Cover Collection: Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth

1. Virago Press // 2. Virago // 3. Weidenfeld & Nicholson //

4. Penguin Classics // 5. Phoenix //6. Penguin Books Ltd.

I’m in the midst of a small reading slump – I just haven’t found anything lately that ticks all of my boxes or even makes my heart race with pleasure. Thank goodness I still have Testament of Youth in my life. I took a break from it over the last week because I thought I should try to get into a novel, but I think I just need to stick with this until I finish. It’s the only book that feels right at the moment.

I own no. 4, but I really like the combination of Vera Brittain’s photo and the poppy on no.2. Which cover would you want to own?


The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


paying guests

I consider Sarah Waters to be one of my favorite authors so of course I started reading The Paying Guests back when it was released last fall with much excitement. However, I didn’t finish it before I went to London and had to return it to the library before I left. While walking around Windsor after visiting the castle I saw a copy for sale in a bookshop and bought it with the idea of reading it on the plane home. Yet I didn’t finish it then either. Finally a few weeks ago I started it again and this time I was riveted. I couldn’t stop reading and finished the novel with that wonderful sense of satisfaction you feel after living in a truly wonderful story.

The book is set in London in 1922 when the aftermath of the war is still radiating through society. Frances Wray and her mother are left alone in a big, demanding house with little money and no servants. To make ends meet they take in ‘paying guests’, Len and Lily Barber, a young couple who come from a different world, a different class, a different social status.  Inevitable awkwardness and discomfort accompany their arrival to the Wray’s home, especially as Len is a bit slick and there is an odd undercurrent of bitterness in his relationship with Lily. As the weeks go by they all try to adjust to the strained situation and Waters brilliantly creates that feeling of unease for the reader that sits at the heart of all of her novels.

Frances and Lily are eventually drawn together – out of mutual loneliness and dissatisfaction – and their relationship takes a dramatic and erotic path that leads to murder. The plot then turns from a simmering love story to a tense police investigation and courtroom drama that only made the novel more interesting and complex. Waters is so good at examining the shifting state of relationships when they’re put under pressure and how her characters react to tragedy and anxiety felt so right to me.

I love the domestic details in this book – the descriptions of the cleaning, the meals, the everyday chores that bring the novel to life and transport us into the post-war society that was so rapidly evolving. These details ground the novel in reality when the characters and the plot take unfamiliar paths and helps to ratchet up the suspense and sense of terror that would plague anyone involved in a forbidden romance or a murder investigation.

I wasn’t disappointed with this latest novel by Sarah Waters and it seems to be the book that will earn her the huge readership that she deserves. She is really gaining a following here in the States – I’ve had conversations with two different patrons this week at my library about how they can’t believe they just discovered her writing. One of the patrons was sad to learn that Waters doesn’t crank the novels out and there was a five year gap between The Paying Guests and The Little Stranger. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another five years for her next novel.

When Life Gives You Lemons…


Well, not lemons exactly – just allergies, pink eye, horrible headaches and a serious case of the blahs. Needless to say, I’ve not really felt like turning on my computer over the last couple of weeks. I usually zone out in the evenings in front of the TV or go to bed early with Testament of Youth, which is completely wonderful yet a very long and slow read, so I don’t have much to blog about anyway. It might be another week or so before I have a genuine book post for you.

I do hope to get around to all of your blogs this weekend and see what you’ve been up to.

And I actually do have lemons! I was just given another bag full by a co-worker – any good lemon-based recipes to recommend?

Recent Arrivals

Love's Shadow

I’ve found that nothing quite beats the winter blues as well as bringing new, gorgeous books into my life. Last weekend I went with a friend on a jaunt to Half Price Books and was fortunate to discover a few books that really appealed to me. I usually only find contemporary fiction at HPB, but I’ve recently learned the secret to where to look for my kind of books at this particular store – the discount shelves. Apparently, my fellow readers in the East Valley of the Phoenix suburbs are not interested in the books that I am drawn to and that is okay with me. I got all four books in the photos above and below for around $2 a piece. When I saw the two Winifred Holtbys sitting side by side I nearly jumped up and down and clapped my hands with joy. I’ve never read Holtby before and now I am looking forward to exploring her writing. I’ve already started The Land of Green Ginger with much enjoyment.

poor caroline

The two books below were both mentioned by Emily recently and I couldn’t resist ordering Reunion after reading her thoughts on this powerful novella. The Millstone was the book up for discussion at the January meeting of the Walking Book Club. I have an idea that I’ll try to read all of the books the WBC reads this year, but of course I won’t put any pressure on myself to do so.


I’m very glad to welcome these new friends into my home and I look forward to making their acquaintance very soon. Have you read any of these titles?