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The ongoing struggle of my life is Finding Time to Read. Despite my best efforts I seem to only finish an average of 1 book every 2 weeks. As I’m single and don’t have any children (except the furry kind) I can’t understand why I don’t read more. Including commuting I am at work 10 hours a day, sleep about 7, so I should have 7 hours a day in which to read. But then there’s fixing meals, doing housework, watching television, running errands, etc. Okay, so maybe I don’t have as much time as I thought! But I know that there are ways to simplify my life that will allow me to read more. I can cut out watching television every day, save all my errands for one day, listen to audiobooks while I clean, read throughout my lunch breaks (I usually end up doing work while I eat at my desk) and read while eating breakfast and supper. But I’d like to know – how do you find time to read? What tips do you have for me? How do you arrange your days so that you can devote time to reading? I’d really love your advice!

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I’ve tried several times to read biographies of the Brontë family, but they’ve always seemed so dull, morose and really didn’t hold my attention. When I got a pre-pub copy of Claire Harman’s new biography of Charlotte Brontë I didn’t have very high expectations of it and had plans to merely flip through and skim. But as soon as I started reading I was hooked.

Harman’s style is novelistic, smooth and compelling. She starts the book off by exploring the summer of Charlotte’s unhappiness in Brussels after Emily left the school where they had both been studying French. Charlotte was desperately infatuated with Monsieur Heger, the husband of the school’s mistress. I think Monsieur Heger would be what we now term ‘a player’; a manipulative flirt who courted women’s affection with no care for the emotional consequences. Harman shows how this relationship and Charlotte’s feelings about Heger colored her whole existence, including her writing, for the rest of her life.

Though the novel is centered on Charlotte, we learn much about her parents and siblings as they were all so close and creatively connected. I was fascinated by the story of how the Brontë sisters came to be published and intrigued by public reaction to their novels. Harman really focuses on Charlotte as a writer and an artist and on her development as a novelist. I think this approach illuminated Charlotte’s life and her character in a way which previous biographies I’ve tried to read didn’t and it worked for me.

If you have an interest in the Brontës this is a must read. But you don’t have to be a Brontë fan to enjoy this biography – it’s also fascinating if you’re interested in how someone develops as a writer.

What other books about the Brontës would you recommend? Since it’s the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth next month I’m in the mood to read more about the family. I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne for my book club next week and am kicking myself that I didn’t read it before now – what a captivating book!

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After having enjoyed Little Boy Lost last summer I knew I had to read another book by Marghanita Laski so I decided to buy myself The Village by the same author for Christmas. I think I expected something with the same tone and feel as Little Boy Lost, but this novel is quite different from that excellent novel. However, though the feel is not the same I enjoyed it for its view of a changing village in the years after WWII.

The novel revolves around the story of a secret romance between young Margaret Trevor, a girl who comes from an upper/middle class family and Roy Wilson, a veteran from a working class family. Their mothers worked together in a Red Cross Post during the war, but once the war is over there is no question of them socializing with each other ever again. This knowledge is unquestioned by Wendy Trevor, Margaret’s unsatisfied, bitter, highly critical mother. She sees Margaret as a failure because she’s shy, reserved and hasn’t done well in school like her younger sister has. Everyone in their social circle agrees that the only path for Margaret to take is that of wife and mother – and Margaret has no objection to this as it’s exactly the life she wants for herself. But of course they all see her with someone of their own class and not with someone like Roy Wilson.

Roy is kind, hard-working, ambitious and wants a family. He and Margaret quickly fall in love after meeting at a dance, but their romance is conducted very stealthily as Margaret knows that her parents would never consent to her marriage with someone from such a different background from herself.

This is all conducted against a background of an altered economic climate with the working class making money and the middle class living in genteel poverty. There’s also a definite sense that the middle class citizens in the village feel threatened by the new confidence the working class has gained since the war.

The young romance can’t stay hidden forever and there is an inevitable clash at the end of the novel – between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the young and the old. Laski skillfully uses the classic plot of star crossed lovers to play up all the ways that England was changing in the fifties. Her characters are perhaps not so complex, but they do powerfully portray the various factions in this new world.

The Village is a fascinating post-war novel yet I think Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day, which shares similar themes to The Village, is a superior post-war book – I’d recommend it highly if you’re interested in this time period.

Now I’ll move on to To Bed With Grand Music by Laski – another Christmas present to myself!

clunySo sorry that this is a day late, but I had a very busy day yesterday and didn’t find the time to finish up my post – better late than never, I suppose!

I was so pleased when Jane from Beyond Eden Rock announced her second annual Margery Sharp Day. I really enjoyed reading Britannia Mews last year and had good intentions to read another of Sharp’s novels before 2015 ended. However, we all know how good intentions can fall by the wayside when it comes to reading. So, I was happy to have this opportunity to try Sharp again and fortunate to find a 1944 copy of Cluny Brown at Tumbleweed Books in Pueblo, Colorado.

Cluny Brown is set in 1938 and starts off in London. We first learn about the main character, Cluny Brown, from other’s opinions and views of her. Her Uncle Arn, with whom she lives, strikes up a conversation with an older woman in Kensington Gardens and tells this woman that Cluny ‘doesn’t know her place’. And that is the crux of Cluny’s problems – she thinks she can do things that young women of her station and skills wouldn’t normally do. It perplexes her uncle and frustrates other relations and after she makes an ill-advised decision regarding an older man and his bathroom her uncle and his sister-in-law steer her into service.

She lands in Devon at Friars Carmel, the home of Sir Henry, Lady Carmel and their son Andrew. Mostly resigned to her fate she settles in as a housemaid among the very gracious family, their Polish refugee house guest, Adam Belinksi, and the other household staff. She also meets a kind if dull chemist who gives her hope for a different life.

In the end, Cluny makes a decision that is wholly unexpected yet wholly and utterly perfect. She’s known all along that she doesn’t want the life most expected for women of her status and the reader doesn’t want that for her either. For Cluny is curious and energetic, unafraid and full of natural charm. She’s meant for more than the life of a housemaid.

Like Britannia Mews, Cluny Brown is a dream. I loved all of the characters so much that I didn’t want to leave them. Sharp creates real and delightful worlds with a slightly fairy tale quality that completely envelop the reader – I was enchanted.

Now to decide – wait for next year’s Margery Sharp Day to read another of her novels or jump straight in to one now?

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I’m not a particular fan of Antonia Fraser (I’ve only ever read The Wives of Henry VIII by her) but I couldn’t resist this memoir about her pre-war/wartime childhood and post-war teen years and the experiences that turned her into a historian. Both of Fraser’s parents were politicians and very well-connected so she had a colorful childhood of campaigning for her parents and growing up with seven siblings in a household that encouraged curiosity and learning. When Antonia was a girl she became enchanted with Mary Queen of Scots and her passion for this tragic figure runs all through the novel leading to her writing her first major historical biography of Mary in the late sixties, which kickstarted her career.

Fraser’s memories about her childhood and education are fascinating and reading about the famous figures she knew as a child is impressive and jaw-dropping. This is a woman who had both Christine Longford and Anthony Powell in her family and received letters from her parents’ friend Evelyn Waugh, among others. I really enjoyed the book up through her school years. However, once she goes off to Oxford I think it dragged a bit, became overly name-droppy and wasn’t as interesting. But, overall, this is a wonderful account of the making of a historian and of what it was like to be a privileged child in England in the 30’s and 40’s.

It has inspired me to seek out some of her books – I’d especially like to read her book on Marie Antoinette.

Have you read Antonia Fraser’s historical biographies or other works?