always wanted to try)
  • Julie & Julia – Julie Powell (I won’t lie I will be reading this pronto!)
  • The Monsters of Templeton – Lauren Groff (a debut novel thats sounds very exciting and me and I have been wanting to read since it came out in hardback)
  • The Bronte’s Went To Woolworths – Rachel Feruson (I seem to be late on the uptake with this re-released classic)
  • Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (Paperback Reader and Stuck-in-a-Book have both loved this so I am sure I will)
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (loved Shadow of the Wind, VERY excited about this one)

 Now if this wasnt enough I had two more deliveries (my Gran is staying and has been flabberghasted at the arrivals) one which isgoing to remain secret and be a theme for Septembers blogs and I will announce at the weekend and hope some of you will join in. The other wasn’t for me… or my Gran, but for ‘The Converted One’.

Brazilian Books

The lovely people at Bloomsbury had sent two Brazilian authors works they are publishing this year, or have published sorry. ‘Equator’ by Miguel Sousa Tavares which ‘The Converted One’ is “going to read next, is so kind of them” and ‘Ashes of the Amazon’ by Milton Hatoum which won the Brazil Jabuti Prize for Best Novel in 2006. After enjoying Heliopolis (even though not by a Brazilian but set there) I am going to have to piler these myself!

Which of these books have you been tempted to read or have your read? Have you read anything else by one of the authors? As ever do let me know, I love all your opinions. What books are at the top of your TBR and are you itching to start?

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