The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Series #3)

 The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde 

Well this was fun. I say that after every one, I know, but the whole series is a hoot. In this installment, Thursday is vacationing inside a cheesy novel called Caversham Heights, where she will replace a character off on a vacation of her own. Caversham Heights is in the Well of Lost Plots, the place where all unpublished books live and which is located on the 26 sublevels beneath The Library, where all published books are kept on its 26 levels (one for each letter of the alphabet). 

 Besides vacationing, Thursday will also be working with Jurisfiction, the organization responsible for keeping the peace and fighting crime in Book World. She's currently an apprentice Jurisfiction agent working toward her full licence. 

A run in with Aornis, the daughter of her now deceased arch enemy Archeron Hades, will find her fighting to retain any memory of her past life, including her (now eradicated) husband and the child she's carrying. But when her grandmother - always dressed head to toe in blue gingham -  unexpectedly shows up, Thursday will get the help she needs to rid herself of her enemy and regain her memories.

Additional challenges to a restful vacation will be a Mispeling Vyrus, a runaway Minotaur, a blackmarket for Plot Devices, Jurisfiction agents being targeted, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights refusing to attend anger management, and a revolt by Nursery Rhyme characters. Tying it all together is the impending release of the new Story Operating System, UltraWord, which seems quite wonderful until Thursday begins to suspect it's creators may have a hidden agenda. 

There's a lot going on, perhaps a little too much for one book, as it begins to feel frantic at times. But there's so much pure entertainment in the way Fforde makes use of books and their characters that I enjoyed every word of it. It's the little (made up, of course) revelations about familiar characters and hilarious explanations of things that happened in various novels that are some of my favourite moments. His imagination is wild, and apparently endless. 

Oh, and we finally find out what happened to the puctuation in the last chapter of Ulysses. I didn't like Ulysses, but I love Fforde's explanation, and his attitude. 

ps - read these books in order because you'll be completely lost if you don't begin at the beginning.

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse

 Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan

Early in the twentieth century Nell Stillman is blindsided when her husband dies, leaving her penniless with an infant son to raise on her own. Through the kindness of friends she lands a job teaching, and gets help with childcare when her young cousin, Elvira, comes to live with her.

The story covers thiry-five to forty years, right up to her death which we knew was coming because the book opens with her self-written obituary. Through the ups and downs of her life - friendships found and lost, raising her son, the war - she finds solace in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. Many of his titles are mentioned and she lauds them as an escape from the hard realities of her life, but there's no real discussion of the books. With Wodehouse's name in the title, and having read in other reviews how much Nell learned from his books, I was a little disappointed there wasn't more about them, more insight into them and how they related to her life. 

But, it is a well-told story with believable characters and sufficient plot development to keep the story moving and hold the reader's interest to the end. All in all, a good read. 

The Order of Time

 The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time - I love reading theories about time. I've always felt it to be the strangest aspect of human existence, so listening to scientists and philosophers explain what they think it is fascinates me. I don't profess to understand all they're saying, but when I read these books I come away with a wider perspective and more open to the idea that things may not be the way I've always thought they were. It's heady stuff. 

I can't begin to explain all he says but he talks about time being a measure of change, about the present not existing, about the "quantum intersections of time and speed", and about entropy. Maybe it will tell you more if I list the chapter headings: 
  • Perhaps Time Is The Greatest Mystery
  • Part 1 - The Crumbling of Time
    1. The Loss of Unity
    2. Loss of Direction
    3. The End of the Present
    4. Loss of Independence
    5. Quanta of Time
  • Part 2 - The World Without Time 
6. The World is Made of Events, Not Things
7. The Inadequacy of Grammar
8. Dynamics as Relation
  • Part 3 - The Sources of Time
9. Time is ignorance
10. Perspective
11. What Emerges From a Particularity
12. The Scent of the Madeleine
13. The Source of Time
  • The Sister of Sleep    
The audio book took 4 hrs 19 mins so it isn't terribly long, and it's a good thing because there's a lot packed into it. Some of it was beyond me, but Benedict Cumberbatch's narration was a huge help. He made it feel like a personal conversation rather than a lecture and he knows just when and how to slow down or add intensity to his voice to keep you mesmerized. This is one of the best narrations I've ever heard. 

It's a fascinating subject with outstanding narration.

The Other Side of the Coin

 The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelley

Angela Kelley is a British designer, dressmaker and milliner who was Personal Assistant and Chief Dresser to Queen Elizabeth for 30 years. She designed and made most of the Queen's outfits during that time and in this book she talks about her duties and a bit about their relationship. The subtitle is: The Queen, The Dresser and The Wardrobe, and that's exactly what she writes about. There are no family secrets exposed here, thank goodness; she's careful to protect the Queen's privacy and speaks about her only with great admiration and respect.  

I've been fascinated by the Queen's style - especially those hats - and often wondered what was involved in getting her perfectly outfitted for every occasion. There was a consistency to her look and yet each outfit had unique details that made it special. I admit there were a few years in the 1970s and 80s when I wasn't a fan of her fashion choices, but that changed about the time Mrs. Kelley started designing for her. Since then I've been impressed with the colours, the lines and the ingenious detailing of her beautiful outfits, so this book was a real treat for me.

She tells us about the fabrics she uses and about the storeroom filled with gorgeous lengths of material given to the Queen as gifts over the 60 years of her reign. Other whole rooms are filled with gowns and outfits she wore over the years, and that she occasionaly re-wore. 

Then there are the jewels: the necklaces, brooches, bracelets, earrings and, of course, the tiaras and crowns. It was great fun reading how Mrs. Kelley co-ordinated everything and put together just the right set of clothing and jewels for each event, whether it was visiting a nursing home, hosting a state dinner, or traveling to foreign destinations.

Her collaborations with other designers led her to exlusive design studios, in one of which she had what she calls her "Pretty Woman" moment. The staff didn't think she looked the part and told her condescendingly that the house was "couture, not retail". They had no idea she was working for the Queen and they were throwing away the chance to do lucrative work that might have put their brand on the map. As Julia Roberts said "Big mistake! Huge!"

Entertaining from beginning to end, I loved it.

Summer at Fairacre and Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre

Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read  (#16)

Another wonderful visit to the English village of Fairacre. I feel like I'm on vacation when I read these gentle, comforting books. 

Her descriptions of the countryside, flowers and birds, and the endearingly down-to-earth villagers paint Fairacre as just about perfect, though she is also candid about its flaws. Her neighbours can at times be annoying, but even then she tells it with such good humour you have to smile.  

The Publisher's Weekly blurb inside the cover sums it up well:

"Miss Read has created an orderly universe in which people are kind and conscientious and cherish virtues and manners now considered antiquated elsewhere...An occasional visit to Fairacre offers a restful change from the frenetic pace of the contemporary world"

But the best description I've ever read comes from Kirkus Reviews: 

"A soothing oasis of tidy living for the frazzled reader weary of an untidy world."  

I will keep returning to that soothing oasis because there I am reminded that human beings can be better than the newspaper headlines and tv reports say we are. These books are a fine place to shelter once in a while, and though I am sadly near the end of the Fairacre series, I still have the Thrush Green series to look forward to. I never tire of these gems. 

 Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read (#17)

he main subject of this one is Mrs. Pringle, the school cleaner. She's a curmudgeonly woman who can be terribly frustrating, but she keeps the school and Miss Read's house spotless and so her peculiarities are tolerated.

 Here we read about her history with the school, her family, and the various run-ins she has with other villagers. Everyone is a intimidated by her bossy, abrasive ways but underneath that hard surface there's a heart that means well, sometimes. 

Mrs. Pringle is only one of the oh-so-real characters you'll meet in the Fairacre books. Others are Miss Read, the patient teacher; Mr. Willet, her helpful neighbour; Amy, Miss Read's closest friend; Miss Clare, the retired teacher who inspires and advises Miss Read; and several single men everyone seems to think Miss Read should be trying to marry. 

If you haven't read any of these books, you are missing something wonderful. The world contained within them is as refreshing and entertaining as that of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Treasures, every one of them.