Writer’s House in Wales

Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.

Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.

There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),

Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.

Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.

Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).

Sixpence House

Collins, Paul. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. New York:
Bloomsbury, 2003.

Reason read: April is the month for National Library Week.

Wales’s little town of Hay-on-Wye, or just “Hay,” is known as the “Town of Books.” With 1,500 residences and forty bookstores, what better place for a writer to move from Manhattan? Collins writes about his time in the village as a writer, as a house hunter, and as a new father in a whimsical manner; lacing the prose with mini lectures on long-dead writers, dust jackets not doing their one job, and what it means when an author’s color photograph occupies the entire cover of a book. Collins has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating (just try not to giggle when he shares the story of inadvertently peeing on his manuscript of Banvard’s Folly). You find yourself wanting to have a cup of coffee with him just to hear more. My only complaint? No photographs.
Confessional: I love a book that makes mention of Wallace and Gromit!

Right away I knew I was going to have a hard time decided on what to quote. There were so many good ones from which to chose! Here are just a couple, “If you grew up in a rural area, you have seen how farmhouses come and go, but the dent left by the cellar is permanent” (p 2) and this is the quote that gave me the most stop and pause: “It is hard to know just how many times we have been exposed to a word, a face, an idea, before we have it” (p 8).

Author fact: Collins first wrote Banvard’s Folly (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: The Sixpence House is the title of the book but the Collins family doesn’t discover it until nearly 150 pages in. Paul and his wife don’t decide to make an offer for another ten ages. In the end they decide it needs too much work and abandon the purchase. I was expecting the book to be more about the trials and tribulations of two Americans trying to restore a long neglected and dilapidated house in Wales. Just another example of Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Title!

Nancy said: Pearl called Sixpence a “loving memoir” and a “captivating account of books.” Note: what Pearl says about Sixpence House in More Book Lust is word for word what she says in Book Lust To Go.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 57).
Edited to add: Sixpence House is also included in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).

Appealing to April

I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.


  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
  • City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.


  • The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.

Series continuations:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
  • The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
  • The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.

How Green Was My Valley

Llewellyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley. New York: RosettaBooks LLC, 2013.

Reason read: December is the best time to visit Patagonia. Not so sure about Wales. Which leads me to my confessional: Patagonia is featured in the sequels (Up in the Singing Mountains and Down Where the Moon Was Small), but NOT in How Green Was My Valley. So, I’m sorta reading this one for the wrong reason…which means I’ll be reading the sequels for the wrong reasons as well. Regardless of how I got to this book, on with the review:

Richard Llewellyn has an amazing voice. There were so many passages I wanted to quote because they were all just so beautifully written. How Green Was My Valley is told from the first person perspective of Huw Morgan, looking back on his childhood in a small mining town in Wales. Huw comes from a large family of his parents, five brothers and three sisters. They live in an isolated valley in a community governed by the ways of God and the land. As Huw grows older and heads off to school he learns about the uglier side of growing up, like being bullied for being the new kid. After the first day of school Huw’s father and brothers teach him how to fight. [As an aside: this surprised me. Growing up with five older brothers, surely Huw would encounter a scuffle or two? It seems so unlikely that the siblings would never fight among themselves.] But, it was the harder lessons Huw learned that were more difficult to swallow: the poverty and starvation during the leaner months, what happens when desire gets out of hand and leads to rape and murder, and the death of a family member.

There were many, many lines I liked, but I’ll share just a few: “There is a funny thing in you when you know trouble is being made and waiting for you, in a little time to come” (p 211), and “Pain is a good cleanser of the mind and therefore of the sight” (p 341),

As an aside, the Welsh way of speaking reminded me of Yoda. Guess it’s all the Star Wars brewhaha going on right now.

Author fact: Llewellyn’s full name is Richard Dafydd Vivian Llewellyn Lloyd. Phew. One of his many occupations was coal miner.

Book trivia: How Green Was My Valley won the National Book Award and was made into a movie.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in two different chapters, “Patagonia” (p 174) and “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).

Castles in the Air

Corbett, Judy. Castles in the Air: the Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion. London: Ebury Press, 2004.

Reason read: So. I was a little too ambitious with the June book list; as some of you might remember my reading appetite was bigger than what I could digest. Originally, Castles in the Air was on my June list in honor of the month my Knight in Shining Armor and I got engaged. We were in Loveland, Colorado and stayed at this fantastic B&B called Castle Marne. Get it? Castles in the Air & Castle Marne? Well, since I didn’t get around to reading Corbett’s book I was almost forced to move it to June 2016’s list…until I remembered I had another month I could celebrate castles in. September. The month Kisa and I got married. It’s a stretch and clearly not as straightforward as June, but it works.

Castles in the Air may not have the most original book title (think Don McLean) but it is a delightful read. Judy and her then boyfriend, Peter bought the Gwydir Castle in Wales and what follows is their adventure to restore it to its former glory. At first the going is a bit rough (“chainsaw gardening” says it all) but with the help of a band of misfit artisans the couple is able to piece together some semblance of Gwydir’s old glory…hauntings and peacocks included.

As an aside, I loved the language. Torch, jumper, chilblains & jackdaws all brought back memories of my adventures with an Irishman.

I didn’t find a plethora of lines to like, but there was this one: “Not a drop passed his lips the whole evening, but plenty passed our lips, and Michael’s tongue got looser and looser as if he was taking it out for a walk on a long piece of string” (pgs 198 – 199).

Author fact: Gwydir Castle has its own website (of course it does) and according to the site Judy and Peter still own it and run it as a B&B. More castle information: it’s open the the public April – October from 10am – 4pm, Saturdays and Mondays excluded.

Book trivia: Pictures are included (in color!) but they are only on the inside covers. Peter has a few illustrations as well.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bough/Built a House In…” (p 92).

Brush with Death

Duncan, Elizabeth. A Brush With Death.

A Brush with Death picks up where Cold Light of Mourning left off. We rejoin Penny Brannigan right after she has moved into her dear friend Emma’s cottage (Emma died in the earlier book). While cleaning and clearing out some of Emma’s belongings Penny comes across a secret Emma has kept for more than thirty years, a lesbian romance with an artist named Alys from Liverpool, England. The relationship was cut short when Emma’s beloved was killed by a hit and run driver. For years the death was ruled an accident until Penny uncovers clues indicating wicked foul play. Thus begins the mystery. Most of the same characters in Cold Light of Mourning return to help Penny solve the crime. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Cold Light of Mourning. I think it’s because Duncan’s main character Penny seemed to be a bit more of a busybody in this one. This one had more of a “Murder, She Wrote” feel than the other. What I appreciated the most was the continuation of a lot of details from the first book. Penny’s relationships with individuals as well as her standing in the community as the place to get a manicure. Her relationship with a boyfriend grows as does her business.

Favorite line, “We could never figure out if he leaned to the lavender” (p 237).

Reason read: to finish the “series” by Elizabeth Duncan.

Author fact: Do a Google search for Elizabeth Duncan and you get search results for a murderer. This is not that Elizabeth Duncan.

Book trivia: I wasn’t the only one who felt this “Brannigan tale” was a little predictable but I still liked it.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 250).