Monday 31 October 2016

Flowers for Mrs Harris

I was in the mood for another Paris read after I read The President's Hat recently (see my review). Although I guess I'm quite often in the mood for another Paris read, and happily I had this little novella sitting about the house and knew the time had come.

Flowers for Mrs Harris is the slightly preposterous but rather charming story of a British cleaning lady scrimping and saving for several years to follow her dream to go to Paris and buy a Dior frock.

Up to that magic moment of finding herself hoisted off the face of the earth her life had been one of never-ending drudgery, relieved by nothing more than an occasional visit to the flicks, the pub on the corner, or an evening at the music-hall.

Mrs Ada Harris is a widow in her late 50s who despite her "drab and colourless" existence "had always felt a craving for beauty and colour" which had previously manifested in her "great love for flowers". This was to change dramatically after  after she sees two Dior gowns in the wardrobe of one of her clients, Lady Dant. 

It had all begun that day several years back when during the course of her duties at Lady Dant's house, Mrs Harris had opened a wardrobe to tidy it and had come upon the two dresses hanging there.  One was a bit of heaven in cream, ivory, lace and chiffon, the other an explosion in crimson satin and taffeta, adorned with great red bows, and a huge red flower. She stood there as though struck dumb, for never in all her life had she seen anything quite as thrilling and beautiful. 

I did enjoy Flowers for Mrs Harris, although I suspect that if Paris was not involved I might have not liked it quite so much. While much of it is about Dior and dresses it is also a shrewd study of character.

Mme Colber smiled a thin, sad smile. She might almost have guessed it. 'Temptation' was a poem created in materials by a poet of women, for a young girl in celebration of her freshness and beauty and awakening to the mysterious power of her sex. It was invariably demanded by the faded, the middle-aged, the verging on passé women.

I've come to realise that I've never been to Avenue Montaigne, and clearly I need to remedy this situation on my next trip to Paris tout de suite, even though I'm not going to be coming away with a Dior gown like Mrs Harris. But I could pop in to the Hotel Plaza Athénée  for lunch- a rather long held dream. 

Dior on Avenue Montaigne, so pretty

I do wonder at the timing of the story. Dior famously launched his New Look in 1947, and he was at the peak of his powers in the 1950s. Sadly Christian Dior was to die suddenly on a skiing trip to Italy in October 1957 aged only 52, and Flowers for Mrs Harris was published the following year in 1958. 

In America the book is known as Mrs 'arris Goes to Paris, and there is a 1992 telemovie starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs Harris. I'm going to have to watch it when I can find it, it seems pretty unavailable. There's even a new musical theatrical version this year in the UK!

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

French Bingo 2016

Saturday 29 October 2016

Bigger On The Inside

On our recent trip to the South Coast we had a quick stop in Canberra. We had a lovely stopover, but with rather miserable weather so we generally sought out inside activities. 

Master Wicker has pretty much outgrown his Doctor Who obsession and I never really had one (although I always enjoyed the David Tennant era), but we both enjoyed Bigger On The Inside at Canberra Museum and Gallery

Bigger On The Inside is a display of one man's passion for all thing Dr Who. Timothy Kirsopp has been collecting Dr Who memorabilia since the early 90s. He has amassed over 3,000 individual items, and this display is an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Collection of Dr Who Memorabilia. 

Master Wicker immediately set about figuring if he had anything that was not included in the collection. He thinks that his K9 keyring from the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff wasn't there! 

Naturally there was every size of Tardis

I found the Doctor Who Toby Jugs a bit freaky

But not as freaky as the crocheted Ood mask...


Why wouldn't you want a Cyberman toothbrush?

There were many levels of tragic

And a whole lot of stuff...
I'd love to know what he does with it all in his house

You can even help lengthen the Endless Scarf

Canberra Museum and Gallery is free and always worth a look. We visited in the school holidays and they had some great free activities for kids, such as an area to make amazing paper flowers like these. 

Bigger On the Inside
Canberra Museum and Gallery
16 July - 20 November 2016

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday 28 October 2016

Charlie and the War against the Grannies

Charlie and the War against the Grannies is funny from the start. 

I didn't want Mrs Cyclopolos to explode.
I just wanted a paper round.
Which is what I expected from comedian Alan Brough, best known to Australians for his role on the long running but now sadly defunct Spicks and Specks, a music quiz show that most commonly was hysterical. 

Charlie Duncan is  your average 11 year old kid. He hangs out with his best friend Hils, and he wants a paper round. Alan has created a brilliant twist on the classic orphan tale, as young Charlie is a digital orphan, a child "completely ignored by his parents because they are always on their iPhones". 

My parents don't love me. They can only 'like' things now. 

Charlie's desires for a paper round is being blocked by the Grannies who control all deliveries in his neighbourhood. There is a war, there are evil Grannies, there are fart jokes. There are Secret Tunnels and weird happenings and a Lurker. It's silly. It's funny. It's very often laugh out loud funny, and it's a great page turner. Alan Brough has solidly launched himself into the Dahl, Walliams tradition. 

Listen to Alan talking on the radio or see Alan speaking on tele about Charlie and the War against the Grannies where he tells us he has a 2 book deal! YAY. I can't wait. Alan Brough's Top Shelf picks

And you heard it here first folks! Over a year ago I made a label Comedians are the New Children's Writers. This week The Guardian caught up

Thursday 27 October 2016

Gretchen Rubin's 81 Favourite Childrens' and YA Books

Gretchen Rubin is a lawyer and author of several books, her first being The Happiness Project. She reads very widely and loves reading children's books, so much so that she has started three reading groups for reading kid lit and created a shrine to her books in her home. So it makes sense that she would put together a great list of her favourites. I love that there are 81 suggestions.

1. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken (see my review)

2. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

3. Fairy Tales - Hans Christian Andersen

4. Ghosts and More Ghosts - Robert Arthur

5. Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbit (see my review)

6. Peter Pan - M. Barrie

7. The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

8. Are you there God? It's me, Margaret - Judy Blume (see my review)

9. What I Saw and How I Lied - Judy Blunder

10. Andy Buckram's Tin Men - Carol Ryrie Brink

11. The Shades - Betty Brock

12. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodson Burnett (see my review)

13. The Midnight Fox - Betsy Byars

14. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You - Peter Cameron

15. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

16. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

17. Graceling - Kristin Cashore

18. What the Witch Left - Ruth Chew

19. Jane-Emily - Patricia Clapp

20. Sister of the Bride - Beverly Cleary

21. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

22. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

23. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl (see my review)

24. D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths - Ingrid and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

25. Half Magic - Edward Eager

26. Mandy - Julie Andrews Edwards

27. This Star Shall Abide - Sylvia Louise Engdahl

28. The Saturdays - Elizabeth Enright

29. The Witch Family - Eleanor Estes

30. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher

31. The Greengage Summer - Rumer Godden

32. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (see my review)

33. Up a Road Slowly - Irene Hunt

34. The Animal Family - Randall Jarrell

35. Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones

36. The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

37. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg (see my review)

38. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

39. A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin

40. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

41. Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski

42. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

43. The Golden Name Day - Jennie Lindquist

44. The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)

45. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle - Betty McDonald

46. Beauty - Robin McKinely

47. Twilight - Stephanie Meyer

48. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

49. The Girl Who Owned a City - O.T. Nelson

50. The Railway Children - E. Nesbit

51. The Whirling Shapes - Joan North

52. His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

53. The Silver Crown - Robert O'Brien

54. Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell (see my review)

55. Time at the Top - Edward Ormondroyd

56. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

57. The Twenty-One Balloons - William Pene du Bois

58. The Sherwood Ring - Elizabeth Marie Pope

59. The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

60. The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin 

61. Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

62. The House Without a Christmas Tree - Gail Rock

63. Freaky Friday - Mary Rodgers

64. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

65. Harry Potter and the Sorcer's/Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

66. The Good Master - Kate Seedy

67. House of Stairs - William Sleator

68. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

69. Black and Blue Magic - Zilpha Keatley Snyder

70. Miracles on Maple Hill - Virginia Sorenson

71. Heidi - Johanna Spyri (see my review)

72. In a Mirror - Mary Stolz

73. Ballet Shoes - Noel Streatfield (see my review)

74. All-of-a-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor

75. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

76. Mary Poppins - P.L. Travers 

77.  The Boxcar Children - Gertrude Chandler Warner

78. Daddy-Long-Legs - Jean Webster

79. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 

80. The Sword in the Stone - T.H. White

81. The Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder


A respectable effort I guess. Although so many more to go. I'm always astonished to come across so many books I've never even heard of before, and this list has quite a few. 

March 2017 29/81

June 2017 30/81

June 2018 31/81

Sunday 23 October 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon the First

I've never participated in a Dewey's Readathon before. I've wanted to ever since I heard about it, but life has always conspired against me. Time zones make it rather difficult for we Aussies. The orderly 8am New York kick off translates to 11pm Sydney time. Not a great time to start anything, except perhaps a night cap...

This weekend it's me time though. 

Anyway I'm late starting, dipping in in Hour 2. I've had a super busy week, and didn't get time to prepare anything even though I had vague notions of doing that. Tonight I had to work until hour 2 as well. So a little bit of catching up is in order. 

Opening Meme

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I'm reading from country NSW, Australia. 

Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I didn't have vast amounts (i.e. any) time to organise my stack this week, although I did think about it a little so I'm not quite sure. Maybe Tea Time in Paris. 

What snack are you most looking forward to?

I have grossly overlooked the snack department. Will have to organise something tomorrow.

Tell us a little about yourself!

This is my first time participating, and while I'm excited to join in I don't quite understand the process. I'm about to go and organise my stack, which I will photograph in the morning when I have some light.

I'm excited that Brona has organised #TeamOz, I'm looking forward to meeting the other team members. 



Hour One 11pm
At work :-(

Hour Two Midnight
Just home from work, getting organised, and making a stack.

Hour Three 1am
Meeting my #TeamOZ teammates and maybe even starting to read!

Hours Four to Ten 2am to 8am
Pretty much sleeping. I read one book before falling asleep
The Red Balloon -A. Lamorisse

Hours Ten -Twelve 8am - 11am
Getting into it. But then reading and dozing. Four more books. Yes I've read five picture books in twelve hours! Let's hope for better progress this afternoon. 
Meet ..... Mary MacKillop - Sally Murphy, Sonia Martinez (illustrator)
Suri's Wall - Lucy Estela, Matt Ottley (illustrator)
The Big Question - Leen Van Den Berg, Kaatje Vermeire (illustrator), David Colmer (translator)
Dirt on My Shirt - Jeff Foxworthy

Hours Twelve - Fifteen 11am- 2pm
Still dragging the chain somewhat, but some small progress. 
My Mother's Eyes - Mark Wilson
25 pages of The Borrowers - Mary Norton

And I finally photographed my hastily put together stack of possibilities. Of course there are many more possibilities and there is no chance that I will finish this stack.

Hours Fifteen -Twenty 2pm- 7pm
A bit of real life activity and more reading.
75 pages of The Borrowers - Mary Norton which I've now finished.

And a nice leisurely reading of the Sunday supplements- something I enjoy but don't always manage, and rarely on the day. 

Hours Twenty - Twenty Four 7pm - 11pm
Real life intervened again. But I did read
50 pages of Charlie and the War against the Grannies - Alan Brough

I've really enjoyed my first Readathon, even if I was woefully underprepared, and didn't get all that much read. At least I got to participate this time- and represent Australia in #TeamOZ! I hope to participate next time too, and will work on being much more prepared. Thanks to the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon folks

7 Books finished. 

Monday 17 October 2016

The President's Hat

A break away is a lovely chance to read a book you've been meaning to read for ages and just haven't got to. On my recent trip to the South Coast I took a rather large bag chock full of enticing reads so I could have some choice of reading material when I got there. Of course there is always the hope that you will read lots of books and so need lots of reading material. I only managed to finish one book while I was away, but somehow this most Parisian of stories was perfect for my beachy retreat. I'd seen lots about Laurain's third and most recent book around of late (French Rhapsody), and this shamed me enough to seek out his first.

Hat wearing Parisian Antoine Laurain lost his hat in a cafe one time, and that loss formed the kernel of The President's Hat. French President Francois Mitterrand famously wore a Fedora. He was President of France in the early 80s, and our story is firmly set in this time with multiple music and popular culture references like the seemingly inexplicable Caroline Loeb's C'est la Ouate.

The President's Hat starts with President Mitterrand out to dinner in a stylish Parisian bistro. Sitting at the next table is a rather humble accountant, Daniel Mercier who is treating himself while his wife and son are out of town visiting family. At the end of the evening President Mitterrand accidentally leaves his hat behind at the restaurant. Daniel notices, and decides against trying to return it and instead walks out of the restaurant with Mitterrand's fedora on his own head.

Mitterrand's fedora becomes a talisman for change, Daniel's life is transformed by his contact with the hat, and when he himself misplaces the hat he is beside himself. But while the hat doesn't have nine lives like a cat it does go on to change the lives of other people who also find the hat.

Perhaps, when all was said and done, it was just as easy to leave someone's life as enter it. A stroke of fate and a few words could be enough to start a relationship. A stroke of fate and a few words could end it too. 

There are many delightful French touches. A fair amount of Champagne is drunk. There are lots of familiar Paris locations. Daniel Mercier is greatly disappointed that his six year old son doesn't want to try oysters.

When they got up to their sixteenth-floor apartment in the fifteenth arrondissement, Daniel announced that he'd made supper. Cold meat, chicken, tomato and basil salad, and cheese. Véronique was impressed- her husband rarely made dinner. First they had an aperitif.

I love how the book design incorporates its own bookmark into the back cover! I've never seen that before. Although I couldn't bring myself to use it... 

While it will never win the (recently announced) Nobel Prize for Literature or anything (and who would have predicted that Bob Dylan would?), I did very much enjoy my time with The President's Hat. Perhaps one day I'll be able to reread it as Le Chapeau de Mitterrand? Meanwhile, Mitterrand is in the news again (despite being long dead).

There were many interesting tidbits along the way. The Paris lover in me was fascinated to learn how much of modern day Paris owes to Francois Mitterrand. Mitterrand's Grands Travaux is responsible for many of the highlights of modern Paris. Louvre Pyramid, Musee d'Orsay, the Grand Arche de la Defense amongst them. Similarly I'd never heard of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, sadly now a lifelong member of the 27 Club.  Although the notion of French kiddies of the 80s watching Knight Rider makes me so sad, and the reggae version of La Marseillaise even sadder. Not surprisingly it was rather controversial when it was released in  1979.

If you're lucky enough to be in Paris you can check out Antoine Laurain's Best Eats in Paris.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  
French Bingo 2016

Saturday 8 October 2016

South Coast Panoramas

This past week I enjoyed a fabulous short break on the NSW South Coast which is not an area I'd really been to before. I'd driven through some of it, but decades ago, and never really stayed. It's such a beautiful area and now I know I'll go back. 

Click on the images to take advantage of full size viewing. 

The view over Kiama from Saddleback Mountain Lookout

Seven Mile Beach

The whitest sand in the world!
Hyam's Beach

I spent a gorgeous few hours reading with this view
while Master Wicker spent a long time in the many rock pools 
Up early for dawn at Hyam's Beach
Dolphin Point
Pebbly Beach
famous for it's beach loving kangaroos
The weather turned as we drove through Braidwood
and we would arrive in Canberra in a maelstrom
Canola in full bloom near Boorowa
All the recent flooding rains
 have left a green dividend
Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by