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Following My Whimsy (The Blue Castle, Domino Book of Decorating, and A Return to Modesty)

August 12, 2010

Day One of my new reading without constraints is done, and I’ve started and completed two three three-ish books! Woo-hoo! When I got an e-mail telling me that an ILLed copy The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery was waiting for me at the library, I couldn’t even be bothered to shower before I threw on some clothes and ran to get it (this whole being-too-excited-to-shower thing is beginning to become a theme, isn’t it? I did wash my face, if that makes you feel better about my hygiene). In the process I might or might have brought another 20 home with me. ;) I know, it’s a disease, but gosh darn it I have the shelves for them, and as long as I return them in a timely fashion, who am I hurting by having 50 library books out at once? (This is me sticking with my guilt-free, rejoice in my individual foibles philosophy.)

I pretty much read The Blue Castle in one sitting, with a significant pause when my mom and niece got back from their trip and when I thus ended up reading to my niece and putting her to bed. I lurved it, and I don’t know how I’m going to manage to return it to the library: I wants my precious. Also, I now want to revisit some of the Anne books, and while I know I own them all, they’re not on my shelves! So I’ve downloaded the audio version from my library’s e-branch. Anyway, it had a bit of the flavour of I Capture the Castle, but with more of a fairy tale feel…in fact, it almost felt like something Anne Shirley herself would have written (violet eyes! the heroine named Valancy! a Lovers Lane!). On the one hand, I can’t believe this managed to escape my notice for so many years, but on the other hand I’m so grateful to have had such a treat…now y’all should just tell me that they’ve finally discovered Jane Austen’s seventh completed novel and it’s about to be published. That’s about the only thing that could bring me more joy. :) I especially loved how Valancy’s life was on pause until she was 29, but in the end it didn’t matter. As someone whose 20s are slipping by thanks to a chronic illness, stories like that give me hope. I know that this is a bit tricky to get your hands on, but it’s worth the effort.

Then I picked up Domino: the Book of Decorating, recommended to me by a few (very perceptive) blog readers. I’ve been in a decorating frame of mind since the news about the house came through and have spent hours online looking at pictures and gathering ideas and mulling things over, so this book felt like a complete treat. I was delighted when I grabbed it from the holds shelf and saw that the cover was in the very colour scheme I’m planning on for my bedroom! So I had fun flipping through it…it’s kind of a hybrid between a magazine and book (it reminded me of The Lucky Shopping Manual), so I can’t say I *read* it so much as enjoyed it. Such pretty pictures! As I’m only planning two rooms, though, I didn’t get a lot of solid advice from it (plus…there wasn’t a lot of the lush Victorian neo-gothic kind of look I’m aiming for in my reading room, which I’m finding tricky to pin down and find visuals of outside of the film Penelope). It did make me really sad that the magazine is no more, and I want to check with my library if they have back issues I can get my hands on.

Finally I was in the mood for something a bit girl-y and style related so I grabbed A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. Oh dear; this was so awful, and yet I felt compelled to keep reading! It was like a trainwreck, in that her flaws and generalisations and ridiculous gender assertions were so bad I couldn’t help but be fascinated and wonder how this ever became published (because the writing reminds me of a college freshman composition class). It was like after each chapter, I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and then it did! I did pity her a bit…she wrote this fresh out of college, and now that she’s a decade older, I bet its existence makes her cringe. I thought it was going to be about *clothing* modesty, but it’s really about sexual modesty. Now, I read a marvelous book on this very issue, Unhooked, which I highly recommend. But this one? Her argument boils down to: women should stop having premarital and extramarital sex and they should socially coerce each other into being ladies again which is what evolution has programmed in us anyway because then men would be gentlemen and treat us right or at least save their bad behavior for the prostitutes who get paid to deal with it (no, I’m serious, she said that) and then life would go back to being the wonderful fairy tale it was before the women’s liberation movement and ‘the feminists’ who talk about things like ‘patriarchy’ as if it’s a bad thing had to mess everything up. And goddamn it if the crazy liberals aren’t passing out condoms to kindergarten students, which turns boys into sexual predators, and here’s some more quotes from Cosmo to serve as evidence of my deep analysis of mainstream America.

While the book had a ton of problems (lack of research, romanticism of the past, gross generalisations combined with anecdotal evidence), it really all came down to one huge one: Shalit seems to have swallowed the main premise of rape culture hook, line, and sinker. Women are the ones responsible for the sexuality of both genders, and if we’d just start behaving ourselves, men would have to follow suit. And they wouldn’t be oversexed and women wouldn’t make “postcoital claims” of “date rape” due to regret at their general licentiousness. Because you’re either a virgin or a slut, and you’ll get treated the way you act. But at the same time that she buys into these rape culture ideas, she seems to think that feminism has ‘won,’ and that our current society, far from being steeped in rape culture, is actually a feminist paradise of equality….and of course, if you believe that, it becomes obvious that the goals of feminism must be responsible for increasing sexual predation. And of course things like “date rape” never, ever happened before the feminist movement…it’s not as if the absence of discussion before then related more to cultures of silence, shame, and respectability. Nope!

photo credit

It’s too bad that the book was so awful, because I really want to have a good discussion about modesty as it pertains to dress. I firmly believe that all women and all men have the right to wear whatever they want (within the bounds of public decency), and things like the UK poll in which a significant minority of respondents felt a woman dressing ‘provocatively’ made them partly responsible for their rape or the Australian jury who ruled a woman couldn’t have been raped because her skinny jeans were too tight to take off without her consent make me beyond furious. (I LOVE the video on the Not Ever site, though, so you should go watch it; I’d embed it if I could.) And I have no religious beliefs relevant to dress. But at the same time, over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself more drawn to ‘modest’ clothes…I now only get skirts and dresses that hit me at the knee, and I prefer tops with at least thick straps or throwing a little cardigan on over spaghetti straps. And lately, I’ve been feeling hesitant about lower-cut necklines and avoiding tighter cuts of shirts. So I’m curious about how my relationship to clothes and modesty relates to larger philosophical issues and the interaction between the theoretical and the everyday. Unfortunately, I have yet to find that book!

I haven’t decided which book I’m going to pick up next…I’m almost done with Samba, which I reading pre-slump and am truly enjoying in small-ish doses. I had thought I’d go for one of the classics, but now the historical romanticism in A Return to Modesty has left a bad flavour in my mouth, so we’ll see what ends up calling to me. :) On the audio front, I’ve put The Secret Scripture on pause (I was beginning to dread listening to it) and began The Murder of Roger Ackroyd last night, one of my favourite of Agatha Christie’s. But now that I’ve got Anne of Green Gables calling my name, Poirot’s got a bit of competition. ;) And it would appear that my decision to shake things up is just what I needed (though I have no desires to make it a permanent change)!

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43 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2010 4:09 am

    I’m beginning to think that it was serendipitous that my copy of The Blue Castle arrived when it did and off to pick it up…

  2. August 12, 2010 4:33 am

    That’s it, I’m going to have to re-read The Blue Castle. I haven’t read it since I was twelve or so, going through my “read everything L.M. Montgomery ever wrote” phase, and I don’t remember enjoying it. It seems to be such a blogger favourite that I think I’ll have to give it anouther try!

    Glad you found some amusement with Domino and sorry that A Return to Modesty was such a flop.

  3. August 12, 2010 4:36 am

    What a disgusting book- I’m always surprised by women who buy into rape culture and blame other women for rape, as well as perpetrating the virgin/whore dichotomy. I’m like you; I fully support your right to wear what you want (as well as my right to wonder why anyone thinks leggings are an acceptable substitute for pants), but I do dress more modestly- but I think that comes out of being ace and being more attracted to menswear than anything else. But is it a backlash against standard femininity and a culture that places so much value on sex? A book on this topic would be intriguing, I agree.

    (Also, not aimed at you but the idea that feminists have won, can we stop calling things “postfeminist”? I’ll be a postfeminist in the post-patriarchy, as the saying goes.)

  4. August 12, 2010 5:19 am

    OMG – what an amzing trip to the library. All those books sound fabulous, and I love the cover of the LM Montgomery one.

    Sounds like A Return to Modesty gives food for thought, and despite all the bad stuff I want to read it now.

    I know this is being very pedantic so bear with me. I am a criminal defence lawyer from Sydney so I was interested to read the article you included a link to about the Australian jury and the skinny jeans (incidentally I know the barrister referred to in the article).

    I agree with everything you said about the issue of rape and women’s clothing.

    But the lawyer in me couldn’t help but add that what that article said about the jury acquitting the bloke because of the jeans isn’t correct and the journalist is perhaps being a little bit liberal to make a point (albeit a good point and one I agree with firmly).

    The jury may have asked that question, but no one expect those 12 people can know why they acquitted the bloke. There was a whole trial full of evidence that we (and the journalist) didn’t hear. I have known juries to ask questions like that one and convict the accused anyway.

    This will probably sound pedantic again (the law is pedantic – extremely), the question asked of the girl was esesntially about the tightness of her pants in the context of them being able to be ripped off. It in no way suggested that she was assaulted because of her clothing, or that because of what she was wearing she was asking for sex. These questions are not permitted and the judge would not have allowed them. Here the clothing was an issue only to test the veracity of her version of events, something is essential for justice to occur.

    Justice in the legal system isn’t about getting convictions – its about fair process. It is the job of the prosecution to put all of their evidence before the court, and it is the job of the defence to test the evidence put forward by the prosecution. If the defence couldn’t do this, then we couldn’t have justice.

    We don’t know if he was guilty or innocent (just because someone is accused of something doesn’t mean they did it), and as difficult as it is for the girl, sometimes these lines of questions are necessary to ensure that an innocent person doesn’t go to gaol. When questions about clothes are along the lines of suggesting that they in some way contributed to an assault or were the cause of it, they will never be permitted. But in this circumstance the question seems to have had a different purpose entirely.

    SORRY!!! Legal discussion over… I didn’t expect it to go on so long. Justice in the criminal system is something that I am very passionate about and something that I think is actually a very complicated issue that a lot of people don’t understand. I would feel the same way whether I acted for the prosecution or the defence. Both sides have to do their job properly to ensure that justice (just process) occurs.

    ANYHOO – back to the book. I will definitely try and read it after your review.

    PS. Hope no one takes offence to anything I just said. I feel just the same of Eva and The Literary Omnivore before me about women and clothing and sexual assault.

  5. August 12, 2010 5:21 am

    OMG, I just realised how long that post was. Sorry everyone :-)

  6. August 12, 2010 5:37 am

    I have to admit that I love it when you really don’t like a book, especially when it’s on gender issues! I catch myself thinking “Yeah! You tell them!” I also have my “small revolutions” (as my boyfriend calls them) which habe built my reputation as a leftist-feminist-tree-hugger among some of my friends.

    My latest one was while watching A Clash of Titans. Perseus screams “Let’s kill the b****!” to get his men all excited about killing Medusa. This was right after Io tells them Medusa’s story. And all I can think is “Excuse me?!!” For all Perseus knows, this was a woman who was raped and to whom Athena not only refused help, but transformed into a monster. Medusa hides in Hell and only kills the men who take the trouble to go there to kill her. So how is she a b****?!… so you see: “small revolutions”.

    I bet if I read A Return to Modesty I would be fuming!

  7. August 12, 2010 5:46 am

    Yay for The Blue Castle! I’ve had it on my bedside for a while for a reread.

    And I know I’ve commented on this everywhere someone reads The Blue Castle, but there was a lovely musical done on PEI for The Blue Castle. Wonderful story, excellent music. It’s been a number of years since it has been performed, but everyone who saw it remembers it fondly.

  8. August 12, 2010 5:49 am

    I have been longing to read The Blue Castle for ages – I really need to seek out a copy. It sounds just like the perfect book for me and I love Anne of Green Gables, so I’m sure I’ll love that too.

    I think I’ll skip A Return to Modesty, though. Anyone who believes women were better off when men regulated everything they wore, did, and said is insane. I’ll say what I like, thank you very much, and I shouldn’t have to change the way I am to make men behave. Grrr.

  9. August 12, 2010 6:09 am

    Good news for those of you who want to read/reread/own The Blue Castle:

    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200951h.html

    Wonderful book, and often a well-kept secret from the reading world.

    Also, you can take a look at this site AFTER reading it.

    http://www.tickledorange.com/LMM/BCEncyclopedia.html

    And here: http://lmm.confederationcentre.com/english/covers/castle.html

  10. Heqit permalink
    August 12, 2010 6:15 am

    Wow — it’s like you’re inside my head! The Blue Castle is my favorite, favorite L.M. Montgomery novel. It’s just so good, and I go back and re-read it whenever I need a comfort read. I love how oppressed and constrained and afraid Valancy is at the beginning and how completely she breaks free. (My other go-to book for this sort of thing is Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, which has a similar liberation theme and is like a frothy champagne cocktail.)

    I hated A Return to Modesty as well, although when I read it I wasn’t yet familiar with the term “rape culture.” It sent me into a fuming rage, though: you’re exactly right about the regressiveness of Shalit’s arguments. In addition to her ignorance about and romanticizing of the past, she doesn’t seem (in this book) to be able to differentiate between “safe” and “locked up in a box.” They’re only synonymous in banking!

    And finally, about your aesthetic: I love the look of Penelope (see? I told you — inside my head!) and the only other place I can recall seeing something similar is in the (brief, canceled, available on DVD) series Wonderfalls. Jaye’s trailer interior is gorgeous, and has a very similar look. There’s always The Affected Provincial’s Companion, too, which may not offer concrete decorating tips, but if you (any of you) haven’t read it…OMG, go get it now!

  11. August 12, 2010 6:43 am

    Oh, I loved the Anne of Green Gables books, and this one looks wonderful. Adding it to my list!

    I absolutely ADORE, LURVE, etc., decorating books and magazines. I have them all over my house, and while I can’t really afford to redecorate, I can rearrange things! Somewhat…

    Which is one thing I’m planning to do today. I’m thinking that my dining room, entry way area look a bit crowded and cluttered. Should I toss some of the stuff into the garage? lol

  12. August 12, 2010 7:05 am

    I’ve recently reread The Blue Castle and the Anne books as well. Are you also a fan of her Emily series? If you haven’t discovered them yet, I think you’re in for a treat. I’m also fond of her Pat duology, especially for the smart comments that Judy makes in there as she insists upon her love of “spinsterhood”.

  13. August 12, 2010 7:14 am

    I am SO glad you finally got to read The Blue Castle! I read it earlier this year and had the same reaction of “Why has it taken me so long to find you?!?!” I agree that it’s a wonderful cross of I Capture the Castle and something Anne Shirley would write… It was both touching and hilarious and I loved it dearly. The family scenes in particular cracked me up!

  14. August 12, 2010 7:14 am

    Too bad the modesty book was so bad, it sounds interesting. I agree with you on Unhooked — I thought the book was fabulous, and really looked at the issue of young women’s sexuality in a nuanced and non-judgmental way.

  15. August 12, 2010 7:38 am

    I LOVE THE BLUE CASTLE!!!!! :D :D :D Probably my favorite Montgomery book. I really do need to re-read Anne though. I not only loved the fact that she was older, but that they didn’t have to be together and do the same things all the time, know what I mean. They could read independently, just hang out, go for walks together or alone, it seemed like a healthier relationship than a lot of books of that time showed. She had so much independence.

    The decorating book sounds like fun, I LOVE the color scheme. I do hope we get to see pictures of your room(s) when they are done :)

    And UGH, the Shalit book sounds horrific. I will definitely be avoiding it, so thank you for suffering through it to warn the rest of us! The type of book that you are looking for sounds really interesting though, if you ever do find it, I would be all over reading it! Your discussion about clothing is interesting to me. I’ve always been more a more conservative dresser, for the most part avoiding short skirts or too much cleavage (especially back in the university bar hopping days), in part because I think I had internalized a lot of those rape culture messages that it is women’s job to dress modestly to protect themselves. I still dress fairly modest, but I am finding that I am a bit more comfortable with my body in wearing a tight dress, or a shorter skirt, or a lower cut shirt, and it is almost a way of exerting a right, because it’s not meant for anyone other than myself, and I don’t have to dress a certain way to protect myself. I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah. Still nothing too short for me thanks!

  16. August 12, 2010 8:48 am

    I think it’s good to read things we disagree with on a regular basis. I stick to blogs and articles, but a book will also do the trick. It is interesting, and a bit alarming, to hear about this book with all of the discussion about wearing burqas currently going on. I read several blogs that deal with this controversy in France and other parts of Europe.

    Claire Berelinski, who reports for Turkey, has an excellent piece in The National Review about this topic here:

    http://article.nationalreview.com/438941/ban-the-burqa/claire-berlinski

    I know you have plenty to read, but I think you’d find this article apropo. Her main point is that once a community allows the burqa to become commonplace, women who don’t wear the burqa face harrassment and worse because of their “immodest” dress.

  17. August 12, 2010 9:10 am

    Lucky you to find a copy of The Blue Castle. I’m surprised by how hard it is to get ahold of!

  18. August 12, 2010 9:47 am

    Yuck! It’s so hard, like nearly impossible it seems, to find books about women’s sexuality that aren’t totally condescending and don’t play into those harmful virgin/whore rape culture tropes. :(

  19. August 12, 2010 9:51 am

    A Return to Modesty sounds like one of those books that would get thrown a lot if I was reading it. How in the world do people buy into that tripe?

  20. August 12, 2010 10:04 am

    What a coincidence! I just picked up my copy of The Blue Castle at the library and read it this past week in about 2 days. Working on a review now. I love Lucy Maude.

  21. August 12, 2010 10:18 am

    Heh, I didn’t want to say anything before you made up your own mind about the modesty book, but I’d actually seen a newspaper review of it that convinced me you would hate it. And with good reason – what a load of bull.

    I read all of Montgomery’s stuff when I was younger & remember loving The Blue Castle but don’t remember anything else about it. :-) Re-read the Emily books a few years ago and loved them even more as an adult then I had as a kid, so perhaps other Montgomery re-reads are in order.

  22. Selena permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:23 am

    I would have given up so quickly on that book about “modesty.” I had to research a lot of this kind of information for my thesis and it just KILLED me having to read it and cite it and take people’s narrowminded “findings” (read: opinions) without laughing.

    On the other hand, I’m proud of you for not just going off on the book (I wouldn’t have been able to resist) and eloquently explaining your thoughts!

  23. Kathleen permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:29 am

    I’m so glad you are enjoying that you decided to “follow your whimsy”. And I love that you don’t feel guilty for having 50 books checked out from the library. I never feel bad about how many I check out I just end up feeling bad that I don’t get around to reading enough of them!

  24. August 12, 2010 1:06 pm

    Ah, the unabashed freedom. I’m jealous. I keep telling myself that I’ll stop accepting review copies, but they’re just so tantalizing. But I long for the days when I just picked up a book because the cover was shiny or it looked lonely on the shelves.

  25. August 12, 2010 4:27 pm

    That BBC article was horrifying. I think at least part of it, though, is to do with that thing people do of (if a bad thing has never happened to them) finding ways that they are different to the people it has happened to, or (if the bad thing has happened to them) separating out ways to prevent it happening again. Culpability is easier to accept in yourself, and certainly easier to find in others, than powerlessness (said the guilt sinkhole girl).

    I bet you’d get similar responses to a similar poll about, say, people getting mugged. I might respond to such a poll to say that people who are chatting in a car late at night bear some responsibility for getting mugged. If I had behaved in a more sensible way, I’d never have gotten mugged; and I really like the idea of having some measure of control over whether it happens again. I can’t control what criminals do (they are out there, engaging in criminal behavior, every day), but on my part I can take reasonable precautions and behave sensibly, and that will lessen the chances that a scary crime will happen to me again.

    Also, saying that people “bear some responsibility” for being victims of a crime isn’t the same as saying they deserved what they got. It’s more saying (or, well, it is when I say it) that it’s no use behaving like you live in a world where everyone is safe and nobody will take advantage of you. You don’t leave your house unlocked, you don’t leave your credit cards lying around, and you watch your drink at bars.

    I wrote all that and then scrolled up and saw the only thing you had mentioned was that a significant minority thought women bore responsibility for their rapes when they wore “provocative” (I hate that damn word) clothing. Sooooo now I have written a really long comment in response to a point you didn’t bring up. #feelsdumb

    In response to something you actually said in this post, hooray for reading The Blue Castle! I am so pleased you liked it, it’s my favorite LM Montgomery book. Have you read Jane of Lantern Hill?

    I just realized while reading this post that I totally achieved one of my New Year’s Resolutions, which was to be less weird about my knees. I resolved to start wearing more skirts and dresses that hit me above the knee, which I have done (turns out I look awesome in 50s-flight-attendant-type dresses), and it occurred to me just now that I have completely ceased to care about my knees. Hooray!

  26. August 12, 2010 8:50 pm

    Oh dear; this was so awful, and yet I felt compelled to keep reading!

    Wow, this takes me back—I read this book years ago and had the exact same reaction. Although, the train wreck kept me going until about halfway and then I couldn’t take it anymore. I actually kept it on the shelf for ages thinking, insanely, that I might masochistically want to finish it one day, but finally ditched it. Truly an awful book for all the reasons you give.

  27. August 13, 2010 3:44 pm

    I remember getting a copy of The Blue Castle after it had been recommended to me and I kept thinking, this looks like some silly little romance novel. My copy had a book cover very much like those of romance novels. I really didn’t the book was going to be for me and wow, what a surprise. It was lovely! I adored it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it too.

  28. August 13, 2010 4:36 pm

    Holy smokes, that modesty book sounds atrocious! But, sometimes, you just-can’t-look-away… I have the same problem. Even if a book is irritating, I continue with the hopes that it will get better any minute now. Soon. The next chapter will make more sense. And then it doesn’t.

  29. August 13, 2010 6:26 pm

    I’m going to echo everyone in saying that A Return To Modesty sounds awful. But it definitely made for a very interesting review…I loved hearing your thoughts on it. And a twenty book trip to the library sounds lovely. I just brought 5 new books home myself and have plans of picking a few more up tomorrow :)

  30. August 13, 2010 7:08 pm

    I always seem to be in a decorating state of mind, and I have nothing to decorate at the moment!! lol Domino looks great. I’ve had the Modesty book on my radar for a long time, so I’m glad you put out the word that it sucks or I might’ve been bamboozled into buying it at some point. All that lameness is a shame!

  31. August 13, 2010 8:23 pm

    So glad you enjoyed The Blue Castle! I so love LMM. I’m with Buried in Print, I think this one, and the Emily series, and the Pat books are my faves of her work. But of course, Anne is simply wonderful :)

  32. August 15, 2010 10:02 am

    That book on gender issues sounds awful, especially after reading the comments. I don’ tknow how you got through it! If I’d had it, it probably would have gone right through the window!

  33. August 15, 2010 11:32 am

    I LOVE The Blue Castle! I didn’t realize it was somewhat obscure, as I have owned a copy for years – I think my parents probably just picked it up at a yard sale when I was young. It is one of the books I own that I actually re-read somewhat regularly. Have you read Jane of Lantern Hill? That is another Montgomery book that may be a little obscure, but that is also such a delight.

  34. August 15, 2010 11:05 pm

    Oh.. my heart broke when Domino stopped publication. I have a good collection though and I treasure it so much. That book is at the top of my wish list. But I’ll ask for it when I get our own house. As it is, we’re renting and I haven’t touched the walls or anything because we might leave here soon.

  35. Anne Simonot permalink
    August 17, 2010 6:57 pm

    Oh, I am so happy to hear that other people love “The Blue Castle” too! It is by far my favorite LMM book and has been ever since I first read it, oooh, over thirty years ago…

  36. August 18, 2010 7:57 am

    I love Anne of Green Gables and have all the books in the series at home! I can’t believe I only heard about The Blue Castle last year and I still haven’t read it. Must remedy that now. As opposed to A Return to Modesty which I think I’ll skip. Grrr.

  37. August 30, 2010 9:39 pm

    Anne Shirley is my hero. I worship those books. (As do many other of these blog readers!!) I’ll have to check out The Blue Castle too. :-)

  38. September 16, 2010 5:11 pm

    I have nothing to say other than that the review of A Return to Modesty is one of the best reviews I’ve read recently. Wonderful!

Trackbacks

  1. The Blue Castle | Paperback Reader
  2. Favourites Reads of 2010 « A Striped Armchair
  3. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery « The Captive Reader
  4. The Love Child by Edith Olivier (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair
  5. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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