A Festive Roundup

Well, what a year! I started it in London and will finish it in New York, city of adventure and general magnificence that I adore with all my heart. The last book I finished in 2009 was The Blue Castle, about a girl daring to live her dreams. While I was reading it, I wondered whether I would have the courage to do the same in the year ahead. I am still somewhat surprised that I managed to find that courage somewhere within myself, to pack up my life and move it across an ocean, with nothing but hope and a spirit of adventure. The risk paid off, and here I am – happy, content, and excited for the year ahead. I have no idea what it will bring, or what I will do once my year in New York is up in September, but I’m sure there will be plenty of excitement, fun and adventure involved, and I am looking forward to jumping in headfirst!

Reading wise, it’s been a very good year. I’ve made some marvellous discoveries, such as Anne of Green Gables, and The Age of Innocence; been blown away by exquisite writing in all of Richard Yates’ novels, Alias Grace, and The Rector’s Daughter; and had the pleasure of reading some excellent biographies, such as Blake Bailey’s A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, and Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. If I had to pick my book of the year, however, it would have to be One Fine Day by Mollie Panter Downes. It is a perfect novel, with such beautiful, elegiac prose, and is a wonderful love song to the rolling hills of England, where no matter what, my heart and soul will always belong. It is also a brilliant, perceptive and intensely moving portrayal of the repercussions of war on ordinary lives, which truly brought home to me how irreparably the world was changed after September 1939. If you haven’t read it, please do. I promise you will love it.

In other news, as I am sure you all know, Manhattan is buried in snow! I survived the blizzard that hit the East Coast on Sunday night, when my friends and I were driving back from our super relaxing lake cabin Christmas break. During my driving shift, which was the worst stage, when there was a total whiteout and I had a small triangle on my windowscreen through which to see the road ahead, and no vision either side of me or behind me, and the brakes weren’t working due to the ice, and I had no idea where I was going, or where the hard shoulder or the next lane was, it was pretty stressful. But twelve hours later, after pushing the car out of snowdrifts approximately thirty times, the car giving out in the middle of the highway, getting completely stuck on a slip road mere seconds from a gas station we couldn’t get into but needed to because we had no petrol left,  shovelling desperately with our bare hands to free the car so we could get into tracks made by a plough, and finally abandoning the car half an hour from home, getting out and walking in -20 degree icicle filled winds so strong they literally blew you off your feet, we made it back to our apartments safe and sound. Quite an adventure! The best part was reliving it the next day – the amount of stupid advice and comments we got from people we asked for help was ridiculous. One guy with a snow plough asked us where we wanted to go. We live next to a mall, so we told him we wanted to get to the mall – it was the best signpost to give. Bear in mind it’s now 2am, and there is a full scale blizzard going on that has been going on since lunchtime. The guy looks at us with widened eyes and says ‘The mall? You girls are going shopping?! But it’s 2am! The mall’s closed!’. We nearly wet ourselves with laughing – I think we must have been a bit delirious by then!

Also, WHY did nobody tell me just how good Downton Abbey is? If I had realised it would prove to be as spectacular and frighteningly addictive as it is, I would have thrown all of my morals to the wind and watched it illegally online MONTHS ago! My friend got the DVDs for Christmas and we sat and watched three episodes last night, sobbing and clutching each other, and saying ‘we’ll just watch one more’, in between sobs and mouthfuls of peanut butter icecream. Bates and his poor leg! Maggie Smith being spectacular! Parook the suspiciously good looking Turkish man meeting a sticky end! Nasty plotting in the kitchen! Wonderful costumes! Mentions of the Titanic! Genuinely adorable love affairs! What more could one want?! I can’t WAIT to watch more tonight. I have a feeling I won’t be sleeping until I have finished. But then what?! How long will I have to wait until the next series?!?!

I hope you all had marvellous Christmases and are gearing up for a very happy New Year!


  1. It sounds as though you’ve had an adventurous holiday! Glad you arrived safely and survived your first blizzard! You’ll have a few stories to tell when you return home, won’t you?! I wholeheartedly agree with you on the Mollie Panter-Downes novel–it is a favorite of mine. I’ve also read an earlier novel and her short stories-all good! I’m planning on finally reading Anne of Green Gables next year, too. Have a really great 2011!

    1. Oh I did Danielle! I did! Thank you – it was quite the adventure and will certainly be a cherished memory in years to come! I must read more Mollie Panter Downes – One Fine Day was so superb and I have only heard good things about her short stories. Oh Danielle, you MUST read Anne of Green Gables – you really won’t regret it! Thank you, and you too! Let’s hope it’s our best year yet!

  2. I read out most of your post to The Heiress and she is taking comfort in the fact that it took some courage to pack up and strike out. We also had a good laugh at your discovering just how wonderful Downton Abbey is! Worth every moment of guilty pleasure during an illegal download.

    A huge pat on the back for navigating through the storm by the way. We call them ‘white-knuckle’ rides or ‘knee knockers’. That turn in to your driveway at the end of it is a welcome sight indeed.

    1. Ha! Oh you and the Heiress are so lovely! I am sure she will find her 2011 very exciting and adventurous – she just has to take the leap and trust that there will be something to catch her! Oh yes, Darlene – I watched the last episode last night and my mouth was just hanging open the whole time – I need more, NOW!

      Thanks – it was certainly nerve wracking but now I feel superhuman! I had to drive through Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge to return the hire car the day after and I kept saying ‘this is easy compared to a blizzard!’ and I had been terrified of doing that! I can’t tell you how relieved I was to get home though! I won’t be driving for a little while I think!

  3. Your incident with the plow man is hysterical! What is it with that time of morning where everything doesn’t seem like it’s real-life?

    I’m so glad you like Anne of Green Gables and Age of Innocence, two of my favorites….and I haven’t read One Fine Day but certainly will.

    And you lucky devil getting to watch Downton Abbey! I’ve even looked to watch it illegally but to no avail…must wait until next week when it’s on TV, that is if that channel comes in. (no cable)

    1. I know! I think everyone had gone a bit crazy and wasn’t thinking straight!

      Well Daniel if you like Anne and Edith Wharton, you will most certainly love One Fine Day so make sure you read it!

      Oh Daniel…I have it on good authority that project free tv may be your answer…

  4. I’m glad you had a nice Christmas although your travel sounds awfully stressful. I’m glad you can laugh about it now!

    And what luck about One Fine Day — it turns out I have it! Must. read. soon. Perhaps for your Virago Reading Week … have you set a date yet?

    Meanwhile have a happy (and hopefully a bit less adventurous) New Year celebration !

    1. Ha! Yes just a bit, but the kind of stressful that provides a good story afterwards, and also shows you what you are made of!

      Brilliant! Yes, you must read it – no definite date set yet, I need to confer with Carolyn, but it will probably be the last week of January.

      Thank you Laura and the same to you!

  5. Glad to hear you made it home safely. I agree with you about Downton Abbey. A friend has loaned me here DVDs & I’m rationing myself to one episode a night to make it last. Maggie Smith sheltering behind a fan from the glare of the electric lights! Priceless.

    1. Thanks Lyn! Oh, don’t – I watched all 7 episodes over 3 nights and now I’m gutted that there is no more. Why weren’t there more episodes?! I can’t bear not knowing what happens! Maggie Smith was truly excellent – my favourite line is ‘what’s a weekend?!’

  6. What a year you’ve had! I hope your time in New York continues as well as it has started and that your adventures in 2011 are just as successful! With less snow, hopefully. The first blizzard is fun in that it;s certainly the most memorable; after that they’re less enjoyable!

    1. Thank you Claire! I wish the same to you! I don’t intend on getting anywhere NEAR a blizzard, ever again. I won’t be nonchalant and British and say ‘ha! it’ll just be a bit of snow!’ – I shall listen to the weather forecast and STAY INDOORS!!!

  7. What an adventure you had and what a story to tell your grandchildren. I am glad you made it safely home and how good it must have felt to have had a nice cup of tea when you got there. Glad everything is working out for you in NY and have a “guid new year and lang may your lum reek” as they say in Scotland.

    1. Indeed! I’ll be dining off this story for years! Yes it really did – my friend and I had a cup of tea, laughed hysterically until the adrenalin wore off, and then discovered we actually were freezing, and probably should go to bed! Thank you Margaret – I wish the same to you! Happy Hogmanay!

  8. I think “Downton Abbey” is starting on PBS’s “Masterpiece” this Sunday. I’m looking forward to it…but not looking forward so much to a promised update to “Upstairs, Downstairs,” supposedly to air in April. Just can’t leave well enough alone, I suppose.

    Your drive sounds harrowing–but, thankfully, you made it back safe and sound. I ran out of gas in a mad drive following Hurricane Katrina–and the best part is always telling people about it AFTERWARDS. At the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen!

    1. Oh Deb..you are in for SUCH A TREAT I cannot tell you. Be warned, you will need tissues!! Upstairs Downstairs has not had as good a reception I don’t think, but it may fill the gap Downton Abbey has left!

      Yes it was quite the adventure, but at no point were any of us prepared to accept that we weren’t going to get home – we were determined to push through no matter what! And we certainly appreciate the good stories we have to tell now!! Escaping Hurricane Katrina certainly sounds FAR more scary than my drive though. You win the prize on that one!

  9. I’d been thinking about my favourite read of the year and had thought ‘One Fine Day’ was probably the one. I only read it as I’d picked up a copy in a second hand book shop and wasn’t sure what it would be like – and it delighted me.
    Oh enjoy Downton Abbey my favourite line is when Maggie Smith exclaims “What’s a weekend?” I’m currently enjoying Upstairs Downstairs on BBC iplay – infact off to watch episode two now.
    Stay safe and warm in the snow. Happy New Year to you.

    1. Great minds think alike! It’s one of those books that really does blow you away. It’s not showy, but in its quietness it has a power that really stays with you. I wish I had my own copy so I could reread it!
      Yes! I loved that line too!!! Maggie Smith is perfect, as usual, and I am so upset that I thundered through all the episodes so quickly – I finished last night. I want more!!
      Thank you, and I wish you a very happy new year too!

  10. Love the photograph. I missed Downton Abbey first time round but there’s a re-run starting this weekend which I’m definitely going to be watching. Enjoy welcoming in the New Year in your adopted city and very best wishes for 2011.

    1. I know, it’s lovely isn’t it? Central Park in the snow is quite something! You MUST watch Downton Abbey – it’s superb! Thank you so much, I hope you have a wonderful 2011 yourself!

  11. I thought we had it bad with the snow and cold. We did apparently get as low as -17C. Your journey back to the city sounds terrifying.

    Good for you for resisting the temptation of an illegal download. Those of us who admire the work of creative people should do our best to respect intellectual property. Period dramas in particular are hugely expensive to produce. If we all took it for free, they would soon have to stop making them.

    Belated seasonal greetings to you. I hope you have a wonderful 2011.

    1. Well the good thing is it did only last one day. It was a lot of snow, but it just came all at once!!! It was quite scary but I don’t think we realised it at the time – we were just intent on getting home!

      Thank you, and I quite agree – we need to be careful we don’t destroy the industry!

      Thank you David and the same to you!

  12. First off, so relieved to hear you return home safely, albeit dangerously, in that blizzard. I’ve driven in those type of conditions, Rachel, and know they are horrendous. All’s well that ends well, and here you are, a raring good story to tell to your nephews over tea and a snowfall some time.

    I have been anxiously awaiting “Downtown Abbey” to come this way and now, with your comments here, will look forward to its start on PBS this Sunday here.

    I will have to read “One Fine Day” sometime soon and all of your books are intriguing (though you know how I love Anne Shirley). Right now, I’m into “Wait for Me” about your dowager duchess of Devonshire.

    1. Thanks Penny! I know – horrendous at the time but a fantastic story to tell afterwards! I can regale my boys with it one day!

      Penny you are going to LOVE Downton Abbey, I promise! It’s one of the best and most addictive period drama series I’ve ever seen, and it’s nice to see something original on the screen rather than yet another Austen adaptation!

      I know you would really enjoy One Fine Day, and I am jealous of you reading Wait For Me – I must try and get it from the library!

  13. I understand the inspirational value of The Blue Castle, Rachel. It’s one of my two favourite books of all time (tied with Jane Eyre), and every time I need a little inspiration, I open it up. I’m glad it helped you get where you are now.

    Oh, the blizzard! I live in Canada, and though I never have to drive in the snow as I haven’t driven in years, I do know how both lovely and terrible snow can be. I loved your story although I’m sure it was hair raising to live through. I’m glad you made it home safe and sound.

    Happy new year!

    1. The Blue Castle is such an inspiring book, isn’t it? It really reminds you that you can achieve anything you want, if you just go for it and don’t let fear stand in your way. I’m glad it’s a book that helps you, too. 🙂

      I’ve probably seen nothing compared to you, Virginia! Hair raising it was indeed, but a source of stories for years to come and it has certainly shown me what I am made of!

      Thank you, and Happy New Year to you too!

  14. Oh my goodness, you’re journey home sounds terrifying! I’m glad that you all got home safe and sound. Oh isn’t Downton Abbey wonderful – unfortuntely I think that the next series won’t be until about October next year in the UK (not sure how long until it gets to the US). Sure it will be worth the wait. The BBC also showed the new series of Upstairs Downstairs (three episodes) over the Christmas period. While not as wonderful as Downton, I still really enjoyed it and it did have some heartwarming moments!

    1. It was, quite, but we got home safely and that’s all that matters!
      It really is – but I have to wait nearly a whole YEAR for more?! I shall be back in England by October, so that’s a small compensation, however! I will be taking a look at the new episodes of Upstairs, Donwstairs – we used to watch the old series in our history lessons at school, believe it or not!

  15. Rachel, I am so glad you are safe. This was the second biggest storm in NYC since the 1880s. Email when you get a minute. xo

  16. My goodness! And to think that I was worried about driving through a deluge of rain the other day! I’ve never been in a blizzard, which may explain why my heart was pounding just reading about your experience, but I am so glad that ya’ll made it safely home and that you are able to look back on it with humor. I’ve added One Fine Day to my wish list. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, and Happy New Year to you!

    1. Ha! Well I should think rain is just as bad – visibility can be awful when there is water running down your windscreen! Thank you – the looking back with laughter almost makes the experience worthwhile!!

      I’m glad to hear it – it’s a superb book and I am certain you will love it!

      Happy New Year to you, too – I hope it’s a spectacular one!

  17. I am so glad you made it safely through the storm. What a story you have to tell. I thought about you as I saw the news about the weather on our Eastern Seaboard. If you ever make it to the Midwest, remember to be prepared for anything. On Christmas day we had a beautiful blanket of snow with more drifting slowly down. After that, the temperature dropped to single digits. Yesterday and today the thermometer has been rising quickly. Today it was almost up to 60 degrees with rain early, thunderstorms and hail, flood warnings, tornado warnings and actual touch downs in the area, then sunshine just before the sun set. Now we have clouds covering the stars and and they predicted temperatures in the 20s for New Year’s Day. Whew…Midwestern weather is seldom boring.

    I will have to read Blue Castle. It sounds wonderful. Happy New Year.

    1. Thank you Janet! I know, it was quite the adventure. However, your weather sounds completely unpredictable and quite unnerving – I’d be unprepared, all the time! Though it is interesting to wake up to a different sky every day, I suppose!

      Yes, please do read it – it’s such a lovely book! Happy New Year to you too! I hope it is a wonderful one!

  18. Rachel, I have flu and am only briefly checking some favourite blogs. I’ve had plenty of time for reading over the last few days and have just, half an hour ago, finished ‘The Age of Innocence’. I loved it, too, and have ordered the DVD.
    ‘One Fine Day’ was a favourite of mine this year, too, as was ‘Downton Abbey’. My darling daughter got me the DVd for Christmas and I’ll be rewatching it soon. Isn’t Mr Bates lovely?
    BTW, I got a Kindle for Christmas from John and one of the first things I downloaded was Edith Wharton’s collected works. That’s how I read ‘The Age of Innocence’! Lovely, nice big clear print and easy to hold. I’m a convert!

    1. Hello Penny! I’m so sorry you have the flu! You poor thing! I trust you are all wrapped up! I am so glad you loved The Age of Innocence! Such a stunning book. I LOVE DOWNTON ABBEY! Downton Abbey is fantastic…I wish I hadn’t watched it so quickly!
      My friend got one for Christmas too and I must say I am quite impressed…but I just don’t know if I could do it!

  19. Oh my gosh, Rachel, poor you! I would have probably collapsed completely — I am petrified of driving in snow, and I’m used to driving on the American side of the road. I’m glad y’all made it back okay eventually, and at least you were in a big group.

    I need to watch Downton Abbey, maybe after I’ve gone through my Christmas movies. I have a yen for Disney films at the moment. :p

    1. Well I surprised myself! I thought I’d be completely pathetic but I really just wanted to get home and it’s amazing how much you can push yourself when you want to get into your bed!

      Oh Jenny, you’re going to love it!! Put those Disney films down!

  20. I was wondering who actually got the blizzard – in Connecticut we had snow, and very high winds, but nothing I would call a blizzard. But what you describe certainly is a blizzard! Glad you survived it so gamely.

  21. Oh your snow story makes me feel very blessed for the small amount of snow we got here. Scary times it sounds like, but you survived and have a story you’ll always be able to pull out to beat British snow storm tales 😉

    I am loving all the Downton affection. Yay! I’m just waiting for my region weva dvd to come so I can post it to a friend in Canada for her birthday and the show will gain another convert. Have you managed to see the Upstairs Downstairs rework yet? Very interested to know how you think it compares.

  22. I love the risk taking. I would love to just get up and move to somewhere new. New York has always been my dream home and I would love to go back to Ireland. I like your choices for reading this year as well. Some books I have read have sparked my want for an adventure.

    1. Thank you, Brenna! Risk taking is well worth the uncertainty and worry involved and will enrich your life. I hope you manage to have some adventures of your own this year!

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